The Orlando Morning Sentinel Hasn’t Changed Much

In 1920, the major newspaper of record in Orange County, Florida was the Orlando Morning Sentinel. On November 20, 1920, Ocoee, FL (within Orange County) was part of the “single bloodiest day in modern U.S. political history.” In several Florida counties, the Klan surrounded courthouses to keep Blacks from voting. It was a statewide effort involving the Democratic Party, the KKK, local law enforcement and the media that looked the other way. In Ocoee, over 50 Black citizens were killed, the rest of its Black citizens were either burned out, driven out or bought out at an unfair price. By November 23rd, there were no more Black residents in Ocoee. It remained that way for the next 61 years until 1981. The Orlando Morning Sentinel covered the Ocoee event to be sure. The headline referred to a “Race Riot in Ocoee” and “Two Whites Killed.” The Black families and lives didn’t matter then to the Orlando Morning Sentinel. I’m not so sure how much they do today?

The newspaper has changed ownership and names over the years. In 1965 the newspaper was sold to the large Tribune Company of Chicago (now TRONC). The paper became the Sentinel-Star in 1974 and in 1982 became the Orlando Sentinel. Typically a conservative newspaper over the years, they have endorsed Democrats in three of the last four Presidential Elections. In 1920, Democrats were different but was the Orlando Morning Sentinel?

Recently, an 11-year-old Black girl was abducted. An Amber alert was made and the girl’s name and picture were widely circulated. Every cell phone in the area received a message with information regarding the girl. Within a relatively short time, the girl was found, thankfully alive, and her kidnapper arrested. The information and description sent out to the community proved essential to her being discovered and freed. Someone who’d heard about the kidnapping spotted the abductor and child and reported their location.

When the girl was found. The Orlando Sentinel reported in great detail what had happened to her while in captivity. They described what had happened and more than one sexual act. The initial On-Line article even included the girl’s name in the URL although it’s, “No longer available.” One of the subsequent Sentinel articles quoted the girl’s father, “who the Orlando Sentinel is not naming to protect the victim’s identity.”

Too late Orlando Sentinel. Not only did you already directly provide the girl’s identity. You continue to provide enough information to make it possible to identify the victim. You identified her abductor including the exact familial relationship.  You identified the small subdivision where she lived. You all but placed her photo alongside his.

In 1920 the newspaper didn’t care about Black lives and apparently little has changed in 2017. I’m certain the newspaper has a policy about naming children who are victims of sexual assault. They disregarded that policy in order to report all the lurid details and proved that in this case, the Black girl’s life didn’t matter.

The girl will eventually return to a school. Will it be the same one she previously attended where everyone will no doubt know what occurred thanks to the Sentinel? Will the Sentinel be there to provide therapy to help the young girl get through the situation? It’s not enough to have taken down several of the articles you’ve already printed. What are you going to do to make this right?

In 1920, the Sentinel did nothing to make it right although it has run a couple articles over the past several years to document some of what they failed to do then. What will you do to make this right? You may have debated how much the public had a right to know. You may have wrestled with your decision. What you did was decide you cared nothing for the future of an 11-year-old girl. Was it easier or harder because she was Black? What are you going to do to make this right?

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Nate Parker: Victim?



I recently posted an article on my Facebook page by Morgan Jenkins, a Black woman on Why the Debate Over Nate Parker Is So Complex?  I posted it without comment of my own but was perplexed at the comments of others. Some of whom I am typically in agreement on many other issues.

There are many legitimate questions as to whether the timing of the attacks on Nate Parker’s character are designed to limit the impact of an important film, “The Birth of a Nation” that will make some people uncomfortable? The original article discusses the unique position Black women find themselves in being torn between supporting the Black men involved and ignoring the situation that this time involves a White woman but could easily have been them.

Nate Parker was acquitted of rape charges in 2001, reportedly because he and the woman had sex the day before. His writing partner on The Birth of a Nation, Jean Celestin, was initially found guilty of sexual assault but the case was dismissed on appeal because the alleged victim refused to testify again. In the film, there is a scene where we are supposed to feel some kind of way about the vicious rape of Nat Turner’s wife by a group of white men. We are apparently supposed to feel a different kind of way about this situation where much of what we do know is not in dispute. This discussion comes at the same time when some of the same people defending Parker, are lambasting Ryan Lochte as the beneficiary of White Privilege, Athlete Privilege (Parker and Celestin were on the Penn State wrestling team) and a patriarchal system where “boys will be boys.”

Despite the acquittal of Nate Parker and the dismissal of charges against Jean Celestin. There is much about their behavior that seems not to be in dispute:

  1. Parker had sex with the woman the day before
  2. Parker invited Celestin and another man (who declined) to participate in a sex act with the woman whose level of impairment is in dispute.
  3. After being charged, Parker and Celestin publicly named the alleged victim.
  4. For years afterward, Parker and Celestin harassed the alleged victim.
  5. The woman committed suicide in 2012 at the age of 30.


What I find unacceptable in the discussion I’ve witnessed is the view that he’s not guilty, end of story. Parker was found not guilty of the criminal charge but I find much with which I find fault. I also find it disturbing (despite historical abuse) that the race of the victim is an excuse to ignore what we do know which is an argument more likely to be used against Black people than in support of them. There are those unwilling to examine the thought process that would have a man invite his friends to have sex with a woman? I understand there are possible consensual situations, I get that. I’m still able to have the discussion when some of my friends are not.

I deviate now to what I believe to be true. I think Nate Parker and Jean Celestin don’t consider themselves rapists or believe themselves to have done anything wrong. I think the combination of male privilege and their status as athletes along with their limited respect for the female body made them think this was okay. I can remember once in high school being invited to join in when some of my friends were “pulling a train” on a female student. Another time in college, a fellow basketball player invited me to have sex with a woman he had in his room indicating “she was ready.” I refused both times, much more because I was scared than being morally offended at the prospect. The outcome I’d like to see from the Nate Parker discussion is that we teach our boys what is acceptable in the same way we tell our girls what not to do. I encourage those who defend these men 100%, to explain to their daughters the basis for their feelings. There is wrong here which should not be ignored.

Lastly, is it possible to support the movie and it’s message without consideration of the acts of its creators? I personally plan to see the movie but completely understand any that choose not to. I also plan to keep alive the discussion and hope there are lessons that can be learned, as long as we don’t refuse to talk about it. I agree with Morgan Jenkins, it is complex.

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