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Bill Maxwell, Opinion Columnist

Bill Maxwell

Bill Maxwell first joined the Times in 1994 as an editorial writer. He also wrote a twice-weekly column. In 2004, he left to teach journalism and establish a program at Stillman College in Alabama, but he returned to the board in August 2006.

A native of Fort Lauderdale, Maxwell was reared in a migrant farming family. After a short time in college and the U.S. Marine Corps, he returned to school. During his college years, he worked as an urban organizer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and wrote for several civil rights publications. He first began teaching college English in 1973 at Kennedy-King College in Chicago and continued to teach for 18 years. Before joining the Times, Maxwell spent six years writing a weekly column for the Gainesville Sun and the New York Times syndicate. Before that, Maxwell was an investigative reporter for the Fort Pierce Tribune in Fort Pierce, where he focused on labor and migrant farm worker affairs.


  1. Maxwell: The pragmatic black president


    This is Black History Month, coming during Barack Obama's last year in office, notable because Obama is the nation's first African-American president.

    As a group, blacks, a previously enslaved and disenfranchised population, held messianic expectations for the "first." Many expected Obama to do wondrous things for them based on his electrifying campaign theme of hope and change. Others expected nothing less than forthright challenges to the racially insensitive status quo through legislative policies and executive authority....

    On March 7, 2015, President Barack Obama holds hands with Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and Amelia Boynton Robinson, who were both beaten during “Bloody Sunday,” as they walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., for the 50th anniversary of the march.
  2. Maxwell: Don't let MLK speaker erode St. Petersburg's progress


    The annual MLK Leadership Awards Breakfast is one of the best civic events in St. Petersburg. It honors the life's work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

    Until now, the organizer of the breakfast, the local branch of the National Council of Negro Women, avoided unnecessary controversy by inviting keynote speakers who to a large degree embody the universal ideals of King. The breakfast, now in its 30th year, has been a unifying force, bringing people of different ethnicities, races, religions and sexual orientations together for the common good....

  3. Maxwell: The misguided backlash to Chi-Raq


    Spike Lee has done it again.

    He has produced another polemical film that is angering a lot of African-Americans nationwide. Chicagoans are particularly upset, because the film's title is Chi-Raq. It is a direct comparison between the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side and the war-torn country of Iraq.

    Local rappers, familiar with the daily carnage of street gangs, coined the name years ago. Lee came along and thought Chi-Raq was the perfect title for a film describing the city's bloody gun violence....

    Filmmaker Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq is a graphic portrayal of a black dystopia — murder, gang-banging, calumny, stupidity, self-hatred, loss, hopelessness.
  4. Maxwell: Joining with Cuba to protect marine life



    Just a few months after the United States and Cuba restored diplomatic relations, conservation officials from the two nations signed a historic agreement that enables them to jointly protect vital marine ecosystems from a myriad of increasing human threats.

    Those threats include climate change, overfishing and habitat devastation, with coral bleaching being a special concern....

  5. Maxwell: Fort Jefferson's maritime legacy


    DRY TORTUGAS NATIONAL PARK — We visit our Western national parks such as Yellowstone and Grand Canyon for their flora and fauna, awe-inspiring vistas and other natural wonders.

    Although Florida's Dry Tortugas National Park, a string of seven coral reef islands, is beautiful, that beauty belies a one-of-a-kind past. Dry Tortugas is a treasure because its strategic location, 70 miles west of Key West, gave it vital roles in the nation's maritime, cultural and political history....

    The ominously black Garden Key Lighthouse sits on top of Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, some 70 miles west of Key West. Its location gave the islands a vital role in the nation’s maritime, cultural and political history. Fort Jefferson was a military prison during the Civil War.
  6. Maxwell: Jeb Bush's insensitivity resurfaces


    Jeb Bush has a serious problem with ethnicity and multiculturalism. And this problem is more serious than it first appears.

    The Republican presidential candidate's rhetoric tells the story.

    In 1994, when Bush ran for governor of Florida the first time, he was asked what he would do for African-Americans if elected. He said: "It's time to strive for a society where there's equality of opportunity, not equality of results. So I'm going to answer your question by saying: probably nothing."...

    Jeb Bush has a problem with ethnicity and multiculturalism.
  7. Maxwell: Teachers need a voice in improving schools


    ‘Failure Factories," the Tampa Bay Times' superb investigation of five predominantly African-American elementary schools in south St. Petersburg, has forced us to face some inconvenient truths about public education in Pinellas County.

    Complete with solid numbers and cogent interviews, the series has produced outrage and forced a lot of needed introspection.

    In a recent column, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman correctly argued that if the district is to fix the problems the investigation uncovered, "sustainable solutions that address the systemic issues must be our focus." Suggesting that all parts of the greater community are interrelated regarding education is appropriate....

  8. Maxwell: Honest talk needed about race


    Racism always will exist in the United States. Too many of us, white and black, refuse to stop the pretense about race and reconsider the national myth of "equality for all." By pretending that we are equal, we never need to confront the harsh reality of race and inequality.

    Let me say at the outset that when I speak of race, I am referring to white people and black people only, especially black descendants of U.S. slaves. ...

  9. Maxwell: South Africa, not America, directly confronts race issues


    As a graduate student, I visited South Africa for the first time in 1976, a year before Steve Biko, the charismatic leader of the Black Consciousness Movement, was tortured to death by the apartheid government in a prison cell.

    As an American black born in the South, I had witnessed the brutality of racial segregation. Nothing in my experiences, however, had prepared me for the horrors I saw black South Africans endure in the Bantustans, euphemistically called the "homelands."...

  10. Maxwell: Congress should not cut legal aid to the poor


    Low-income Americans face serious challenges in many areas of their lives. Legal representation in court is one of these critical areas because unlike the rest of us, poor people can't afford lawyers.

    Helping the poor get their day in court should be a no-brainer. But it isn't in today's ideological minefields in Washington and in statehouses nationwide.

    It wasn't always like this. In 1974, Congress established the publicly funded, nonprofit Legal Services Corporation. An overwhelming number of lawmakers from both political parties and Republican President Richard Nixon apparently understood that because of the nation's growing income inequality, free legal aid would give many poor people equal access to justice by providing them with high-quality legal assistance in civil cases....

  11. Maxwell: Florida needs new amendment to protect environment (w/video)


    Enough is enough.

    In its familiar dissembling way, the Republican-led Florida Legislature is contravening the official will of the people.

    Last November, a supermajority of voters approved Amendment 1. It was supposed to strengthen Florida Forever, substantially protect natural habitats and enable the purchase of vital land statewide. Most notably, Amendment 1 money would position the state to purchase 46,000 acres owned by U.S. Sugar Corp. that would be used to help restore the Everglades. The option to buy the land expires in October....

    Florida needs a constitutional amendment guaranteeing a right to clean air, safe drinking water and a healthy environment.
  12. Maxwell column: In eyes of U.S., Israel can do no wrong (w/video)


    Most American citizens apparently don't understand, or don't care, how much influence Israel has on our government, especially on our foreign policy. Most Americans don't seem to realize, or don't care, that when Israeli conduct is the issue, we turn away from the very democratic and human rights principles we claim to hold dear. Paradoxically, many of the principles we blithely toss aside actually underpin the wisdom of our most cherished documents....

    U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, left, shakes hands Wednesday with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Israel. Boehner was heading a delegation of congressional Republicans to the Middle East amid intense debate over the Iran nuclear deal.
  13. Maxwell: Don't be fooled by environmental bills in Washington, Tallahassee


    Game on!

    How else do we describe the portent of President Barack Obama's veto of a GOP-sponsored bill that would have forced authorization of the 875-mile Keystone XL pipeline? By rejecting the bill, Obama not only enraged Republicans; he deepened the wrath of the oil industry and other businesses with financial interests in the venture.

    The veto is being called a "milestone" in Obama's presidency. Not only will it bring more partisan gridlock in Washington, its ideological impact will be felt nationwide, especially in Florida where environmental problems such as water pollution, sea level rise and wildlife habitat loss are worsening....

    According to the National Journal, a nonpartisan magazine that reports on politics and policy trends, the GOP has staked out 10 environmental rules to kill.
  14. Maxwell: Making black lives matter (w/video)


    In the wake of the killings of unarmed African-American males by white police officers, a new mantra for black life in the United States has emerged: "Black Lives Matter."

    It's appearing on placards, billboards, handbills, T-shirts and elsewhere. While it has powerful emotional appeal to us, we need to ask ourselves this: How is our new mantra being perceived by people who aren't African-American? What are they thinking?...

    Members of the Bay Area Activists Coalition carry a banner and chant, “Black lives matter,” during the Martin Luther King Jr. parade in St. Petersburg on Jan. 19.
  15. Maxwell: The case for accepting Medicaid expansion money


    I don't have a New Year's resolution but a simple wish for 2015. For the sake of our children, I wish that when the Florida Legislature convenes in March, it would take advantage of yet another opportunity to reverse its rejection of billions from the federal government over the next decade to expand health care coverage for nearly 1 million residents.

    In addition to being compassionate and moral, finding a way to accept the federal money would be practical because it would benefit all children....