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A Beacon of Freedom

Congressman Byron Donalds penned an Op-Ed to highlight the significant role Fort Myers City Councilwoman Veronica Shoemaker played in civil rights. The Op-Ed was featured in the Fort Myers News-Press.

A Beacon of Freedom: Highlighting the Life and Legacy of Veronica Shoemaker
By: Congressman Byron Donalds
February 17, 2021

"Born on a dirt road in 1928, Veronica Shoemaker would live a life of struggle but, more importantly, perseverance. Growing up in South Florida, Veronica and her ten siblings would experience poverty, racism, and segregation. Veronica was the daughter of a preacher, and it was through her father's sermons, she learned the value of her voice. 

As a teenager enrolled in Dunbar High School, Veronica organized PTA meetings at night to give a voice to African-American students and parents. When African-Americans had little control over their education, she understood the significance of educational freedom and empowering parents.

Quickly becoming a pillar of racial equality in the Southwest Florida community, in 1954, Veronica was at the forefront of desegregating Lee County Schools. 

As a black man raising three sons in Southwest Florida, I am grateful and indebted to the life and legacy of Veronica Shoemaker for changing the trajectory of their lives. Leading the fight for racial equality, voting rights, and equal access to education, Veronica Shoemaker's persistence for civil rights for the African-American community has made her a beacon of freedom. For 17 years, she spoke truth to power and demanded that those on the City Council pay attention to the injustices facing her community. 

In 1982, Veronica Shoemaker was elected to the Fort Myers City Council, making her the first African-American to join the council. She was also the first African-American elected official in Lee County. Her victory was proof of a nation progressing and healing the racial divide she and many like her experienced firsthand. 

Being the first to do something comes with great gratification, but it also comes with tremendous pressure and, at times, burdens when walking upstream against the sea of inequity. As the first Black man to represent her hometown in Congress, I feel a tremendous amount of pride and admiration for her sacrifice and the sacrifice of countless other patriots who paved the way for Americans like me. While I never had the honor of meeting Mrs. Shoemaker, her life played an integral role for Black Americans who aspire to seek elected office.  

By refusing to accept her standing in society as an African-American woman, she defied generations of racism and, as a result, changed the destiny of countless Black Americans in Southwest Florida.  

Through decades of trials and tribulations, Veronica Shoemaker was able to cement her legacy on not only our local history but also America's history. Today and every day, we pay homage to the selfless and courageous Americans, like Veronica, for devoting their lives to ensuring prosperity in their beloved communities as well as upholding the promise of America that all men are created equal."    


Byron Donalds represents Florida's 19th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.