State News
10:08 am
Wed November 13, 2013

Activists Question Diversity Of Inaugural Veterans Hall Of Fame Inductees

Florida Governor Rick Scott congratulates Veterans Hall of Fame inductee John Cleland.
Florida Governor Rick Scott congratulates Veterans Hall of Fame inductee John Cleland.
Credit The Florida Channel

Florida officials inducted six citizens into the state’s Veterans Hall of fame Tuesday. Lawmakers created the honor in 2011, but concerns about diversity slowed down the process, making this year’s group the inaugural set.

Florida Governor Rick Scott inducted five men and one woman during Tuesday’s early morning ceremony. 

“These six individuals represent the first of many distinguished individuals who will be inducted in years to come. The bravery and sacrifice of our veterans has preserved and protect the American dream for generations and allows Americans to enjoy the freedoms that we do today," Scott said.

Scott said creating the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame, which recognizes the achievements of veterans during and especially after their service, required a group effort. And that effort came with its share of fits and starts. Not long after lawmakers established the hall of fame in 2011, officials released what they call a “draft list” of 22 possible inductees, which included Scott himself as well as several former members of the Confederate army, but no minorities or women. That led to public outcry from civil rights activists. Officials quickly pulled the list, but now years later, Tallahassee lawyer and civil rights activist Chuck Hobbs said he’s not sure those concerns about diversity have been answered.

“It gives me pause for concern to think that for the many veterans for the state of Florida, that there aren’t any in the two cycles that are black, latino, or some other ethnic minority that aren’t worthy of being honored,” Hobbs said.

Hobbs is careful to say he’s certain those who were honored were deserving of the recognition, but he said he can think of plenty of minority veterans who also served their country well.

“Sure, my father, Lt. Charles Edward Hobbs Senior who served his country with distinction for 20 years, was an infantry officer and military police officer during the Vietnam War, was the ROTC officer at Florida A&M University from 1980 to 1983…” Hobbs said.

The Florida Hall of Fame’s website does include a form that lets citizens nominate candidates. Those individuals would then go into a pot that the governor and cabinet, as well as the hall of fame council, could use to select finalists. Hobbs said he wasn’t aware of that, but now that he is, he plans to make nominations each year. The Department of Veterans Affairs declined a request for a radio interview about how that selection works or how matters of diversity were taken into account when coming up with this year’s list of inductees. But a department spokesman did say none of those selected came from the initial list of 22 individuals, and highlighted that Florida’s hall of fame is different because it puts more focus on the nominees’ post military contributions to the state.

Follow Regan McCarthy on twitter @Regan_McCarthy