If you’ve driven through Florida on the I-95 this month, you may have done a double-take when passing one particular homemade billboard.
Richmond Hill resident Dick Kent planted a sign on his property in Florida urging travelers not to stop in Richmond Hill due to it being named "A Henry Ford City."
As noted on the sign, which is 16 feet wide and 8 feet tall, Kent believes Ford was "an anti-Semitic, anti-labor, pro-Nazi bigot."
Kent’s sign currently sits in Mims, near the exit for State Road 46 and about 10 miles north of Titusville. He placed it there earlier this month.
Kent said he put it up in protest of the signs that read "Welcome to Richmond Hill A Henry Ford City". He said he will not remove his until the city removes or alters the line on their signs endorsing Ford.
"I don’t care if they put ‘winter home of Henry Ford’ or something to that effect, but I just don’t agree with government endorsement of a man that is so deeply flawed," Kent said. "I hate that I have to do this, but I’ve tried to be reasonable."
Kent, who is Jewish and a former chairman of the Bryan County School board, said he has written letters and even had a meeting with his Rabbi and Mayor Richard Davis at city hall.
"He could put up signs all across America, but we’re not going to take the signs down," Davis said.
Davis said Ford may have made mistakes, but he did a lot for the city in the thirties and forties.
"Who among us hasn’t made mistakes? It doesn’t remove what he did for Richmond Hill and the world for that matter," Davis said.
"I don’t know how Dick was raised, but I was raised to forgive people for their mistakes," Davis said. "Dick Kent almost singlehandedly destroyed the Bryan County school system, but we’re not crucifying him for that."
Kent said he doesn’t dismiss the good Ford has done, but it doesn’t change his point of view.
"I’m not against history," Kent said. "Ford came here and did a lot of good things here and was somewhat of a benefactor, but I want people to know the full story. On the other hand, his anti-Semitism is well-documented and, in light of that, I can’t understand the campaign Richard Davis undertook 10 years ago to glorify Ford, which included that grotesque statue as you enter city hall."
Bryan County/Richmond Hill Chamber of Commerce Director Kittie Franklin said she takes offense to Kent’s sign.
"We don’t like to see anyone disrespect the city, and it’s sad that it’s being done by some who lives in this community," Franklin said. "It’s our job to get someone to stop and hopefully get them to live here and open a business. This sign definitely works against that and might stop someone from stopping here."
Franklin said she heard about the sign from someone who came in to Chamber and told her how shocked they were to see it. She said the city receives a lot of commerce from traffic on I-95.
Prior to now, Kent pulled a cargo trailer around town with the same slogan and distributed material about Ford.
"I don’t want to hurt my friends and neighbors, but I’m never going to give up this fight," Kent said. "I know these are tough economic times for the city and everywhere else, so I know this will get people’s attention and put pressure on the city to change their signs. Is it cohersion? Maybe, but I’ve tried everything else."