June 15th, 2021
DeLand Boy Scout Hut
Jackson Lane Park & Playground
720 N Frankfort Avenue, DeLand, FL
Local History Talk
Volusia Remembers Coalition "From Terror to Reconciliation"
Dr. Felicia Benzo and Ms. Jody Williams, members of the Volusia Remembers Coalition (VCR), will discuss the “why” and “how” of this community organization formed to remember the period of Jim Crow racial terror, including at least five lynchings of Black men in our county. VCR is a diverse group with volunteer-members from throughout the county.
What is lynching, and why should we care now? The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), based in Montgomery AL [and founded by attorney/author Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy], tells the stories of the 6,000+ victims of racial terror lynchings in the US, by encouraging “community remembrance projects” like Volusia Remembers. These projects identify local victims, arrange public ceremonies to collect soil, establish markers and monuments, with the goal of promoting unity, equity, and justice today. Learn about local victims including Mr. Lee Snell, a Daytona Beach cab driver lynched in 1939, recently memorialized by VRC’s Soil Collection Committee headed by Ms. Daisy Grimes. Sidney Johnston, professional historian and member of WVHS and VCR, will explain research strategies using evidence and source materials to develop site-specific locations. Time for Q&A, discussion, information-sharing. Free and open to the public.
About the presenters
Felicia Benzo, Chairperson of VRC’s Education Committee and Member of its Steering Committee, is an educator, author, community advocate, and passionate champion for young people. After 28 years as an emergency room physician in New York City, she moved to Florida in 2010, where she founded and directs CATALYST Global Youth Initiatives Inc., a nonprofit organization with a mission of mentoring children & youth one-on-one and improving their social and emotional intelligence.
Jody Williams, Communications Coordinator of VRC’s Education Committee, is a [self-described] “human services & social justice policy wonk,” a transplanted Yankee who likes to learn about local history. Her professional life in Massachusetts--in public health, education, law, and organizational development—was to change systems to enhance rights, supports and opportunities for persons with developmental disabilities. After retiring to Florida in 2005, she has volunteered as a county court mediator and guardian ad litem.
Felicia and Jody met in the fall of 2019 on a tour sponsored by the African-American Museum of the Arts, to visit EJI’s Legacy Museum (which depicts our history of racial inequality) and EJI’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice (a sacred space for truth-telling and reflection) in Montgomery, AL.
Sidney Johnston, WVHS Lifetime Member and professional historian, consulted for 25 years with archaeology, environmental, and historic preservation firms and private clients on historic preservation projects and National Register Nominations, some of which document the African-American heritage of Florida. In 2021, he completed a successful National Register Nomination of the James W. Wright Building in DeLand for the Greater Union Life Center, Inc. He is currently employed as assistant director of Stetson University’s grant and sponsored research office, and conducts research for VRC.