Written by Staff Writer
Chris Atkinson was just seven years old when he moved to Pensacola, Florida.
The community was part of the “cradle of the Confederacy” — Theodore Roosevelt had been President and Robert E. Lee had surrendered the South to the Union in 1865 — and kids in town could often be found playing in the marshlands. That weekend, his family took a couple of days off, drove out to the marshlands, along the shoulder of the highway.
“It was like Florida Times-Union — one of the funnest things I’ve ever done,” he recalls.
Atkinson spent many years learning the language, writing music and painting there, eventually being made-to-fit-in in town.
But change was afoot. Now some white outsiders were choosing not to live in Pensacola, leading to angry outbursts on local radio shows.
Many of the resident musicians and business owners felt abandoned and left out. Atkinson tried to assuage that uncertainty with his talent and talent for languages. But he could not get past the fact that his hometown remained homogenous.
For five decades, he lived as a photographer in a struggle to dispel the idea that Florida was a “no” place for black people. The city’s demographics were changing and communities are often linked to the politicians they elect. Not only was Atkinson having to work to prove his existence, but he was also having to prove that black people could lead their community.
Black and minority leaders get a small boost in 2018 midterm elections While Democrats may stand at a historic disadvantage in the midterm elections this year, the party is likely to make gains in the number of candidates it fields from those groups, according to this study.
Black and minority leaders got a small boost in 2018 midterm elections While Democrats may stand at a historic disadvantage in the midterm elections this year, the party is likely to make gains in the number of candidates it fields from those groups, according to this study.
“People in government need to be wary about being associated with people like me,” he says. “I don’t get a lot of appointments.”
Yet, at the same time, the man who gets jobs and political consideration ultimately became the mayor of Pensacola in 2010 — a city in the “cradle of the Confederacy.”
In decades past, Pensacola and all Florida cities with large black populations were in the past, and he challenges anyone to disprove this, by looking at data.
His professional work took him to South Africa, Ghana, India and elsewhere in South America. He worked with the government in Cameroon, saw “just how much whites control the economy,” and talked to faith leaders.
“The issue of equality for people of color is not any different now than it has been over time,” he says.
That could be tough this year. The Republican Party that he used to stand with is now led by President Donald Trump, a man who advocates for the deportation of millions of people and who has faced accusations of racism.
“Trump is very divisive,” Atkinson says. “He divides like no politician in my lifetime. He divides people based on color, he divides based on sexual orientation. When he sees something about someone that doesn’t align with his worldview, he’s not afraid to take it out in the campaign.”
That’s true of the upcoming US midterm elections too.
Atkinson says he understands that a lot of people see his success as a model of achievement. For him, success means a home, stability and thriving businesses.
He’s against Trump because he thinks his presidency is destroying the values of the American Revolution.
“It’s gone too far. The progress that America has made isn’t good enough for him. You can’t be successful here, you can’t be where I am if you’re not rich and you can’t be where I am if you’re not successful at being the CEO,” he says.
He knows that he is part of a small minority and can only win because he wants to, and the people in his city support his struggle. But, he insists, “I think they do support what I’m doing and that is that yes, I’m African-American, but I’m also a Christian, a father, I have great moral values and I’m trying to do things.”