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Resident shines light on shameful old story behind Brooksville's name

If, God forbid, I were running the city of Brooksville, here's how its website would explain the origins of its name:

This was a regrettable episode, revealing the city's early residents to be bloodthirsty supporters of the most evil institution in our country's history — slavery — and indifferent to one of the most noble: free speech.

The City Council would also pass a resolution denouncing the action (which we'll get to) of U.S. Rep. Preston Brooks and the city's long-ago decision to take his name.

Changing the name of Brooksville after all these years doesn't seem practical and would just obscure a history we could learn a lot by examining. It's an artifact we're stuck with, like the statue of a Confederate soldier on the courthouse lawn. The proper thing to do is not to get rid of it, but to deal with it.

Justin Lollie, on the other hand, started a Facebook page last week called "Change the name of Brooksville, FL to something a little less racist.'' ( www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=136174686416098).

Last week's unjust firing of U.S. Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod got Lollie thinking about history and race. Specifically, it reminded him of a book he'd read a few years earlier that included an unfavorable reference to Brooksville, a town where he'd lived as a small child and, as an antique hunter, still loves to visit.

Lollie, a music programmer from Clearwater, was vaguely aware of the beating Brooks had given an abolitionist senator named Charles Sumner. In the book, the title of which he's forgotten, he was shocked to read of its brutality, which is described as follows in James McPherson's acclaimed Civil War history, Battle Cry of Freedom:

"In 1856, two days after Sumner had delivered a speech denouncing proslavery forces in Kansas as well as a South Carolina senator who supported them, Brooks approached Sumner's desk on the Senate floor. Sumner had libeled the senator and Brooks' home state of South Carolina, Brooks told him, and "as Sumner started to rise, the frenzied Brooks beat him over the head 30 times or more with a gold-headed cane as Sumner, his legs trapped under the bolted-down desk, finally wrenched it loose from the floor and collapsed with his head covered with blood.''

Brooks was hailed as hero in the South, and the account Lollie read singled out a fledgling settlement in Florida, previously called Melendez, that went so far as to adopt his name.

Hernando de Soto, our county's namesake, was no saint himself. Neither are a lot of other historical figures with places named after them.

But Brooks stands out because his legacy is about this beating and nothing else, Lollie said.

Maybe the city could find a more worthy Brooks to retroactively adopt as a namesake. At the very least, he said, please change the moronic entry on the city website. It approvingly describes Brooks with the segregation-era term, "states' rights statesman,'' and as "a man of honor,'' who was "admired for his pluck'' because he had "smartly rapped'' Sumner with his cane.

"It almost reads like a Three Stooges skit, not a savage beating that cost a man three years of his life,'' Lollie said. "There should at least be an acknowledgement that this story is nothing to be proud of.''

And maybe a thanks to Lollie for starting a long-overdue conversation.

Resident shines light on shameful old story behind Brooksville's name 07/24/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 24, 2010 1:10pm]
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