Apalachicola will be getting a historical marker to honor
the legacy of Moses Roper, a leading 19th century abolitionist and former fugitive
slave who authored a best-selling narrative that included description of his experiences
while serving as a steward on a steamboat plying the Apalachicola River.
The 4-1 vote by city commissioners, with Despina George opposed,
came a little more than a month after an exhibit on Roper was unveiled at the
Apalachicola Center for History, Culture and Arts. The HCA has been closed for
much of that time, and the exhibit unavailable to the public, after the
recently hired part-time executive director left for a full-time job, and
nearly all the members of the HCA board of directors resigned from their posts.
The creation of a historical marker had been championed by
Augusta West, director of Main Street Apalachicola, as well as by Elinor
Mount-Simmons, who reviewed the historic materials on behalf of HCOLA
(Hillside Coalition of Laborers for Apalachicola).
In support of the exhibit, West presented several letters of
support for the marker by leading scholars of Ropers life, as well as his descendants.
A petition of several hundred names, in support of the marker, included the
names of about 75 Apalachicola residents.
From the outset of the meeting, Mayor Brenda Ash emerged as
a strong proponent of the marker.
I applaud Main Street with the work theyve done, she
said. I applaud all those who have diligently worked to bring this project to
One of the things that really bothers me, to say that in (Riverfront
Park) theres not room for a second marker, she said.
In an appeal to city commissioners prior to the meeting,
West stressed that the marker had been mentioned in the original grant application
to the Duke Energy Foundation, which awarded the exhibit $10,000. She also
noted that the markers backers would move forward with placing the marker in
downtown Apalachicola along the river, even if it were not granted space at
In the motion to approve the marker, there was no specific
mention of where it might be placed nor of what entity would oversee the
The more I research, I find its a wonderful story, said
George. The tie to Apalachicola is rather tenuous. I dont think its a proper
subject for a historic marker ibn spite of the importance of the content.
George, a longstanding critic of Main Street, said that the exhibit
and marker had been rolled out as a complete project (which was) just being
brought to the publics attention, and question whether the project could be
considered something for established history in a community that has wide community
She also stressed that the city currently has two historic
markers slated to highlight African-American history, including one in
production for St. Paul AME Church, which includes mention of Emmanuel Smith,
whose life and contributions to Apalachicola are well-documented.
George also expressed an apology to Mount-Simmons, who had
spoken in favor of the marker at last months meeting. The city commissioner
had suggested that Main Street, which has been the prominent backer of the
exhibit, had put Mount-Simmons front and center, rather than have to face tough
questions on the non-profits relationship with the city.
I want to apologize to Elinor Mount-Simmons if she feels Ive
attacked her character, said George. Thats the furthest thing from my mind.
In her second to Anita Groves motion to approve the marker,
Adriane Elliott offered questions of West regarding funding of the exhibit.
West said Duke Energy had granted the project $10,000 for
both the exhibit and the marker, with another $5,000 coming from Florida Humanities,
$2,000 from Weems Memorial Hospital, and $600 to $800 from several individuals.
West said the budget for the project includes $350 for
installation, with the cost of a double-sided historical marker a little less
Are we somehow profiting from a grant for this marker? The
answer is no, she said. Ive put in almost $1,000 personally I do not expect
to be ever reimbursed for. It is not a project anybody is making money off of
from grant-funding agencies.
West also made a point of decrying wording on the existing
marker at Riverfront Park which includes mention of the phrase Cotton is king.
That phrase originated with James Hammond, a Southern plantation owner,
and U.S. senator who extolled Southern power in the area leading up to the