Racists monuments are not limited to Confederate statues. In Jacksonville, FL a massive bridge carrying 8 lanes of I-95 across the St. Johns River bears Fuller Warren’s name and the weight of his racism. As a former Governor of the State, having lived in and practiced law in Jacksonville and having championed the Interstate road system in Florida. He was a natural choice for the naming honor. As an avowed segregationist who usurped justice, condoned murder and aided the Klan… perhaps not.
Redemption came easy in those days. Outed as a “former” member of the KKK, three months into his term as Governor. He admitted his folly as a youth and pointed to his service in WW2 where he fought Nazis, “first cousins to Klansmen,” coming back with a new perspective. He did speak out against the Klan when they paraded in the streets of Tallahassee less than a month after his election. Like family members you choose not to acknowledge, showing up at your new job.
Truthfully, almost all elected officials in Florida at the time were at minimum segregationists and the bridge had to be named after somebody. There was that impeachment thing where he was almost ousted because of his ties to gambling and using State resources to target one of the rivals of his Al Capone linked gambling buddy from Chicago. The House refused to impeach him so that went away.
I fault him for abdicating his duty to remove Sheriff Willis McCall despite knowing he murdered an innocent black man in his custody and attempted along with one of his deputies to kill another. On the eve of his planned action, he met secretly with McCall who reminded him of all that he knew and might say. Already facing impeachment related to gambling, he overlooked those charges and failed to take action. Sheriff McCall went on to stay in office another 23 years, killing at least one other black prisoner and participating in the bombing assassination of Civil Rights leader Harry T. Moore. Behind the scenes, he blocked state investigations and allowed the reign of terror of Willis McCall and others during his term.
After his term as Governor from 1949-1953, Warren moved to Miami, running again for Governor in 1956, promising to “maintain segregation” in the state. As Governor he used the National Guard to suppress Black citrus workers. His legacy will be that he stood by, ignoring pleas to use his office to fight racial oppression instead of condoning it. One of the pleas he ignored was the last letter written by Harry T. Moore before they murdered him and his wife:
“We seek no special favors, but certainly we have a right to expect justice and equal protection under the laws even for the humblest Negro. Shall we be disappointed again?
Harry T. Moore”
State officials knew full well who the late Fuller Warren was when the new $100 million bridge was named in 2001. Was it because they didn’t care about his past or because of it?