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Bill Maxwell, Opinion Columnist

Bill Maxwell

Bill Maxwell first joined the Times in 1994 as an editorial writer. He also wrote a twice-weekly column. In 2004, he left to teach journalism and establish a program at Stillman College in Alabama, but he returned to the board in August 2006.

A native of Fort Lauderdale, Maxwell was reared in a migrant farming family. After a short time in college and the U.S. Marine Corps, he returned to school. During his college years, he worked as an urban organizer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and wrote for several civil rights publications. He first began teaching college English in 1973 at Kennedy-King College in Chicago and continued to teach for 18 years. Before joining the Times, Maxwell spent six years writing a weekly column for the Gainesville Sun and the New York Times syndicate. Before that, Maxwell was an investigative reporter for the Fort Pierce Tribune in Fort Pierce, where he focused on labor and migrant farm worker affairs.


  1. Maxwell: In defense of controversial art


    Art has never had it easy. It never will.

    Art is always personal and public at the same time. No art is ever a thing unto itself because we view it, study it and judge it. We can love it or hate it.

    Some of us wish that some art had not been made and should be destroyed, its creator pilloried. Such is the case with Open Casket, Dana Schutz's painting at the Whitney Biennial in New York. Her cubist work reimagines the gruesomeness of the 1955 Jet magazine photo of Emmett Till's mutilated remains in his coffin....

    Dana Schutz’s painting Open Casket depicts the mutilated remains of Emmett Till in his coffin in 1955.
  2. Maxwell: Trump should not cut Sea Grant Program


    Among the casualties of President Donald Trump's budget slashing would be the national Sea Grant College Program. This cut reflects a lack of understanding about the program's importance and makes no sense.

    Established in 1966 by President Lyndon Johnson, the program supports coastal research at 33 universities nationwide. One of the main reasons for this environmental program — ironic since Trump is all about business — is to "foster economic competitiveness." Another reason for the program is to "provide for the understanding and wise use of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources."...

    University of Florida Sea Grant researchers helped Cedar Key replace commercial fishing with aquaculture, specifically clam farming. Today, Cedar Key is among the most productive clam farming regions in the United States.
  3. Maxwell: The duty of a free press


    During a May 1962 news conference, President John F. Kennedy was asked to comment on the media's treatment of his administration after 16 months in office.

    "Well," he said, "I'm reading more and enjoying it less."

    That response, while reflecting quintessential JFK wit, showed that he had difficult times with the press like every president before him. Although JFK's sense of humor made him likable, many journalists regularly called him to account....

    President John Kennedy speaks at a news conference on Aug. 1, 1963. “I think (the press) is invaluable, even though … it is never pleasant to be reading things that are not agreeable news.”
  4. Maxwell: Tracing the hatred of Hillary Clinton


    In two days, we will elect the next president of the United States. If Hillary Clinton loses to Donald Trump, those who have spent a lot of time hating her will have to find another monster to abuse. If she wins, we are in for at least four more years of public vitriol.

    Having admired her since she first entered national public life in 1992 when her husband ran for president, I have wondered why so many people hate her....

    For a quarter-century, Hillary Clinton has been a trailblazer, breaking down barriers and shattering glass ceilings. As a result, she has engendered widespread fear and contempt.
  5. Maxwell: Voters should educate themselves on candidates


    My litmus test for the value of human discourse, especially political debates, comes from Clara Peller. She played the crotchety octogenarian who utters "Where's the beef?" in that iconic 1980s Wendy's restaurant commercial. Peller and two other older ladies are served giant hamburger buns containing tiny hamburger patties, and she is outraged.

    "Where's the beef?" never leaves my mind when we are about to elect people who make policies that govern our lives. I was thinking of Peller during last week's debate between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump....

  6. Maxwell: Don't protect college students from distressing ideas


    If you are parents who sent your son or daughter to the University of Chicago, you are aware that your child will not find intellectually safe spaces on the Hyde Park campus.

    Dean of students John Ellison mailed a letter to all incoming freshmen, the class of 2020, informing them that trigger warnings will not appear on a syllabus. A trigger warning is a statement atop a syllabus alerting students of potentially distressing material....

  7. Maxwell: What Black Lives Matter is really about


    Few acts are more loathsome than intentional misrepresentation of an inconvenient or unpopular truth. In this instance, most Americans have witnessed Republicans intentionally misrepresenting Black Lives Matter, both as a movement and as a slogan.

    Honest and knowledgeable people know what Black Lives Matter means. And I suspect that deep down, Republicans know, too, but they must pretend otherwise to carry out their nefarious agenda....

  8. Maxwell: Run for office or lose


    Bernie Sanders still refuses to acknowledge defeat and put his full weight behind Hillary Clinton, the Democrats' presumptive nominee for president. He says he will vote for her, but he has yet to endorse her.

    Instead, he is doing something that may help him deliver, at least in part, on his promise of a "political revolution" in the Democratic Party. During his June 16 speech, he asked his army of mostly young progressives to continue the fight after the party's convention this month in Philadelphia....

    Sen. Bernie Sanders vowed to keep up the fight for change.
  9. Maxwell: Is U.S. media coverage of Israel biased?


    Wading into the Palestinian/Israeli tragedy as a journalist is so fraught with personal attack and other risks, many of us avoid the topic.

    I was reminded of this minefield when I spoke with Sandra Tarrant, co-founder of Interfaith Alliance for Peace in the Holy Land based in Pinellas Park. She contacted me with her concern that U.S. media had been too silent after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed far-right ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister....

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Ein Lavan, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, on Thursday.
  10. Maxwell: There is more to education than standardized, high-stakes tests


    I recently came upon a small Opt Out movement protest in front of a Miami-Dade elementary school. This was my first encounter with members of the growing movement.

    They are parents, teachers, a handful of principals and others who believe that mandatory high-stakes testing is being misused in ways that harm children. Many of them also believe that the proliferation of high-stakes testing is probably part of a plan, fueled by corporate influences and enabled by conservative policies, to alter, if not destroy, public education as we know it....

  11. Maxwell: Fight rages over Cuban consulate in Miami



    The Cuban Embassy in Washington reopened last month, little more than a year after President Barack Obama announced he would normalize diplomatic relations with the communist country.

    As relations thaw, the next move should be opening a Cuban consulate in Miami-Dade County, where nearly 1 million Cubans live. But because of Obama's recent meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana, the hostilities that have roiled Miami's exile Cuban community for decades have reignited, making the very suggestion of a consulate in Miami a new flash point....

    Many older Cubans in South Florida think President Barack Obama got little from the meetings last month with Raul Castro.
  12. Maxwell: Curbing violent crime starts in the home


    No honest person will deny that the predominantly African-American areas of St. Petersburg can be dangerous places if you are young, black and male. And no honest person will deny that something profound needs to happen to reverse the status quo.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman knows it, and he has pledged $1 million to find solutions. He also hired Kenny Irby, a former faculty member of the Poynter Institute (owner of the Tampa Bay Times) and a local pastor, as the city's community intervention director for the express purpose of reducing the violence. Earlier, he hired Nikki Gaskin-Capehart as urban affairs director to work on job development and other efforts to enhance economic opportunities south of Central Avenue. And he brought on Leah McRae, a lawyer, as the director of education and community engagement....

  13. Maxwell: The pragmatic black president


    This is Black History Month, coming during Barack Obama's last year in office, notable because Obama is the nation's first African-American president.

    As a group, blacks, a previously enslaved and disenfranchised population, held messianic expectations for the "first." Many expected Obama to do wondrous things for them based on his electrifying campaign theme of hope and change. Others expected nothing less than forthright challenges to the racially insensitive status quo through legislative policies and executive authority....

    On March 7, 2015, President Barack Obama holds hands with Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and Amelia Boynton Robinson, who were both beaten during “Bloody Sunday,” as they walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., for the 50th anniversary of the march.
  14. Maxwell: Don't let MLK speaker erode St. Petersburg's progress


    The annual MLK Leadership Awards Breakfast is one of the best civic events in St. Petersburg. It honors the life's work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

    Until now, the organizer of the breakfast, the local branch of the National Council of Negro Women, avoided unnecessary controversy by inviting keynote speakers who to a large degree embody the universal ideals of King. The breakfast, now in its 30th year, has been a unifying force, bringing people of different ethnicities, races, religions and sexual orientations together for the common good....

  15. Maxwell: The misguided backlash to Chi-Raq


    Spike Lee has done it again.

    He has produced another polemical film that is angering a lot of African-Americans nationwide. Chicagoans are particularly upset, because the film's title is Chi-Raq. It is a direct comparison between the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side and the war-torn country of Iraq.

    Local rappers, familiar with the daily carnage of street gangs, coined the name years ago. Lee came along and thought Chi-Raq was the perfect title for a film describing the city's bloody gun violence....

    Filmmaker Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq is a graphic portrayal of a black dystopia — murder, gang-banging, calumny, stupidity, self-hatred, loss, hopelessness.