Monday, January 25, 2021

History Calls on us to Remember and to Create a More Just Future

Curator shares the history of the pre-1920 massacre

It was Saturday, January 16th – the birthday of former farmworker and warrior for social and environmental justice for farmworkers, Geraldean Matthew, who sadly had passed away in October 2016. Though she could not be there, everyone felt her spirit was with them, as they visited the Orange County Regional History Center museum in downtown Orlando for a guided tour of the “Yesterday, This Was Home: The Ocoee Massacre of 1920” exhibit.

Linda and Sr. Gail find a moment to reminisce.

Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quiltmakers, Linda Lee, along with her great-grandchildren, and Sarah Downs, who organized the field trip, took advantage of the opportunity to view the exhibit before it closes in March. Joining them was Sr. Gail Grimes, co-founder of the Farmworker Association of Florida, and Laura Firtel of the Hope CommUnity Center, both of whom have lived and worked in Apopka for many years and who know the lives and stories of the Black farmworkers in the community.

Geraldean, Linda, and others in the Black community in Central Florida remember the days when no Blacks lived in Ocoee and any Blacks traveling in the area made a wide berth around the town because of the collective historical memory of the racist atrocities there. Their parents and grandparents, and the elders in the community, remember the fear and terror of that terrible time. The exhibit, painstakingly researched, shows the history and events leading up to The Ocoee Massacre of 1920, which was and still is the largest example of voting-day violence in the history of this country.

How would you feel if only white men could be jurists?

In the early 20th century, there was a flourishing middle-class Black community in the town of Ocoee, northwest of Orlando. When Moses Norman, a Black man living in Ocoee, tried to vote on election day, he was turned away at the polls by the White poll workers. This triggered a series of events leading to the murder and lynching of July Perry and a massacre in which Whites, including members of the KKK, from as far away as Orlando, killed many members of the Black community and burned their homes. The result was a mass exodus of Black renters and homeowners away from the dangerous, life-threatening area for decades. Though Ocoee now boasts a more diverse community and a Black city councilman, the exhibit connects the historical events of racism, hatred, and terror to recent incidents “some right here at home,” and poses questions about how we can move forward.

Linda’s great-grandchildren and Laura take a test to determine if they’d be able to vote in the Jim Crow era. Oh, wait. Laura wouldn’t have had to take the test. Hmm, wonder why.

To learn more about the Ocoee Massacre, visit:

Thanks to the two knowledgeable curators who led our tour and interacted with all of us, from the 9-year-old to the 82 years young!

Markel and Martin meet.

“Yesterday, This Was Home: The Ocoee Massacre of 1920” is extended through March 17, 2021. Don’t miss it!

Monday, November 16, 2020

"Labor of Love" Historic Apopka Mural Unveiled!

On Sunday, November 1st, the community of Apopka gathered safely to celebrate the completed project of the historic Apopka mural, “Labor of Love.” Local residents had been working tirelessly on the project for over a year, and were finally able to unveil their labor to the community.

Many Apopkans came out to the event, including City Council members and candidates for Seat 2. PPE, such as face masks, were distributed to those who arrived without them. Colorful kites soared above the socially distanced crowd, and a drum performance brought smiles to a lot of faces. Food was provided as well, making the event a time of community enjoyment in a period where such gatherings have been lacking.

The mural, which is located on the western side wall of the Big Potato Foundation in Apopka, depicts various scenes of the day-to-day life that older residents remember. Interviews were conducted with long-time Apopka residents to hear their stories on the history of their town. QR codes were incorporated into the mural so that when onlookers scan the codes with their smart devices, they will be able to listen to the oral histories themselves.

Head artist Linda Lee addressed the audience, discussing what the project meant to her. She wanted to create something that would last, something that could stand in to tell the stories of Apopka long after its original residents had moved on. “This mural is a legacy of hope for me,” she says. Lee believes that it is important for the younger generations to learn their history, to know their roots. She wants Apopkans to be proud of their hometown, and to want to work on the community together. In fact, that’s why she chose to name the mural what she did. “We cannot be selfish in this world,” Lee states. “‘Labor of Love’ means we need to pour out the love towards each other.”

A huge thanks to all of Linda’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who not only contributed to the artwork, but spent countless days in the sun, heat, and rain in support of the work on the mural.  Thank you to all of the many community members, artists, and volunteers who contributed so much to both the vision and the creation of this project.  ‘Labor of Love” was truly a community project!

Funding for the mural was through the Florida Department of State Division of Cultural Affairs and through generous donors who donated to our Ioby online fundraiser.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

"Labor of Love" Mural Project is Complete!


After several months of painting, and over a year of planning, the Lake Apopka Farmworkers Historical mural, "Labor of Love," is just about complete! Located on the western side of the Big Potato Foundation, the mural was signed off on by the tireless artists last Sunday. Head artist Linda Lee spoke about what the mural means to her, and what she hopes that it will inspire in the Apopka community. Lee remembers the days when Apopka was booming, sporting a movie theater, shoeshine, and Mr. Jabo's ice cream parlor, which, according to Lee, was arguably the best ice cream in town. She remembers the hard work ethic of the residents, how everyone was proud of the community that they had built. Yet today, the newer generations can't seem to wait to get out of town. Lee says that the younger generations aren't proud of the place they grew up in like their older family members are. She wants to change that.

“We got a real town, we just got to keep it going on. If we don’t get up and do something, we're going to be the lost generation,” says Lee. The mural itself depicts the residents of Apopka as she knew them growing up: her dad picking onions, her grandfather chopping wood, people working in a real town. Perhaps the most unique feature of the artwork is the collection of QR codes integrated in the piece. When onlookers scan the codes with their phones, they will hear interviews with life-long Apopkan residents about the town’s history and their personal experiences. Lee’s hope is that people will come to look at this mural and think, “Wow, these people were proud."

Apopka is not nowhere. As Lee puts it, “Put something into it, get something out of it.” The hope is that young people will learn about their hometown’s history and want to renew it. Apopka needs the businesses to come back. In other towns, there can be five Publix supermarkets within a mile of each other. In Apopka, there are just two. Lee wants to see her community launch the city into a whole new era, where people look out for and respect one another. Respect the past, and pave the way for a new future. “We cannot be selfish in this world,” Lee states. “‘Labor of Love’ means we need to pour out the love towards each other.”

Check back here for information on the community unveiling party for the “Labor of Love” Historical Apopkan mural.

Thanks to all of Linda’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren who not only contributed to the artwork but spend countless days in the sun, heat, and even rain in support of the work on the mural.  Thanks to all the many community members, artists, and volunteers who contributed so much to both the vision and the creation of the mural.  This was truly a community project! 

Funding for the mural was through the Florida Department of State Division of Cultural Affairs and through generous donors who donated to our Ioby online fundraiser.  

Monday, July 20, 2020

"Labor of Love" Picture Progress!

The "Labor of Love" mural is progressing, especially with the help from local community members and artists! Click the "read more" button to see the updated pictures for the Apopka history mural.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Picture Updates for "Labor of Love" Mural!

The "Labor of Love" Apopka mural is working on outlining the artwork so that the colored painting process can begin! Head artists Linda and Sarah are working with community members constantly to pump out work. Read more to see picture updates on the mural!

Monday, June 22, 2020

Say Their Names! FWAF Statement on BLM

FWAF Statement on Black Lives Matter

Say Their Names! George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all the others, whose lives have been lost senselessly, needlessly and tragically because of an ever-pervasive and inherent racism that infects our country.…like a pandemic. We will say their names and we will continue to say their names, because their lives matter! Because this moment in our country’s history is pulling back the veil from the lies that have perpetrated a system that declares “liberty and justice for all”, but has failed to live up to that promise for far too many people, most of them whose skin color is Black.

We cannot close our eyes anymore; we cannot hide behind the curtain and profess equality under the law, when we have seen the truth exposed, and have seen the many lives that have been cut short, bringing profound pain and trauma to family members and to our nation – a nation in which an emergency worker is shot in her bed as she sleeps; in which a man is suffocated under the knee of an officer of the law as others stood by, watched and videotaped; in which a man out for a pleasant jog is gunned down by civilians for no just cause. But, these are not all. The names are far too many in number, but we will remember them all, because they lived, and breathed and made a difference in the world! They were part of the fabric of America. And, their lives continue to be a clarion to us all that we ignore only at our peril. For whatever happens to the least of us, happens to us all. Quoting the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The Farmworker Association of Florida unequivocally condemns the policies and their racist roots and underpinnings that have for far too long privileged one race over another. The past is not past at all. Just as we walk on land stolen from the indigenous first nations people in this country, we reside in a land that was built on the backs of people torn from their homes in Africa to be subjugated to hard labor and “ownership” as slaves on plantations. What has been omitted from our history books is now bubbling to the surface. The truth must be told or it will continue to haunt us. Slave labor built the wealth of this country and fed and fueled the industrial revolution. The underlying roots in the evil of slavery continue to contaminate our contemporary world even now, and they are a stain on our stated values of human worth and dignity for everyone.

The killings over the past few weeks have particular resonance for farmworkers. After all, it was Black men, women and children that were the first “farmworkers” who endured the yoke of slavery as they labored on the plantations in the South, producing the food that fed the growth of the entire nation in its infancy until the present.  In the famous television documentary “Harvest of Shame”, one farmer was quoted as saying, “We used to buy our slaves, now we rent them.” 

As we share our outrage of the recent – and sadly, continued! – killings of Black and Brown people, we are demanding and will work for action and for progressive, positive and systemic change. Once the veil is lifted and we look the ugly beast of racism in the eyes, we can face the enemy and, together, we must work with all our might to vanquish the monster of racism.

In Memoriam of Apopka's Black Leaders

As we remember the Black lives who have been lost to hateful violence and police brutality, we honor our deceased Black farmworker leaders, who can trace their grandparents and great grandparents roots to indentured servitude, share-cropping and back to their ancestors who were enslaved people. For the hardships, discrimination, racism and overall injustice they endured while they were alive, and for the legacy they leave to the generations that follow, we want to remember our own – the African American farmworker leaders in Florida, who fought for justice for their community and for all farmworkers: We say their names, as well. Geraldean Matthew, Betty Dubose, Earma Lee Peterson, Betty Woods, Johnnie Mae Hughley, Johnnie Mae Byers, Louise Seay, Angela Tanner, Willie Mae Williams and all the others who worked in the fields in Florida, but who worked for justice for farmworkers and for a better future.  We stand on their shoulders. We will want them to know “we got your back.” And, we will not be silent!

"Labor of Love" Mural Remembers Black Farmworkers

People around the world are taking steps to support the lives and rights of black communities in the United States, and FWAF is doing that through our creation of the "Labor of Love" Apopka community mural. Former Lake Apopka farmworker and lifelong Apopka community member Linda Lee is the leading artist for "Labor of Love." Linda has spent her life fighting for the rights and acknowledgement of black farmworkers, and during this difficult time for the world, it is more important than ever to remember the generations of black leaders and fighters that have paved the way for the Black Lives Matter movement today. The mural is underway, and we cannot wait to memorialize the black farmworkers that spent their lives feeding America. To learn more about the "Labor of Love" mural project, click here to view our information and donation page.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

"Labor of Love" Apopka Mural Project Begins the Painting Process!

In Apopka, FL, the Apopka History Mural project has chosen an official name, and that is "Labor of Love." The title was decided by lead artist, Linda Lee, who has spent decades fighting for the rights of farmworkers in central Florida. After many months of planning and deliberation, the Labor of Love mural has finally begun the painting process!

Artists Linda Lee (left) and Sarah Downs (right) planning the mural layout

After much consideration, the Labor of Love mural will be placed on the side wall of the Big Potato Foundation. The placement of the mural was changed multiple times, so this final decision has come after deciding that the wall would be sturdier, and more visible to people passing by the building. 

Sarah's nephew, Justin, helping apply the paint for the Labor of Love mural

Now, there are multiple parts to the mural. While a tree with several sunbeams will be painted directly onto the building's wall, the rest of the mural will be painted on plywood and attached to the wall. This way, the mural can be moved/transported in case there is a need. Currently, Sarah and Justin are working on completing the color for the tree and sunbeams that are painted directly onto the wall, while Linda and another mural artist, Norman, are sketching the outlines for the art on the plywood!

Linda (left) sketching while Justin (right) paints the oranges in the tree.

Norman sketching on the plywood

While the Labor of Love mural project was put on a brief pause due to coronavirus precautions, we are back and working while maintaining healthy practices and social distance! We cannot wait to unveil this beautiful art piece that only came to fruition from the care, dedication, and love of the community.