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Duval Democrats in civil war over committeeman’s alleged ‘racist remarks’

Duval County Democrats are dealing with unusual scrutiny and internal tension in the wake of remarks allegedly made by state committeeman John Parker at a dinner in January.

The remarks were first discussed with Florida Politics in February, with James Deininger, the secretary of the Florida Senior Democratic Caucus, alleging that Parker made comments at a dinner at a Jacksonville restaurant “referring to black people as ‘colored’ along with despairing statements about Reconstruction and the desegregation of schools.”

Parker, husband of Duval Democratic Party chair Lisa King, has come under fire in recent weeks, with Sunshine State News leading the charge.

In “Black Democrats file a complaint against Duval state committeeman for racist remarks,” James Morton, a member of the Duval Democratic Black Caucus and the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida, was described as “mortified by comments from State Committeeman John Parker about ‘coloreds’ and ‘s— being f—– up after integration.’”  

Lydia Hudson, president of the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida, called for Parker’s immediate resignation, per SSN.

When asked, Parker would not comment; King likewise wouldn’t comment, given an open investigation from the Florida Democratic Party.

Attendees at the dinner, some on record and some off, are commenting. And accounts of what happened vary widely.

Diallo-Sekou Seabrooks, a Jacksonville City Council candidate, thinks Parker needs to resign.

“John Parker has expressed a blatant disregard for African-Americans in his misnomer of classifications as ‘colored.’ Along with further disdain of integration which as he put it on the night in question as ‘when things really got f—– up,’” Seabrooks writes.

“The night in question was a private conversation among political peers. I was speaking on how the city needs to do a study on the long-term effects of consolidation, the winners, and the losers. Parker said: ‘Yea they didn’t want it to turn into Atlanta.’ Meaning a Black ran government,” Seabrooks contends.

“I replied, ‘I never heard anyone admit that.’ Parker replied: “They didn’t want a bunch of colored people downtown’.”  

“My reaction was to ask the person next to me, ‘Did he just say ‘colored?’ Morton said: “Yes, and he meant it!” Parker then went on to say, ‘Well yea, there were a bunch of different colors moving in downtown,’” Seabrooks added.

“He continued to speak about his elementary or middle school experience when he went to another school. ‘If you think that was crazy when I went (his school) that’s when things really got f—– up’!”

“As an advocate for the black community, I cannot allow this man John Parker or any person who thinks like him to continue to operate inside of an organization my community depends on and is a part of. It is a testament to the disregard of the very people who are the primary majority members of the Democratic Party. To me, it proves why there has never been a ‘Black Agenda’ inside the very political group that are primarily black people!”

“Benign neglect, systemic racism, bigotry, hate, Jim Crow are all tied to the term ‘colored’ in 2018 … This city has a history of bigotry and racism from individuals and the legislation they support and pass. Time is up they eventually will be exposed and dealt with,” Seabrooks added.

Seabrooks was the only person in the conversation willing to go on the record, though others disputed the SSN reporting and the complaint as reported.  

One attendee noted: “Particularly when it stated that Parker said ‘That’s when things went to s—.’ He said, ‘That’s when s— got real’ referring to increased tensions.”

“No one corrected him at the time. It was a simple case of misspeaking due to missing out on one faction of progression. I’m convinced he had zero ill intent and, once corrected later, he sincerely apologized — to multiple groups,” the attendee continued.

Political motivations have been ascribed to the messaging: “I think certain people within the Democratic Party are blowing it up for their own means. And it’s been grabbed up by the right to distract from the push on City Hall. Multiple groups are using it for their own means.”

“At this point, it’s just incredibly frustrating to watch while someone tries to dismantle their own party, during a pivotal time, for a power grab … It’s so much damage for the party, and we basically sent a fruit basket to Lenny Curry‘s office.”

That narrative essentially ties together the basis of the complaint with the ongoing war between King and the Lenny Curry administration regarding the potential sale of local utility JEA.

Another attendee essentially heard the conversation the same way, as one riddled with gaffes but not with malice.

“We were having a conversation about consolidation. How it limits the amount of elected positions and affects possible pickups by Democrats. That went into a conversation about segregation in Jacksonville,” that attendee said.

“John spoke to the fact that the first time he went to an integrated school was in the late 60s. That’s when he made his ‘colored people comment,’ and in the moment, I knew he misspoke and meant “people of color.” At the point I don’t [think] he realized what he was saying, but the damage was already done.”

“He didn’t say things got f—– up after intervention, just that ‘s— got real after integration.’”

“The other part that is left out from the news release and story is the fact that John apologized days after the incident to James Morton and multiple others. James told me he accepted the apology, but took it back a few days later to extract political concessions. When that blew up, he wrote a letter to the black caucus and went from there,” that attendee said.

This attendee also took issue with Seabrooks allegedly politicizing the encounter.

“So he didn’t elaborate that, when John made his ‘comment,’ he laughed, then asked ‘did you just say cp?’ and ‘don’t worry man, I’m just messing with you,’” he asked.

What’s clear: The incident in question, and the wildly differing accounts thereof, reveal schisms in the Duval County Democratic Party.

And what’s also clear: Those schisms could not have come at a worse time, with the party attempting to gear up for the 2018 elections, and with an activist chair whose husband’s comments as committeeman have now come to dominate the news cycle.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades, with bylines in national and local publications alike on subjects ranging from pop music to national and global politics. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014, and has held a column in Jacksonville, Florida's Folio Weekly for two decades. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." Gancarski is a frequent presence on Jacksonville television and radio, including fill-in slots on WJCT-FM's award-winning talk show "First Coast Connect." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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