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Florida lynchings subject of Diversity Dialogue

Talk was part of Black History Month

A history professor examined lynchings in Florida during the February installment of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences’ Diversity Dialogues series.

Lynch 1 Lynch 2

Tameka Bradley Hobbs, Ph.D., is a history professor at Florida Memorial University and author of the 2015 book Democracy Abroad, Lynching at Home: Racial Violence in Florida. Her talk at NSU was based on the book, which covered the cases of four black men lynched in Florida in the early 1940s during World War II.

Hobbs is a native of Live Oak, a city in Suwannee County, east of Tallahassee. During her undergraduate studies at Florida A&M University, Hobbs was surprised to learn from an African-American History professor about a lynching in her hometown. Hobbs asked her grandfather about the issue, and he confirmed the account.

“I became curious about the silence on this when I was growing up and never heard about it,” Hobbs said.

Hobbs has been studying Florida lynchings since then and in her book focused on four men: Arthur C. Williams in Gadsden County in 1941, Cellos Harrison in Jackson County in 1943, Willie James Howard in Suwannee County in 1944, and Jesse James Payne in Madison County in 1945.

Hobbs discussed each case and some of their common factors, including false allegations of sexually assaulting or flirting with white women, similar to the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till in Mississippi. In some cases, the lynching victims were snatched out of jail by white mobs before their murders.

Hobbs said the history of lynchings and racial injustice still resonates in the present.

“Most people don’t appreciate the difficult history of the unequal application of the justice system,” she said. “Understanding lynchings helps to understand the outrage in Black Lives Matter. It’s a cry for justice and demand for equity based on real racial disparities that existed historically and are not yet eradicated.”

Professor Michael Caldwell, D.M.A., of the Department of Performing and Visual Arts, coordinates the Diversity Dialogue events. He said he was looking for a topic that related not only to Black History Month, but also Florida history.

“Hidden history has a way of coming back to haunt you if you don’t know about it,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell said he found the discussion riveting and came away from it wanting to explore the topic further. With racial tension increasing throughout the nation, Hobbs encouraged people to seek out new conversations, books, and organizations to gain a new perspective on racial issues and make an impact.

“We have the be about the business of creating the America we want,” she said.

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