Note: This originally ran as an opinion column in the Feb. 7 issue of the Bryan County News.
By Dick Kent
By now, most people will have formed an opinion as to whether Henry Ford was a philanthropist and benefactor or an anti-Semite. To anyone who does enough research, the truthful answer must be that he was both. How then, to resolve whether the City’s signs are proper in calling Richmond Hill a "Henry Ford City" or whether the Florida sign is correct in making the point that Richmond Hill shouldn’t celebrate his legacy by bestowing government endorsement on such a highly flawed figure. The best solution to this question is to find a way to acknowledge both points of view. Consider the expression: "A Henry Ford City." What exactly does this mean? Are there any other "Henry Ford Cities" and what do they have in common? Could Ford’s contribution be adequately recognized by another, historically accurate phrase? Why not say "Henry Ford’s Winter Home" or a similar term that the City could agree upon?
If this were accomplished, the City could order Doug Bean Signs to overlay the old expression with the new one. I would pay for the change and as soon as it was done, I would take down the Florida sign. It seems to me that this is a fair solution that would be beneficial to all concerned. Why not give it a try and end the acrimony?
Editor’s note: Kent is a Richmond Hill resident who is protesting Richmond Hill’s promotion of the city as a "Henry Ford City," due to Ford’s history of anti-Semitism.
Richmond Hill resident Dick Kent said he remains vigilant in his quest to get the city of Richmond to alter or remove the line on their welcome signs that read "A Henry Ford City."Kent said he will remove his billboard, located in Florida on I-95 telling travelers "Don’t Stop in Richmond Hill...Why Honor an Anti-Semitic…", and also pay for the sign change if the city were willing to remove the line about Ford. He said a compromise would be to acknowledge Richmond Hill as the winter home of Ford, as opposed to a full endorsement of a man Kent said is anti-Semitic. Kent is Jewish.
Mayor Richard Davis said he takes offense to Kent trying to strong arm the city, and he said there won't be a compromise.
"We don’t want him paying for anything," Davis said. "He can just take his money and buy some more plywood for more of his sorry-looking billboards."
City councilman and Mayor Pro-Tem Floyd Hilliard said he also is offended by way Kent has handled the issue.
"The biggest thing that bothers me is to give a municipality an ultimatum," Hilliard said. "Don’t blackmail me. He said what he’s done before hasn’t worked. Well, maybe he just won’t get his way on this. It’s just a bad situation and his approach is very irrational."
Hilliard said Ford, in his later years, showed remorse for his anti-Semitism and publicly apologized. He also said his beef with Kent isn’t so much the expression of his views on Ford, "but it’s the top of his billboard. When you tell people on I-95 to not stop in Richmond Hill, you’re bringing every resident of Richmond Hill into this. Not only is it wrong, but it’s slanderous to the city."
Jewish Richmond Hill native Irvin Warshaw said he sympathizes with Kent’s feelings about Ford’s anti-Semitism, but he has no problem with the city signs.
Warshaw, 82, said he personally knew Ford and his father, Benny Warshaw, did business with Ford in Richmond Hill.
Warshaw said whatever anti-Semitic views Ford once harbored, they were not visible during his time spent in Richmond Hill.
He said Ford helped a lot of people, regardless of race, in Bryan County.
"I would be remiss to acknowledge that Mr. Ford in his early days did an unwise thing by contributing millions of dollars to Hitler," Warshaw said. "It’s a well-documented fact. Nevertheless, I must give him credit for the world of good he did for the city. There wouldn’t be a place called Richmond Hill without Henry Ford and his money."
Warshaw said the city was called Ways Station prior to the Ford area, and Ford built up the town by creating infrastructure, schools, churches, a saw mill and planting vegetation.
"Mr. Ford was an honorable man, and he did a world of good for the people of Richmond Hill," Warshaw said. "No one can deny the contributions he made to the city."
Kent said he has gotten a lot of phone calls since the original story about his billboard ran in the Jan. 31 issue of the Bryan County News.
"Some people are saying I should take it down, but the majority of the calls I’ve received have been from people supporting me on this," Kent said.
Kent said he has no plans to formally present his offer to city council and plans to keep his billboard up until a compromise is reached.