FROSTPROOF — Frostproof officials have declared the first week of February as Donald J. Trump Week, and groups of Polk residents are preparing to protest what they are calling a “racist” decision.
Frostproof Vice Mayor Albert Gravley proposed a proclamation on Monday night dedicating Feb. 1-6 in honor of the former president and recognizing his accomplishments.
The proclamation was shared on Facebook by State Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, who was present at Frostproof’s City Council meeting on Monday. Sabatini is the same legislator who has proposed renaming U.S. 27 after the president.
“[W]hile president, the United States gained millions of new jobs, including more than 12 million manufacturing and construction jobs while designating 9,000 opportunity zones,” it reads. “...new unemployment lows were reached.”
While the city’s proclamation found support among the City Council members, it has drawn criticism from Frostproof residents and Black residents across Polk County.
Aimee Ward, 39, of Frostproof, said she recognizes the City Council’s right to recognize the former president, but it’s timing was poor. February is nationally recognized as Black History Month.
“I voted for Trump, but I feel this is stirring the pot,” she said. “If they declared Trump Day on his birthday in June, I wouldn’t think twice. Doing this on Black History Month is absolutely unacceptable.”
Ward, who is white, said her small business has already lost customers who said they no longer wish to spend their money in Frostproof. She is looking to start a petition to ensure Frostproof’s Donald J. Trump week does not occur again in 2022.
A wave of backlash to Frostproof’s decision by Polk’s Black community to honor Trump in February can be seen on Facebook and social media.
Merissa Green, a former Ledger reporter turned community advocate, said Frostproof’s actions send a message to people of color across the county.
“It sends a message that Black History Month isn’t important,” she said.
Several municipalities have made proclamations in the past week recognizing Black History Month, including Polk County, Lakeland and Winter Haven. Frostproof did not.
“The problem is not about the fact they want to have a proclamation for Donald J. Trump, the problem is the action was taken during Black History Month,” Green said.
Green said she thinks the widespread media coverage of Frostproof’s actions will be a marketing issue the city has to overcome.
Lakeland resident Al Lewis, who is Black, said she has strong family ties to Frostproof, where her father was born and grandfather owned several citrus groves. She said the city council’s actions were “uncalled for.”
“It’s safe to say Frostproof was built on the labor and backs of African American people,” she said. “How dare you take Black History Month to honor a racist bigot such as Donald Trump.”
Lewis said she is calling for a sit-in at Frostproof City Hall, located at 111 West First St., at 4 p.m. on Friday to show the community’s opposition.
Frostproof Mayor Jon Albert and Gravley could not be reached by The Ledger for comment on Wednesday.
James Ring, president of the Republican Club of Lakeland, attended Frostproof’s City Council meeting Monday night. Ring said he doesn’t think the city’s recognition of Trump conflicts with recognizing Black History Month.
“I don’t think it’s fair it’s turned into a race issue,” he said. “I don’t think there was any ill intent on behalf of the City Council.”
- Sara-Megan Walsh