BY JAMES HARPER
Tony Ledbetter was driving down Nova Road in Daytona Beach earlier this year when he saw signs of sponsors on the fence of Cypress Street Park promoting the upcoming Juneteenth festival.
Daytona Beach is one of many communities across the country that celebrates Juneteenth, which marks the time Texas slaves learned they were free.
On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced the end of the Civil War. This was two and a half years after slaves had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Abraham Lincoln on Sept. 22, 1862.
After learning what the event was all about, Ledbetter, who is the chairman of the Volusia County Republican Party said, “We have a responsibility to be in the (Black) community to tell people who we are.”
More aggressive approach
Ledbetter, in an interview with the Daytona Times this week, said the party should have been doing more to recruit Blacks and other minorities.
“We should have bought tickets to the Martin Luther King Jr. banquet in January. We will be buying tickets next year,” said Ledbetter. In addition to setting up a table at the festival this Saturday, members also purchased 20 tickets for the June 13 banquet recognizing 20 Hometown Heroes. That event kicks off the Daytona Beach Juneteenth Community Celebration.
Ledbetter said the Volusia County Republican Party under his watch will be taking a more aggressive approach recruiting Blacks to join their ranks.
Elected chairman of the group in December, Ledbetter said he wants to do more to educate those who are not in the party about the beliefs of Republicans.
“The party is interested in reaching out to all communities, including Blacks and Hispanics,” he said, admitting that of the 100,000 Volusia Republicans he is only aware of 25 Blacks.
Blacks to help recruit
One of those Black Republicans is Webster Barnaby, who was elected last fall to the Deltona City Commission.
Webster, along with Black Republicans Horace Anderson, a Daytona Beach business owner, and Derek Hankerson, founder of Freedom Road Productions based out of St. Augustine, will be at the festival to help recruit more Blacks to the party.
Webster, a GOP member since 1991, said many Blacks don’t know that it was Black Republicans who helped start the National Rifle Association and that Martin Luther King Jr. and his father were registered Republicans.
“We are not second-class citizens. Liberal media is keeping us in a box. No party should hold us hostage,” said Barnaby.
Barnaby, who is also a minister, said the Democratic Party is forcing too many to “compromise what is in your heart.”
He was hinting at the stand many Democrats, including President Barack Obama, have taken on supporting marriage equality for gays.
“I see too much compromise in the Democratic Party,” he noted.
Just want to ‘engage people’
Barnaby also accused the Democratic party of encouraging its members to be dependent on the government.
Quoting from the book of Matthews in the Bible, Barnaby said Democrats encourage its followers to “bury their talents and become dependent on the government.”
Barnaby also said the Republican Party encourages its members to work hard to get ahead in life and not be dependent on the government.
He added how his generation growing up was different than current generation.
“Work ethic is different. We had drive back then. We didn’t let discrimination stop us,” he said.
“All I want to do is to engage people. We (Blacks) are not monolithic. We don’t need to be afraid (to be Republicans). We can all come out of the closet,” he said with a laugh.
“We are tired of being pushed to the back of the political bus,” he concluded.
Defending the party
Republican Chair Ledbetter added, “We are Republicans because (we support) limited government. The news media is calling us names. We got the horns, five horns. I’m tired of news media defining us.’
He said most Republicans believe in free enterprise, people depending upon themselves instead of depending upon the government.
He also supports from a defense angle “Americans taking care of our country instead of taking care of everybody else.”
“The economy is better if run by free market, individuals – everybody becoming rich instead of everybody becoming poor,” he continued.
Ledbetter said he doesn’t support Republicans cutting programs that help people but he does want cuts in programs that are duplicating services.
“There are probably 20 or 30 programs to help train people to get jobs. I want to cut the fat out,” he explained.
“Programs can be cut that don’t cut anybody out of welfare or food stamps. I am not interested in hurting anybody. I am interested in every day making as much money for themselves and their families,” he added.
Ledbetter said he can remember when Republicans and the Black community worked hand in hand years ago.
“The reason the Republican Party was formed was to end slavery. I’m not expecting an earthquake to happen Saturday, but you have to start somewhere. We are going to lead by action and doing,” he concluded.
Ledbetter said the party has produced a document that they will be passed out at the festival.
“If you have questions, we are all about answering questions,” he said.
Gordon Meyer, a former Libertarian, who became a Republican a year ago, also will be one of the volunteers at the festival helping to recruit members.
Meyer said he became a Republican because he wanted to be more active in the process and couldn’t do so as Libertarian. He chose the Republican Party because he was more aligned to its fiscal policies though he says he agrees more so with the Democrats on social issues.
“When I think Democratic Party, I think big government. What got me excited about the Republican Party is Ron Paul, who ran for president last year,’’ he noted.
Meyer, who is White, said there needs to be a shakeup at the local level, which he says is made up of “a bunch of old White people.”
“The Republican party is a dying animal unless we reach out (to minorities),” he said.
There will be other vendors at the Juneteeth Community Celebration on June 15. The event will run from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 925 George W. Engram Blvd.
The Sankofa African-American Museum on Wheels, featuring more than 500 historical artifacts will be on display.
Barbecue and seafood also will be sold. There will be live entertainment as well as rides for children, including large inflatables and a rock climbing wall, pony rides, petting zoon, and a teen pool splash.
A Community Service Health Fair will be taking place during the festival as well.
For more information, contact Linda McGee at 386-671-8337 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.