by James Overstreet
The Black Political History of Reddick – The three ladies who have taken the Town of Reddick from conservative Republican, white minority rule to more moderate, Democratic majoritarian status, under matriarchal leadership, have successfully engineered a social and political revolution several decades in the making.
Although Reddick was incorporated in the 1880s, not even during the waning days of Reconstruction did an African-American dare run for public office, much less succeed. With African Americans living on one side of the town, and whites living on the other, African-Americans gradually became the narrow majority. (There is an old census report indicating that the town is 52% white; however, nobody believes that – black or white.)
At some point, attorney Harvey Klein (who had been a Democrat), moved up to Marion County from South Florida (where he had unsuccessfully run for office as a Democrat), and made his home in the small, sleepy Town of Reddick. A firm Goldwater Republican by then, Klein rose through the Republican Party ranks to be the dominant Chairman of the Marion County Republican Party. Under his leadership, the Republican Party took over Marion County’s politics, achieving dominant status over local Dixie Democrats for the first time since the end of Reconstruction.
But as Klein held a stranglehold over Republican politics in Marion County, he kept an even tighter hold on how things were done in the Town of Reddick where he served as a councilman. No one dared to challenge him.
But then sometime in the 1980s, Lillian “Lilly” Wilson became the first African-American ever to run for public office in the entire history of the Town of Reddick. Wilson ran against Klein! An African-American woman who was a Democrat dared to challenge the most powerful Republican in all of Marion County! And she nearly beat him! The election not only demonstrated the potential vulnerability of Harvey Klein (both in the Town of Reddick as well as in the local Republican Party), it also demonstrated that African-American voters in the Town of Reddick were willing to engage in politics, and that there was the possibility of garnering white votes. But there was no political follow-up in the years immediately after Lilly Wilson’s campaign. This would come a few years later in the early 1990s.
One bright Sunday morning, into the Town of Reddick, came two strangers – a lady from Ocala who would later be known as Dr. Candi Forster Dukes, and a bookish young hothead who read Malcolm X and the Black Panthers, but was a registered Republican at the time. He was Al Bloomfield. They were both students at CFCC and were invited before the congregation of United Missionary Baptist Church to speak one Sunday, by local resident and teacher Janet Burch.
Bloomfield was a business major who had organized his mostly white friends into an experimental, multi-location carwash to demonstrate to them corporate shareownership, a shareholders’ meeting, corporate management, and a board of directors – all in practical terms, rather than just classroom theory.
When Bloomfield had brought up, in a meeting of his mostly white business major friends, the name of “Reddick” (a name Bloomfield remembered from high school) as a possible location, one of the white students in this business group informed Bloomfield, in front of other African-Americans (Shan Wimberley Jenkins, Edwin Boyd, & Candi Forster) that, “There’s nothing in Reddick but niggers!” Bloomfield was shocked, horrified and infuriated. That was the end of the business experiment.
However, Bloomfield would not shut up about the audacity of a white student – a friend who used to hang out at his place, and he at his – being comfortable stating something like that in a meeting with black people. Much to his disappointment, Bloomfield discovered that African-Americans in West Ocala did not have a much better opinion of African-Americans from Reddick. So, Candi Forster introduced Al Bloomfield to Janet Burch in Ocala (where Burch was working as a teacher). And Janet Burch introduced them at church.
Bloomfield gave a fiery speech that Sunday from the pulpit that brought feet to the floor, made heads raise, and hands clap, and lips cheer! After that, there was no turning back for African-American political involvement in their own town.
The Reddick Self-Improvement Committee was immediately formed with Janet Burch, Rev. Royal L Lawrence, Lilly Wilson, Al Bloomfield, Lawrence Owens, Alfonso Owens, Ernestine Patterson, Geraldine Atkins, Philip Samuel III, Hoover Jackson, Ivory Pate, Shirley Evans, and Michael O’Neal Salter. The latter himself would eventually sit on the Reddick Town Council.
Bloomfield asked the Committee what they wanted to tackle first. The Committee was unanimous in condemning the poor attention given to infrastructure on the black side of town. So that’s what they tackled first. But no one knew who to go to, or what to ask. Bloomfield, although about 19 at this time, had already developed extensive social and political contacts after reading Dale Carnegie, and putting the author’s principles into practice at every Republican, Democratic and Chamber of Commerce social function that he could get into. Bloomfield brought the problems of Reddick to Glenel Bowden, Chief of Staff of Congresswoman Corrine Brown, who Bloomfield knew in passing. Bowden informed Bloomfield of the Community Development Block Grant program. He also provided Bloomfield with the contact information for Fred Fox Enterprises. After scrutinizing the details, Bloomfield brought the information back to the Reddick Self-Improvement Committee.
The roads on the white side of town were pristine. Yet the roads on the African-American side of town were not roads, but in many cases more like grooves carved into the earth. So, the first thing that the Reddick Self-Improvement Committee tried to do (in addition to vigorous voter education and voter registration) was to try to convince the all-white, all Republican, far-right conservative, Town Council government, dominated by Harvey Klein, to accept Fred Fox Enterprises’ offer to apply for the Community Development Block Grant on behalf of the Town of Reddick in order to fix the roads in the African-American side of town.
But, because the problem was only on the African-American side of town, the Town Council unanimously refused. Since the Town of Reddick had (and has) no ad valorem tax ordinance, this grant was the only way to fix the roads. It would have cost the people of the town of Reddick zero dollars. But it only would’ve benefited black residents, not white.
This act of racism is part of the legacy of white minority rule in Reddick. It is also part of the legacy of the late Harvey Klein, who is otherwise remembered for charitable contributions that included some African-Americans, for which his name is on a building at the College of Central Florida.
So, faced with the intransigence of a racist all-white Town Council, Janet Burch, Ernestine Patterson and Geraldine Atkins decided courageously to run for Town Council for 3 different at-large Town Council seats. Not since Reconstruction had so many African-Americans in Marion County run for public office at the same time, in the same way, in similar races. Members of the Reddick Self-Improvement Committee – at first – had pressed Lilly Wilson to run again, as she had become a symbol for black political activism in the Town of Reddick. But Wilson felt her time for doing those sorts of things had passed, and it was time for a younger group of people to take up the challenge.
Billy Pulliam, one of the incumbent redneck Republicans threatened by this election, started an entirely new form of political campaigning for the South. Allegedly, Councilman Pulliam encouraged black voters to vote for him, for old times’ sake. He struck a very conciliatory tone with black voters, and asked for their continued support as neighbors. Meanwhile, Pulliam allegedly told white voters that they had to vote for him because,” The ‘niggers’ are tryin’ to take over. Backed by his more openly racist wife, Billy Pulliam’s strategy seemed to be making inroads.
According to the Ocala Star Banner at the time, voter turnout was similar to that of a presidential election. But the African-American Democrat challengers were only narrowly defeated by Klein’s henchmen. But the ladies – Janet Burch, Ernestine Patterson and Geraldine Atkins – publicly declared that they would run again!
In the eyes of both friends and foes alike, Harvey Klein had lost control of his town. In the eyes of many, a white conservative man had lost control of his town to black, more liberal women who represented the black majority. This became a serious crisis for Klein as the entire spectacle played out in the Ocala Star Banner and was being gobbled up by those conspiring against Klein in the REC (the local Republican Executive Committee).
At the time of this election, Harvey Klein was no longer on the Reddick Town Council. He was town attorney. But absolutely no one doubted that Klein controlled the Town of Reddick – until that election. And a victory by Janet Burch, Ernestine Patterson and Geraldine Atkins would have signaled his weakness to his enemies in the REC of the Marion County Republican Party, where Klein had been criticized by his foes as a “dictator”.
But in the eyes of many Republicans who feared and detested Klein, he had lost control of his “hometown” to a 19-year-old student & community organizer (Bloomfield) and “a bunch of old women” (Lilly Wilson, Janet Burch, Ernestine Patterson, and Geraldine Atkins). The fact that Klein’s preferred councilmembers nearly lost, and that a member of his own REC (Bloomfield) was openly working against him with impunity, inspired Klein’s enemies within the REC, and helped to spark a rebellion against Klein in the local Republican Party led by P.G. Meskin, Mary Page, and other anti-Klein malcontents.
Although Bloomfield had aligned himself with the anti-Klein faction, almost from the very beginning, he was unaware of the date, time, or method, that the anti-Klein faction was going to use to try to remove Klein from the chairmanship, until it happened at a Republican Party meeting in Ocala (Silver Springs) in which out-of-town Republican dignitaries (whom Klein wanted to impress) were present.
Although Klein was not removed as party chairman, he was severely weakened and publicly humiliated. Realizing he could not regain total control of the local Republican Party before him, with an ongoing Reddick rebellion in his rear, Klein realized he needed to act quickly and decisively. Klein, fearful that the Reddick Self-Improvement Committee would try again to get African-Americans elected during the next election cycle, and possibly win (which could encourage fresh revolts over his control of the local Republican Party), offered the community a compromise.
Klein informed several members of the Reddick Self-Improvement Committee that if they could get Al Bloomfield to stop trying to get rid of him, and his supporters on the Town Council, Klein would allow the appointment of an African-American onto the Town Council for the first time in the history of Reddick. When the compromise was brought back to Al Bloomfield, Bloomfield (who didn’t seem to care that his vehicle had already been sabotaged months before on the white side of town after a Town Council meeting), left the matter to the other members of the Committee, agreeing to abide by their decision. Because in the end, it was all about what was best for Reddick, and what the People of Reddick wanted.
The Reddick Self-Improvement Committee accepted Harvey Klein’s offer. Michael O’Neal Salter was selected to serve on the Reddick town Council as the first African-American ever. The Reddick Self-Improvement Committee was disbanded. Its members decided that they would revisit running more candidates in the future. And Bloomfield gave his word of honor to return at that time.
Bloomfield moved on to bigger and better things. He became a Democrat, and later became the first African-American, the first Caribbean-American, and the first American of Ashanti descent, to gain the Marion County Democratic Party’s nomination for countywide office. Then, after a brief involvement with the National Urban League, he finally settled down and got married, disappearing from the political scene for almost 20 years. Candi Foster got married, attained her PhD, and became Dr. Candi Foster Dukes.
Meanwhile, Michael O’Neal Salter became the longest-serving Democratic politician in Marion County at the time of his death in 2020. Michael Salter was also the first African-American to hold public office in Marion County north of Ocala since Reconstruction. Having gotten used to having an African-American representative on the Town Council (as is the Southern custom in Ocala and Dunnellon), the Town Council of Reddick (long after the death of Klein) – rather than hold a special election – appointed Rev. Myra Sherman, pastor of Reddick Church of God, as Salter’s successor in 2020.
Around 2015, Al Bloomfield got back involved with the Marion County Democratic Party as a precinct committeeman, reprising a role he had held sometime around 2002. Aggressively shaking up the local Democratic Party which was not yet “woke”, he pleaded with Councilman Salter to join the Marion DEC. Although Salter was willing to join Bloomfield’s network of Democrats, he was not willing to participate with the DEC of the Marion County Democratic Party – which was virtually “Lilly white” with few members born and raised in Marion County.
The two men met in Reddick and discussed local party reform in detail. But Salter wanted to wait until his retirement. Very shortly after he retired, Michael Salter passed away.
At Salter’s funeral, none of his fellow Reddick town Council members – all of whom were white and Republican – attended his funeral. They all refuse to attend.
But the Democratic Party in Marion County treated Michael O’Neal Salter no better than the Republicans did. None of the white liberal leadership of the Marion County Democratic Party – all of whom were informed of his passing and significance – bothered to attend his funeral and show respect. Not Rick Perry, nor LaVonda McCandless, or Diana Williams, or Mary Anne Lambert – all of whom were notified in the DEC meetings by Al Bloomfield, as well as by Rev. Harold Damon of the Marion County Voters’ League. The only DEC members who were present at Salter’s funeral were Al Bloomfield, Marion County School Board member Eric Cummings, and Helen Dueno of Latino Democratic Club of Marion County. But none of the white liberal leadership of the local Democratic Party, all of whom were informed of the funeral and its significance, bothered to attend. This was an additional black eye for the Marion County Democratic Party under LaVonda McCandless’s poor leadership.
Councilwoman Sherman, in cooperation with Al Bloomfield and Rev. Harold Damon, started looking for local candidates running the 2021 Reddick Town Council election. At the same time, an African-American living on the white side of town in Reddick, Joe Perry, was looking for African-American candidates to run for Town Council office. Perry found Minister Shirley Youmans and Nadine Stokes to run for the 2021 Reddick town election. Al Bloomfield knew both women (Shirley Youmans’ father – the late Rev. Royal L Lawrence – had mentored Bloomfield in black leadership), but had not seen them in over 20 years.
But Bloomfield kept his word and returned. He enthusiastically brought into the picture Whitfield Jenkins, Rev. Harold Damon, Stacey Peters, Barbara Byram, and Andrea Livingston – all of whom contributed significantly, and laid the foundation for Joe Perry and Mary Anne Lambert (who knew nothing of the history and politics of Reddick) to run a successful political campaign built on the foundation laid out by Jenkins, Bloomfield, Damon, Peters, Byram and Livingston.
Mary Lambert, from the Marion DEC, was sent to Reddick to get involved by the by the local party’s steering committee because under the previous party chairman, LaVonda McCandless, the Marion County Democratic Party deliberately refused to engage in local politics. They did not get involved in anything related to county or municipal candidates related to petitions, sign waving, voter education, voter mobilization, candidate recruitment or development. Instead, they endorsed 2 pro-Trump Republican candidates, one of whom repudiated the endorsement on Facebook. Bloomfield, enraged by these betrayals by party Democrats, complained in writing to them, and to state party leadership. This caused state party leadership to start paying attention to Marion County, where the Democratic Party was not doing its job. This led to the involvement of Mary Lambert in the Reddick election which Bloomfield had been talking about in the DEC for years.
It’s been noted – factually – that if Al Bloomfield had never existed, there would be no one on the Reddick town Council today, as his community activism created a domino effect. But an even greater truth is that it would’ve been even harder for Bloomfield to get things started in Reddick (maybe even impossible), without the trailblazing work of Lilly Wilson.
It was Lilly Wilson who demonstrated that African-Americans could run for public office in Reddick, without any real reprisals by racist whites. She had the credibility to validate what Bloomfield was advocating. The two made the Reddick you see today, possible. But no one mentioned their names during the swearing-in for new councilmembers Shirley Youmans and Nadine Stokes. And certainly no one will give them the credit they earned for the sacrifices they gave. Also, the African-Americans of Reddick have already forgotten how Royal L Lawrence, Janet Burch, Ernestine Patterson, Geraldine Atkins, Michael O’Neal Salter, Philip Samuel, Alfonso and Lawrence Owens, Hoover Jackson, Shirley Evans and Ivory Pate made their lives so much better through their political activism.
But what truly matters in the end is that Shirley Youmans and Nadine Stokes succeeded in getting elected in 2021. They now join Rev. Myra Sherman on the Reddick Town Council. This gives Marion County a second municipal Democratic and woman majority, with Dunnellon being first. Could Ocala be next?