marvin dunn deland west vousia historical society
LIVING HISTORY — Dr. Marvin Dunn speaks to a group in DeLand in August, during a program hosted by the West Volusia Historical Society. BEACON PHOTO/ELI WITEK


Last week, my husband was walking our dog and stopped to pick up some trash. Lying in the grass by a neighbor’s driveway was a Ziploc bag. Curiously, the bag contained dried corn kernels and a folded piece of paper.

Indeed, it was trash, the very toxic kind. The piece of paper was a flyer condemning Jews and spewing hatred. I will not go into details, but the message was clear: The Jews are to blame for everything that’s wrong in our country.

I filed a report with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Others from DeLand had already reported finding similar bags on their front lawns. But our community was not the only place being trashed by hatemongers. The Miami Herald reported the bags appearing in Coral Gables, Jacksonville and Tampa.

Hatred has been on my mind a great deal recently. A much-admired friend of mine, Dr. Marvin Dunn, was the victim of a hate crime a few weeks ago.

Dr. Dunn, Florida’s foremost Black historian, professor and author of several books on Black history, was visiting his property in Rosewood, once a Black town that was attacked by a white mob who killed numerous Black residents and burned down the entire town.

Dr. Dunn owns 5 acres on the site, where he is planning an event to commemorate the upcoming 100th anniversary of the incident, one of the worst race riots in Florida’s history.

A white man, a neighbor whom Dr. Dunn had never met, was angry that people who were with Dunn were parked on his side of the dirt road separating the two properties.

He gunned his truck toward a group standing by the road, shouting racist obscenities. Douglas Dunn, Marvin’s son, was almost hit by the speeding truck.

A week later, the man was arrested and charged with a second-degree felony. Dr. Dunn reported a hate crime to the FBI.

It’s ironic that there is so much hatred directed toward specific ethnic groups in a nation founded by persecuted religious minorities and immigrants. Although the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protected the civil rights of minorities, Congress felt the necessity to pass the first federal hate-crimes statute in 1968.

The sharp increase of hate crimes, most based on ethnic bias, and the widespread reporting of them, belies the notion that we are essentially a benevolent country in which everyone is equal, and all it takes to realize the American Dream is to work hard and be patient.

Anyone who reads about our nation’s history and watches authentic news shows knows that the “tired and poor” are facing the harsh reality that the “gravy train” seldom stops in their neighborhoods. Many who have never had to face that reality wonder why workers strike, why college graduates are protesting about the yoke of student debt, and why groups like “Black Lives Matter” and the #MeToo movement insist on being heard.

If seeing through the myth makes some people uncomfortable, that is the price we must pay to learn from our bold but brutal history, and work toward a just society where everyone is entitled to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Education and interethnic dialogue are our only hope that hate crimes will diminish.

Maybe someday we can all nod in agreement with the poet Maya Angelou, that “we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”

Editor’s note: Dr. Dunn, who was born and raised in DeLand and lives in Miami, was invited by the West Volusia Historical Society to give a presentation in August about his interesting life story. See the Historical Society’s YouTube page to view a recent interview with Dr. Dunn.

— Hersh is a resident of DeLand, who volunteers with the West Volusia Historical Society, recording oral histories of Black residents with local roots in Volusia County.


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