For the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the island of Egmont Key at the mouth of Tampa Bay represents a history of oppression, as well as a testament to survival. As the island slips into the sea, those who care about its future have to decide — what can we save and how do we save it?
Since European contact, Egmont Key has played a role in nearly every major U.S. historical period. In the 1800s, the U.S. Army used Egmont Key to imprison Seminole captives, and historians have described conditions on the island as a concentration camp. Over the last decade, the Seminole Tribe of Florida has launched a robust investigation into this period of Seminole removal to piece together and better understand this little-known chapter. But the window to document that history is quickly closing.
Egmont Key has lost more than half of its land mass since its first survey in 1877. Sea levels have risen here by nearly 8 inches, and projections estimate that seas could rise an additional 1 to 4 feet by 2100. While some worry that losing the island would be an incalculable loss to Gulf Coast Florida’s cultural heritage and ecological resources, others believe the best way to manage the island is to let nature run its course.
Universities are facing mounting pressure to stop using the unpaid labor of incarcerated people. In June, the University of Florida announced it was ending the use of prison labor on its agricultural research farms, a practice once praised by administrators. Questions remain on whether other universities in the U.S. South will follow suit.
The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences has relied on incarcerated people from state prisons and county jails for at least a decade to keep some of its agricultural research stations running. As the practice comes to an end, administrators are reallocating funds and finding new ways to power the state’s agricultural research.
Proponents of prison labor programs say they provide valuable job skills for post-incarceration life. But there is insufficient data to back up these claims from universities and correctional institutions.
Across the South, students are pressuring universities to address entrenched racial inequities. But because of the institutional and budgetary challenges universities and prisons face, finding solutions will not be straightforward.
As it does for many, Latashia Brimm’s pathway to a felony conviction started at a very young age. For her, it began with a sexually and emotionally abusive stepfather and a pattern of domestic violence. The fight to pass Amendment 4, also known as the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative, spoke to Brimm’s need to regain her civic power and personal independence. With the right to vote reclaimed, she felt she would no longer be invisible.
Tequila McKnight is one of many former felons who joined a grassroots movement to campaign for Amendment 4. Voters ultimately passed the bipartisan measure by a majority in 2018. Since then, mounting legal battles and extensive barriers to reentry have stifled the amendment’s intended impact: to re-enfranchise over 10% of Florida’s population.
Women like Latashia Brimm and Tequila McKnight are a growing segment of the U.S. electorate and an increasingly impactful force when it comes to supporting, organizing and speaking for the needs of their communities. Their efforts can be seen in new, creative collaborations and initiatives that work to shift civic power to low-income neighborhoods and communities of color that have been historically disenfranchised.