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Bill Maxwell, Opinion Columnist

Bill Maxwell

Bill Maxwell first joined the Times in 1994 as an editorial writer. He also wrote a twice-weekly column. In 2004, he left to teach journalism and establish a program at Stillman College in Alabama, but he returned to the board in August 2006.

A native of Fort Lauderdale, Maxwell was reared in a migrant farming family. After a short time in college and the U.S. Marine Corps, he returned to school. During his college years, he worked as an urban organizer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and wrote for several civil rights publications. He first began teaching college English in 1973 at Kennedy-King College in Chicago and continued to teach for 18 years. Before joining the Times, Maxwell spent six years writing a weekly column for the Gainesville Sun and the New York Times syndicate. Before that, Maxwell was an investigative reporter for the Fort Pierce Tribune in Fort Pierce, where he focused on labor and migrant farm worker affairs.

E-mail: bmaxwell@tampabay.com

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  1. Maxwell: Welcome to Florida, the benighted state

    Columns

    One of Florida's three nicknames is the Sunshine State. We should add at least one more: the Benighted State.

    You see, our anti-intellectual lawmakers in Tallahassee recently passed a law that institutionalizes academic censorship in our public schools. These politicians are urged on by the ultra-conservative group the Florida Citizens Alliance, anti-science zealots.

    Here is the bill's language: Each district school board must adopt a policy regarding an objection by a parent or a resident of the county to the use of a specific instructional material, which clearly describes a process to handle all objections and provides for resolution....

  2. Bill Maxwell: Dismissing the environment

    Columns

    In 1973, Congress had the foresight to pass the Endangered Species Act. To amplify the need to protect the nation's plants and animals, a House committee wrote a report on the importance of the new law.

    The report stated: "Man's presence on the Earth is relatively recent, and his effective domination over the world's life support systems has taken place within a few short generations. Our ability to destroy, or almost destroy, all intelligent life on the planet became apparent in this generation. A certain humility, and a sense of urgency, seem indicated. ... From the most narrow possible point of view, it is in the best interests of mankind to minimize the losses of genetic variations."...

    The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is at risk of being opened to oil and natural gas exploration.
  3. Maxwell: A vacation escape from Hurricane Irma

    Columns

    Four days before I was to board a plane at Tampa International Airport for a 12-day vacation to Bar Harbor, Maine, Upstate New York and Montreal, Hurricane Irma lashed St. Petersburg.

    Because my home sits between Tampa Bay and Big Bayou, I expected catastrophic damage. Although huge oak and almond branches were tossed about like matchsticks, none hit the house and no water came near the property. After spending two days piling mountains of debris at curbside, I was eager to forget Irma for a while....

  4. Maxwell: The difference between Gone With the Wind, Confederate statues

    Columns

    In 2003, I was in Memphis doing research for an article about the militia movement when I learned that the Orpheum Theatre was showing Gone with the Wind. I had seen the 1939 Oscar-winning film a few times on television but never on the big screen.

    I remember being struck for the first time by select words in the fade-in describing the South: "cavaliers," "gallantry," "knights" and "ladies fair."...

    Gone with the Wind has nothing in common with Confederate statues, and a Memphis theater is wrong to stop screening it.
  5. Maxwell: A program that works for women in jail

    Columns

    In 2011, Barbara Rhode went to a neighborhood estate sale of a woman who had committed suicide following a divorce. Before leaving, she decided to walk through the dead woman's bedroom to send her "good thoughts and perhaps get a better understanding of what had gone wrong."

    On the nightstand was a copy of Anita Diamant's novel Red Tent. Rhode bought a copy of the novel. Set during biblical times, the narrative describes a red tent where women stay when ill, depressed, alone, grieving or afraid, a place where young and old women or children could share stories, wisdom and compassion....

    Red Tent founder Barbara Rhode, center, leads a group at Pinellas County Jail in a meditation exercise. The program has served more than 1,000 women since its founding in 2012.
  6. Bill Maxwell: Academic freedom under threat on college campuses

    Columns

    Because professors live for intellectual exploration and publish works that challenge orthodoxy, they have been the indispensable interpreters of the nation's zeitgeist since our first universities were founded in the 1600s.

    For that status, they often pay a heavy price.

    Today, as a result of the speed and ubiquity of social media, the views of scholars are instantly available to anyone with a computer. And, unfortunately, because of increasing tribalization of ideologies and the election of President Donald Trump, an anti-intellectual, professors are targets of politics like never before....

  7. Maxwell: Kennedy Space Center opens new worlds for grandsons

    Columns

    After my 6-year-old twin grandsons graduated from kindergarten last week, I took them and their mother, my daughter, to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to celebrate. I wanted them to have fun and learn in a welcoming, safe and inspiring environment.

    What better place than the space center, where more than 1.5 million visitors come each year from around the world? At the outset, in the parking lot and in the ticket line to enter the 70-acre complex, we could hear the world around us through languages we didn't understand and see it in attire that was unfamiliar....

    The Rocket Garden at the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex features Redstone, Atlas and Titan rockets that carried astronauts into space.
  8. Maxwell: Celebrating women of courage

    Columns

    During the final minutes of the 2016 presidential debate, Republican nominee Donald Trump called Democrat Hillary Clinton a "nasty woman." I wasn't surprised by the insult. After all, it was quintessential Trump. I was disappointed many Americans were blasé about it.

    That "nasty woman" moment and our collective reaction to it reawakened my awareness that women are the most vulnerable members of societies in most places worldwide. I also was reminded that women everywhere must be courageous when they demand rights most men take for granted. In many parts of the world, including the United States, women are labeled dangerous or nuisances if they shake up the political status quo....

  9. Maxwell: In defense of controversial art

    Columns

    Art has never had it easy. It never will.

    Art is always personal and public at the same time. No art is ever a thing unto itself because we view it, study it and judge it. We can love it or hate it.

    Some of us wish that some art had not been made and should be destroyed, its creator pilloried. Such is the case with Open Casket, Dana Schutz's painting at the Whitney Biennial in New York. Her cubist work reimagines the gruesomeness of the 1955 Jet magazine photo of Emmett Till's mutilated remains in his coffin....

    Dana Schutz’s painting Open Casket depicts the mutilated remains of Emmett Till in his coffin in 1955.
  10. Maxwell: Trump should not cut Sea Grant Program

    Columns

    Among the casualties of President Donald Trump's budget slashing would be the national Sea Grant College Program. This cut reflects a lack of understanding about the program's importance and makes no sense.

    Established in 1966 by President Lyndon Johnson, the program supports coastal research at 33 universities nationwide. One of the main reasons for this environmental program — ironic since Trump is all about business — is to "foster economic competitiveness." Another reason for the program is to "provide for the understanding and wise use of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources."...

    University of Florida Sea Grant researchers helped Cedar Key replace commercial fishing with aquaculture, specifically clam farming. Today, Cedar Key is among the most productive clam farming regions in the United States.
  11. Maxwell: The duty of a free press

    Columns

    During a May 1962 news conference, President John F. Kennedy was asked to comment on the media's treatment of his administration after 16 months in office.

    "Well," he said, "I'm reading more and enjoying it less."

    That response, while reflecting quintessential JFK wit, showed that he had difficult times with the press like every president before him. Although JFK's sense of humor made him likable, many journalists regularly called him to account....

    President John Kennedy speaks at a news conference on Aug. 1, 1963. “I think (the press) is invaluable, even though … it is never pleasant to be reading things that are not agreeable news.”
  12. Maxwell: Tracing the hatred of Hillary Clinton

    Columns

    In two days, we will elect the next president of the United States. If Hillary Clinton loses to Donald Trump, those who have spent a lot of time hating her will have to find another monster to abuse. If she wins, we are in for at least four more years of public vitriol.

    Having admired her since she first entered national public life in 1992 when her husband ran for president, I have wondered why so many people hate her....

    For a quarter-century, Hillary Clinton has been a trailblazer, breaking down barriers and shattering glass ceilings. As a result, she has engendered widespread fear and contempt.
  13. Maxwell: Voters should educate themselves on candidates

    Columns

    My litmus test for the value of human discourse, especially political debates, comes from Clara Peller. She played the crotchety octogenarian who utters "Where's the beef?" in that iconic 1980s Wendy's restaurant commercial. Peller and two other older ladies are served giant hamburger buns containing tiny hamburger patties, and she is outraged.

    "Where's the beef?" never leaves my mind when we are about to elect people who make policies that govern our lives. I was thinking of Peller during last week's debate between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump....

  14. Maxwell: Don't protect college students from distressing ideas

    Columns

    If you are parents who sent your son or daughter to the University of Chicago, you are aware that your child will not find intellectually safe spaces on the Hyde Park campus.

    Dean of students John Ellison mailed a letter to all incoming freshmen, the class of 2020, informing them that trigger warnings will not appear on a syllabus. A trigger warning is a statement atop a syllabus alerting students of potentially distressing material....

  15. Maxwell: What Black Lives Matter is really about

    Columns

    Few acts are more loathsome than intentional misrepresentation of an inconvenient or unpopular truth. In this instance, most Americans have witnessed Republicans intentionally misrepresenting Black Lives Matter, both as a movement and as a slogan.

    Honest and knowledgeable people know what Black Lives Matter means. And I suspect that deep down, Republicans know, too, but they must pretend otherwise to carry out their nefarious agenda....