First Black Woman Firefighter In Florida City Sues After Being Depicted As White In Mural
October 11, 2021 at 1:36 pm
City officials in Boynton Beach, Florida, are set to discuss the case of Latosha Clemons, a trailblazer who was depicted with a white face when the city created a mural to honor her 26 years of service as the first Black woman firefighter in the town. According to CNN, city manager Lori LaVerriere said the commission's meeting will take place in a closed-door session this week.
Clemons filed a lawsuit against the city in April, saying the mural "reflected her as a white member of the city fire department." She also filed a second amended complaint on Sept. 2, aiming "to redress the defamatory statement [the City of Boynton Beach] made regarding her race and/or its negligence in failing to properly oversee an approved use of the likeness of Clemons."
The former firefighter, who retired in 2020, said she agreed to the use of a proposed picture after the City Art Commission approved of the mural in 2019. But the final project didn't come out as she expected.
"Come June 3, 2020, when the mural was unveiled, it did not reflect Clemons as the Black member of the city fire department. Instead, it was altered and reflected her as a white member of the city Fire Department," the complaint stated. "Being depicted as white was not only a false presentation of Clemons, it was also a depiction which completely disrespected all that the first female Black firefighter for the city had accomplished."
Glenn Joseph, a Black man who formerly served as the city's fire chief, was also depicted as white when the city tried to honor him along with Clemons, The Palm Beach Post reports.
In the aftermath of the controversy, the city fired public art manager Debby Coles-Dobay. Fire chief Matthew Petty also resigned from his role. Speaking to reporters last year, the former fighter said she was still trying to figure out why the error happened and who was responsible for it.
She also said she was deeply hurt because the mural was supposed to inspire other Black girls who want to follow in her footsteps.
According to the lawsuit, "The actions of the city were done intentionally and knowingly to defame and injure Clemons." The plaintiff also said she suffered emotional and mental damage as well as financial loss. Clemons is seeking more than $100,000 in damages.
"I'm hurt. I'm disappointed. I'm outraged," the former firefighter told the Palm Beach Post last year. "It's been my heart and soul and my lifeblood to serve in the community where I grew up. This is beyond disrespect and I basically want to know why it happened."
Clemons became the city's first Black woman firefighter in 1996. She served the city for 26 years in different capacities.