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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: 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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....

  4. Maxwell: A case for less cynicism, better government


    At the risk of being called naive during this age of widespread political cynicism, I acknowledge that I believe in the inherent value of democratic government. Although a reasonable dose of cynicism is good, cynicism erodes the democratic fabric of society when it becomes intensely hostile toward government.

    When I speak of cynicism, I'm using this dictionary definition: "Showing contempt for accepted standards of honesty or morality by one's actions, especially by actions that exploit the scruples of others."...

  5. Maxwell: Florida's vital challenge: to save the Everglades (w/video)


    EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK — The health of Florida's environment never should have become a partisan issue, but we keep electing officials who make it partisan. As a result, we see the continued degradation of our water and land and serious threats to many plants and animals.

    Many ecologists and other experts argue that as the health of the natural world diminishes, the quality of human life diminishes in equal measure....

    Historically, the Everglades ecosystem encompassed 18,000 square miles. Because of urban
and agricultural development, half of that remains. Scientists call it the “remnant Everglades.”
  6. Maxwell: Growing up in the era of the Florida School for Boys


    As researchers continue to unearth remains in Marianna at the closed Florida School for Boys, also known as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, I'm transported back to the fear I experienced as a boy in Florida during Jim Crow.

    The notorious reform school had two campuses, one for whites and one for blacks. We referred to it simply as "Marianna." We knew many of the horror stories about boys who went there and never saw the free world again. Our parents and other guardians used Marianna to keep us in line and out of trouble with "the law.''...

    Emmett Till, shown with his mother, Mamie, was murdered in 1955 in Mississippi at age 14.
  7. Maxwell: Why blacks need to vote


    I'm really angry at the black residents of Ferguson, Mo., where a white police officer shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown and set off days of protests and disturbances.

    The tragic events in Ferguson underscore the failures of the police department and magnify the city's dangerous racial divide between whites and blacks. But they also reveal how Ferguson's black residents failed to exercise their most precious right as citizens: the right to vote, the power of the ballot....

    Timberlyn Jones, 17, left, takes part in a march in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 30. The black community has put a new focus on the power of the vote, with a door-to-door registration drive carrying the message, “Michael Brown Can’t Vote, But I Can.”
  8. Maxwell: Why college athletes are not employees


    In just three weeks, college football will cast its powerful spell on millions of Americans. Packed in stadiums and glued to TV screens, we will become obsessed with the performance of elite Division I teams and star athletes.

    Most fans only see what the players do on the gridiron. Off the field, players live under extreme pressure, most devoting up to 50 hours a week preparing for game day, virtually giving up all other parts of their lives. If they are severely injured, their long-term career goals may be altered....

    A March 5  ruling gave Northwestern University football players the green light to unionize.
  9. Maxwell: Denialism takes root, choking off facts


    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that has been reporting on climate science since 1988, gave the world an unequivocal warning in March: If destructive human activity — especially greenhouse gas emissions — is not brought under control soon, mankind's future on the planet is bleak.

    "Observed impacts of climate change have already affected agriculture, human health, ecosystems on land and in the oceans, water supplies, and some people's livelihoods," according to the report. "The striking feature of observed impacts is that they are occurring from the tropics to the poles, from small islands to large continents, and from the wealthiest countries to the poorest."...

  10. Maxwell: Divestment in support of Palestinians' rights


    Around the campus of the University of South Florida in Tampa, students, staff and visitors are reminded that it is an institution that promotes and exemplifies human rights.

    The words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., winner of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, for example, are inscribed on a building: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." In other places, the campus community is told it has an obligation to "respect the dignity and intrinsic value of all persons."...

  11. Maxwell: A hard look at acting properly in public


    Two weeks ago, I was driving from Gainesville back to St. Petersburg, and I stopped for gas on State Road 200 in Ocala. After I got out of my truck and started pumping, a late model Honda Accord sedan with a Canadian license plate parked at the pump next to me. A white family — a man, a woman and three preteens — were in the Honda. The man got out, we spoke simultaneously and he started pumping....

  12. Maxwell: Q&A with principal of University Preparatory Academy


    University Preparatory Academy, the new charter school in south St. Petersburg, opened last August with lofty promises.

    From the start, it had serious problems, most notably failing to establish a board of advisers in a timely manner and using a bus company not yet approved by Pinellas County School Board. Daily management was so chaotic that at least 77 pupils withdrew, and four teachers and the curriculum director left. To change the school's direction, the governing board hired Darius Adamson as principal. Adamson is a founding partner of the Solomon Group, a North Carolina-based corporation with a proven record of transforming troubled schools into high performers. I talked with him about his objectives and long-term vision for the school....

    Darius Adamson: “finding ways to educate all students.”
  13. Maxwell: Kriseman team must honestly confront Midtown's challenges


    One of the first campaign promises new St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman kept was to hire an administrator to oversee economic development for Midtown, the predominantly African-American community south of Central Avenue.

    He chose 40-year-old St. Petersburg native Nikki Gaskin-Capehart for the job. Her official title is director of urban affairs. Kriseman also hired 38-year-old Kanika Tomalin, another St. Petersburg native, as deputy mayor. A large part of her job will be to work on projects to improve Midtown. Kriseman has hired two women with proven records of solving problems....

    MIDTOWN FOCUS: Nikki Gaskin-Capehart, left, and Kanika Tomalin are tasked with bringing economic improvements to Midtown.
  14. Maxwell: For free and open debate


    During the early 1970s when I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, one of my two roommates was a Jew. We became close friends and beer-drinking buddies, and many late nights we studied together in Regenstein Library. We still correspond on issues that concern us.

    He introduced me to the University of Chicago Hillel, the Jewish student group. He was a member even though he was, as he said, "an agnostic Jew from Boston" who spoke his mind. He said the Chicago chapter, even with its problems, was one of the most tolerant in the country. I accompanied him to several functions that were open to the public, and I was impressed with the sophisticated, uninhibited debate on many controversial issues, including Israel....

  15. Maxwell: Reality and fantasy in the cotton fields


    Duck Dynasty, the so-called reality show on A&E, is not on my menu of TV watching. In recent weeks, though, I've learned a lot about the show because of comments that Phil Robertson, the cast's patriarch, made during an interview with GQ magazine that led to his suspension from the show. • Here's what Robertson said about African-Americans: "I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I'm with the blacks, because we're white trash. We're going across the field. … They're singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, 'I tell you what: These doggone white people' — not a word! … Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues."...

    Workers hoe a cotton field in Greene County, Ga., in 1941. Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson said he never saw the mistreatment of any black person.