What I Learned About Henry Ford

There is quite the scandal going around town. Evidently a sign has been posted somewhere in Florida on the northbound side of I-95. Worse, it is thought that it was posted by a Richmond Hill resident. You can see said sign by clicking these words. It is not listed in this article simply because I was not interested in having it post on the front page of the blog.

I have debated this article all day. What do you say about a sign like that? I will be honest. It irritated me. I love this town and I adore being a resident here. My family and I are incredibly local. This is my home. It is where I live with my husband. It is where we raise our children. As far as I can tell, it is the town in which I will live my last days. I have made friendships and am building a business. My friends are building businesses and raising their families. The general consensus is that the sign is hurtful – both professionally and personally.

I want to rage and call names. I would like to disclose conversations. I would like to pull out my soap box and rail. But I know that there has to be a better way. As a Rotarian, the Four Way Test is the better way.

  • Is it the Truth?
  • Is it fair to all Concerned?
  • Will it build good will and better Friendships?
  • Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

So, instead of ranting at the issue, I will tell you a small bit about what I learned about Henry Ford.

The area that is now Richmond Hill was left in virtual ruins after the Civil War. Plantation homes were burned, crops destroyed and the military strong holds were tattered. However. it seemed like the people persevered, just like they do now, and they set back to rebuilding their lives. Times got tough in the early 1900’s.

Henry Ford arrived here and subsequently purchased most of the area in 1925. His activities took a struggling town and provided the means to create a thriving coastal community – all in the middle of the Great Depression.

Henry Ford was responsible for ensuring the people living in this community had medical care, education and professional opportunity. He restored buildings, introduced industry, created jobs and remembered the children. He saw the heart and ability of the residents here and helped in creating a situation for that potential to grow. And grow it did – even during the Depression.

He was friends with Harvey Firestone and worked to build industry in the community. He was friends with George Washington Carver and built a school that was dedicated to him. He was known by the area young people and often visited their gatherings with his wife Clara.

I also investigated the allegations in the sign. I would suggest you do the same. You will learn of his World War I opposition to the war during which he worked with Jewish pacifist Rosika Schwimmer. You will learn about the newspaper he owned that spouted a large amount of anti-Semitic views. The involvement of Ford in its production and its content is subject to debate.You will also find that Ford was against labor unions because he did not believe they were effective for the worker. Ford instituted his own program that paid his workers more than twice the daily minimum wage and created extensive benefit programs.

Let’s say all of this is true. Or let us say that none of it is. First, it is an incredibly complicated feat to judge a man whom we neither know personally nor have any real way of understanding the times and culture in which he lived. I am hopeful that time will judge all of us gently on our mistakes and misjudgements and will appreciate the good and productive we hope to leave behind.

Second, our present day community is a phenomenal one. We deserve to be able to honor our history’s achievements and the perseverance of those who plowed the ground before us. We deserve to be able to gleen strength from our humble beginnings and enjoy the fruits of the labor put forth by both those in previous eras and those that forge ahead now.

I hope my thoughts have passed the Four Way Test. I am looking forward first to the sign coming down. I am looking second to this bruise on our community healing. May we all strive to pass the Four Way Test.

Comments

  1. I am curious who owns the sign. Is the sign located on private property? If so, whose? And what axe is he attempting to grind. I would doubt it is for the reasons listed as many towns located throughout the world honor citizens from the past possessing character flaws.

    Is the sign located on state property? Then who erected it and why hasn’t the state of Florida removed it yet?

    Is the sign on a billboard? Who paid to have it erected and for what reasons? Perhaps to discourage visitors from using our Interstate businesses?

    Was Henry Ford anti-Semitic? Yes, history leaves no doubt as to his anti-Semitic viewpoints. However; Henry Ford is not being honored in Richmond Hill for those viewpoints but for his philanthropic works within the community.

    I’m not sure what relevance Henry Fords personal beliefs are regarding the modern Richmond Hill. Is the author of this sign implying we are all somewhat tainted? Or are we being criticized because several of his buildings are tourist attractions and we honor his memory? Does the author of this sign desire all mention of Henry Ford be purged from the towns history as if we were in Stalin Russia?

    I guess the author of the sign probably doesn’t own Ford vehicles or anything made on an assembly line out of protest either?

  2. nmbr1trubl says:

    I am clearly perplexed why someone would sabotage their own community. This community has so many good things going on why would the “unnamed” individual target this community? Moreover, what kind of coward would post inflammatory remarks in a neighboring state and think that we all don’t know who did it.

    Mr. Kent, maybe no one else has the balls to tell you but I will…..Get a life! Find another cause to stand behind. There are millions of people living in poverty that you could help, dying children, abused women, animals needing homes, and many other world problems. Put you energy and enthusiasm for the good of man. You’re a bitter old man who has burned many bridges in this community.

    Members of the RH Rotary Club I am deeply ashamed that you allow him to hide behind your shield. We are all aware of his feelings, yet it does not change the many lives that Henry Ford touched while he lived in our community. Dick Kent made that clear 5+ years ago in the Savannah Morning News. We haven’t forgotten about you….my children act that way, too…..when they think that I have forgotten about them or their issue they try something more outrageous to catch my attention. The difference is that my children are just that…children.

    Mr. Kent you haven’t taken into consideration that peoples livelihoods are based in this community that Henry Ford built….like it or not he was here…..he did improve this community and we are a legacy of Henry Ford. The local chamber spends thousands of dollars promoting and supporting local businesses. Times are hard in this economic recession and you’re not making it any easier for those businesses and organizations that do support and believe in this community.

    Without the freedom of speech I wouldn’t be able to express my opinion of you. Fair is fair, right?

  3. Nice catch there nmbr1trubl.

    While researching on the web, I came across the article referred to in the Savannah Morning News. Sunday, June 29, 2008.

    The article states, “Kent, a retired Army colonel who lives just outside Richmond Hill, is trying to get that message across by towing a trailer behind his pickup with wording that reads “Richmond Hill, Georgia ‘A Henry Ford City?’ Why honor an anti-Semitic, anti-labor, pro Nazi bigot?”

    I suspect the Colonel needs to grow up. Posting a sign in Florida denigrating his community is incredibly childish and hard to imagine originating from a Colonel retired from the United States Army.

  4. Who is Mr. Kent?

  5. Well said nmbr1trubl. I must agree. Very unfortunate that someone could be so self serving as to attack the prosperity of their own neighbors. I hope Rotary and other civic organization will take notice and properly address Mr. Kent in regards to his pledge to the 4 way test.
    Thanks to April for her research and well spoken response to the issue. Your articles and opinions are inspiring to a small business owner exercising my dream of entrepreneuralship. I will do everything in my power to help promote, encourage, and develope a sustained “pro growth” community. Well planned growth will encourage economic activity and opportunities for our youth. Angry bitter naysayers harboring the past of another generation should not attack the efforts of a new generation trying to move forward. I respect Mr. Kent’s beliefs but feel he should excercise a more positive approach to his desired outcome. His actions will anger many in this community including those with his same sentiment.

  6. “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech…”
    With these simple words, America’s Founding Fathers sought to create a land in which citizens could speak and write without fear of reprisal.

  7. Bill of Rights:

    So where are the reprisals against Mr Kent?

    The Bill of Rights addresses reprisals from the government, not from private citizens exercising their right to free speech to criticize inappropriate or hateful speech, or even speech they disagree with.

    Mr Kent has a responsibility, as do all citizens to use his freedom of free speech in a responsible manner and without stepping on the rights of other citizens. Through his continued childish antics, Mr Kent has a negative impact on the reputation, and by extension the economic well being of Richmond Hill.

    Mr Ford is admired in Richmond Hill for his philanthropic works. If Mr Kent doesn’t like this, then he can attempt to get it changed through lawful, mature means and he has the right to do this.

    He objects to the lettering on the sign which says, “Welcome to Richmond Hill, a Henry Ford City” calling the phrase “egregious.” I assume, he means “conspicuously bad” in which case one has to wonder why Mr Kent donated money to help purchase the statue of Henry Ford located in City Hall.

  8. Sheila;

    A local resident living just outside town. See more by cutting and pasting this link:

    http://savannahnow.com/node/525158

    He was also Chairman of the Board of Education from 1999-2002. From all accounts, he did a pretty fair job.

  9. I came across your blog after seeing the sign on I-95. Aligning your town with an anti-semite like Henry Ford is like announcing to the world how backward, ignorant, and racist you are and proud of it. I’m glad there’s one intelligent person trying to improve your town. I hope everyone else gets a clue and removes your “claim to fame”. You say that the billboard is turning people away without acknowledging how many people are turned away by your “Henry Ford City”. I wish Ret. Col. Kent would promote online donations so I could support his campaign.

  10. MB,
    I found the site the same way you did. I completely disagree, however. I’m a liberal Floridian but fully understand what this city feels. Henry Ford’s anti-semetism was a personal character flaw, which played no part in his economic assistance of this community. By the same token, all American patriots would be akin to slave owners for having such pride and respect for our founding fathers.
    Historical figures all have flaws. People all have flaws. I have pleanty. Does that mean that nobody should ever be proud of any other person? Walt Disney was also racist, but nobody in Orlando is saying that the place should be skipped on a roadtrip.

  11. The sign is thought provoking and made me look online and learn more about Henry Ford. I agree with the previous poster – though he did a lot to build up your city, his “personal character flaw” is a pretty significant and defining one. We indeed do not stop in RH when we drive through.. We stop in Pooler.

  12. I’m Jewish and worked for Ford in Dearborn, MI when I graduated from college in 1971. Henry, the first, was an outspoken anti-semite who refused to hire Jews and Blacks. While Edsel and his son, Henry Ford II, did hire Jews, they encountered a lot of anti-semitism. I know, because I was one of them. I was an accountant, but the name calling by other professionals and managers still shocks me. I was also told I had to work and could not take vacation to go to synagogue to pray on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish religion. While I’d buy a Ford, I would avoid any city that advertises itself as a Henry Ford city. Many people, Jews and gentiles alike, perceive this sign to say that Richmond Hill supports anti-semitism and racism. If Richmond Hill needs something to be proud of, how about praising the troops at Ft. Stewart; they have contributed more to the US than Henry Ford ever did.

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