‘The Time Is Too Urgent,’ Former Tallahassee Mayor Declares
Feb 17, 2020 | Atlanta, GA
Former Tallahassee mayor and 2018 Democratic Florida gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum told an enthusiastic Georgia Tech audience that the strongest tribute to black American history may be the ballot itself.
“I always get a little bit drawn up with speeches about black history, in that oftentimes we reflect on names and personalities over the arc of history but fail to bring their experiences forward to what our lived experiences are today,” Gillum said. He was the featured speaker at Tech’s 2020 Black History Month Lecture, sponsored by Institute Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and the African American Student Union.
“Coming here to Georgia Tech during Black History Month is already a very rich burden and privilege, because we are standing in the city that is often credited as the home, if you will, of activism and the civil rights movement,” he continued. “This is the capital of modern black history here in the United States.”
Gillum invoked the names of Ford Greene, Ralph Long Jr., and Lawrence Williams – who broke the Georgia Tech color barrier in 1961, becoming the Institute’s first African American students – and Ronald Yancey, Tech’s first black graduate. The four were honored at the Institute’s annual Diversity Symposium in September and with permanent bronze sculpture installations recognizing their historical significance to the campus, the city, and the region.
Gillum, also previously a Tallahassee city commissioner first elected at the age of 23, became the first African American nominee for governor in Florida’s history in 2018.
He lost the race to Ron DeSantis by less than half a point.
“I often reflect on Martin Luther King Jr.’s memorial statue in Washington, D.C., which is not far from where he delivered the speech ‘Give Us the Ballot’ in 1957. Dr. King thought that in the years past Reconstruction, we would finally reach the pinnacle, ‘one citizen, one vote.’ Dr. King called that a great beacon of hope to millions of disenfranchised Americans who’d dared to only dream of freedom, of having the vote.”
Noting research that finds the best predictor of voting is encouragement from family and friends, Gillum called on the audience of 500 to dedicate themselves to registering more voters ahead of the upcoming presidential election.
Gillum also provided a road map for political change and for expanding voting rights, including for ex-felons.
In the same 2018 election in which he narrowly lost to DeSantis – one in which a record-shattering two million new midterm voters turned out – Florida voters also decided to re-enfranchise 1.3 million former felons whose voices, Gillum said, “will be heard in November of this year.”
In March 2019, Gillum launched the voter outreach organization Bring It Home Florida and has vowed to register one million new voters in Florida before November.
He also shared stories of growing up as the fifth of seven children. His mother, Frances Jackson Gillum, was a school bus driver and his father, Charles, worked in construction. He said his grandmother, who often helped him get ready for school, would tell him “to bring the education home” for the benefit of his parents, his siblings, and his community.
“I think of men like my father who built doorways that they themselves could not enter,” Gillum said. “I was told that I would need to open doors, not only for myself, but for others after me.”
He would go on to be the first in his family to graduate from high school and college.
“The only way we can commemorate this month of reflection is to take action. There’s no more room for those of us who choose not to engage our relatives, our dinner tables, our conversations around voter registration, to make sure that everyone around us gets out to vote. The time is too urgent.”
To view the 2020 Black History Month Lecture in its entirety, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_RX4h0cCbo.