Since at least 2017, State Representative Loranne Ausley has been an outspoken proponent of tearing down the Confederate monument in front of Tallahassee’s capital complex. She’s given speeches and even supported a bill introduced in 2019 to remove it or replace it with a plaque:
“For those who say we need to preserve history, we can put those symbols in a museum,” she shouted at a rally in 2017. “But they do not belong in the public square. And I ask you to pay attention to politics, because who is elected really does matter…This is the question: what legacy am I leaving…what legacy are we leaving?
In the wake of nationwide protests that swept across Tallahassee in the summer of 2020, Ausley posted photos on social media professing support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
On July 4th, she posted a photo on Twitter posing in front of six Black students heading to a Black Lives Matter rally. Except she wasn’t going to the event herself, though. She was just out on her regular jog, passed them on the sidewalk, and used them as props for her campaign before continuing on her run.
On May 31st, just days after the death of George Floyd, Ausley posted on Twitter:
Been doing a lot of reading, watching and listening to try to process all that is happening from my position of privilege.
Ausley’s “position of privilege,” it turns out, is a rich family legacy with southern roots that include generations of Saxons, McSwains and, of course, Ausleys. But she’s never publicly acknowledged how her family acquired its significant wealth, and how they’ve managed to hold onto it, through the Civil War, the fight for Civil Rights, and into modern times. The true story threatens to shatter a carefully curated narrative that she’s just a humble member of a long line of public servants that hail from a clan of Southern Democrats: hardworking farmers, bankers, lawyers, politicians and newspapermen, all pillars of the community, who helped shape Tallahassee as we know it today.
The untold story is much less flattering.
Beginning in the mid-1800’s, Loranne Ausley’s direct ancestors bought, owned and sold slaves to work on the family plantation, and later used their wealth to start or buy into several iconic Tallahassee businesses, including Capital City Bank, the Ausley McMullen law firm, and the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper, which has played no small part in helping to whitewash the family’s past. The Ausleys partnered with avowed white supremacists, and they fought bitterly against desegregation on buses and schools through the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s. Their family-owned bank has even been accused of discriminating against employees in 2001 and of discriminatory lending practices in 2003.
And Loranne Ausley has never acknowledged any of it publicly.
Several attempts were made to reach Ausley for comment for this story through her campaign website and through a top campaign consultant. She never responded.
GROWING COMMUNITY BACKLASH
Now, voters are questioning the authenticity of her recent racial activism, bolstered by her social media selfies in front of Black Lives Matter signs, wondering aloud why Ausley has never previously mentioned those shameful chapters in her family’s history. And disavowed them.
“The facts are the facts. You disclose them and be transparent,” says Khana Aramint, a Black woman who plans to vote in November, but not for Ausley. “She benefited from her family’s history, and now she’s not even acknowledging the remnants of that history.”
For Ausley, a white Democrat campaigning for State Senate against Marva Preston, a Black female Republican, the timing of the revelations couldn’t be worse. After a summer of racially-charged protests, riots and violence, Black Democrats have grown increasingly skeptical of politicians who use social media to signal solidarity with Black Lives Matter, but never go further.
That opportunistic photo in front of the six Black Lives Matters protesters that she posted while jogging in July? Black activists at the rally fired back at her, too.
“If u wouldve been @ the capitol u wouldve heard them speaking about how Independence Day does not mark freedom for all, so why should it be celebrated?” -Twitter user @speshulsnoflayk
Others are more agitated, and energized.
“There’s no time to continue on the merry-go-round of deception when Loranne Ausley could have just stopped and told the plain truth,” says Warren Brown, a Black social activist who is going around Tallahassee putting up yard signs warning the community about Ausley’s family legacy that he says is built “upon the lineage of slavery.”
WHITE SUPREMACIST LINKED TO AUSLEY FAMILY LAW FIRM
Ausley’s devotion to the family legacy is so strong that she kept her family name through two marriages. It’s a name that many Tallahassee residents should recognize. In 1930, her grandfather, Charles Ausley, started what is now Tallahassee’s oldest law firm, Ausley McMullen.
The firm began as Ausley, Collins and Truett. Racism tainted the family practice from early on. In 1948, a man who would become one of Ausley’s most notable associates at the firm, a young attorney named George Harrold Carswell, was running for elected office in Georgia. He gave a campaign speech at an American Legion event in Wilkinson, Georgia, where he lamented to the assembled guests that:
“Foremost among the raging controversies in America today is the great crisis over the so-called Civil Rights Program,” and suggested it might be better described as the “Civil-Wrongs Program.”
If there remained any doubt about the racial views of the man who would become Charles Ausley’s most infamous associate, he later made those views crystal clear as he closed out his speech:
“I yield to no man as a fellow candidate, or as a fellow citizen, in the firm, vigorous belief in the principles of white supremacy, and I shall always be so governed.”
Ausley hired him the next year.
The speech is now preserved for posterity in the Congressional Record, because Carswell was later nominated to be a United States Supreme Court Justice by President Richard Nixon. But Carswell’s views on white supremacy weren’t the only obstacle he faced at his confirmation hearing. Another scandal also surfaced: his controversial role in keeping Black people out of Tallahassee’s Capital City Country Club in the 1950’s. The story cost him dearly. Thirty-eight Democrats and thirteen Republicans voted against him, rejecting his nomination by a vote of 45-51.
The scandal made national news the morning of Carswell’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing. But Carswell didn’t act alone:
The 1956 machinations to block Blacks from using the Capital City Country Club helped end Carswell’s shot at the Supreme Court, but also involved Charles Ausley (Loranne’s grandfather) and a handful of other prominent Tallahassee businessmen. Together, they are alleged to have conspired with city officials to buy the club from the city for $1, and make the club private to prevent Black golfers, including the Florida A&M collegiate team, from using the course. The Black student athletes were forced to practice their golf game in a nearby cow pasture.
For his part, Carswell denied that he had any knowledge of the country club’s segregationist scheme, claiming only that he bought a share in the newly formed club. And during his 1970 confirmation hearing, he told the assembled United States Senators that he disavowed his previous remarks about white supremacy.
But there is no record of the Ausley family ever publicly disavowing their own culpability in the country club scheme, nor did Ausley distance himself from Carswell. In fact, Ausley continued to defend him and his less-than-stellar record on desegregation. It was a record that Ausley shared.
Ausley was a consistent advocate for continuing segregationist policies. During the same year that he and Carswell engaged in the Country Club discrimination scheme, Ausley played a key role in another racially charged incident, again on the wrong side of history, that helped kick-start the civil rights movement in the Tallahassee:
Sixty years later, it seems impossible to believe there was a time when blacks and whites were not allowed to sit together on Tallahassee city buses. It seems impossible to believe blacks were not allowed to sit in the front seats of a bus. Those seats were reserved for white people. But in 1956, it was the law in Tallahassee, then still a small city of strict racial separation…
On May 26, 1956, two Florida A&M students changed the course of history. Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Patterson boarded a Tallahassee city bus on South Adams Street and plopped down on a front bench beside a white woman. The bus driver ordered them to move to the back of the bus. When the two students refused, the driver drove to a nearby gas station and called the police. Jakes and Patterson were arrested and charged with placing themselves in a position to “incite a riot.”
In the ensuing negotiations, Charles Ausley represented the bus company, some of whose drivers were notorious for verbally degrading Black passengers.
SLAVE OWNERS, PLANTATIONS, AND MODERN DISCRIMINATION ALLEGATIONS
The Ausley family’s link to pro-segregation policies are just the tip of the iceberg. They also have direct ties to slavery in the Antebellum South. The Last Will and Testament of Henry Saxon, Loranne Ausley’s great-great-great grandfather, which dates back to 6 September 1855, stated clearly his desire to keep at least five slaves on his plantation for one year after his death:
After working for a full year after his death to harvest “one crop,” Saxon directed that these five slaves be sold, not emancipated, and the “proceeds divided among my six youngest children.”
In a 2014 story about the naming of Ausley Road, the Tallahassee Democrat draws a direct line from Henry Saxon to George Saxon, founder of Capital City Bank, and to Ausley’s grandfather, the previously mentioned segregationist, Charles Ausley:
Ausley Road in west Tallahassee is named for physician and longtime Leon County Commissioner Charles Ausley — whose son, grandson and great granddaughter [editor’s note: this is Loranne Ausley] became equally prominent Tallahassee residents.
Charles Merritt Ausley was a native of Camden, S.C., who earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Tennessee and his medical degree at the Baltimore College of Medicine. He came to Tallahassee in 1901 and established a medical practice. In 1906 he married Elizabeth Saxon — daughter of George Saxon, founder of Capital City Bank and Tallahassee real estate magnate.
And Henry Saxon’s slaves weren’t the only direct link to the “Antebellum Ausley” legacy. In 2003, Loranne’s own father, DuBose Ausley, was listed as the registered agent of the Horseshoe Plantation, located near Killearn in Northeast Tallahassee. In 1840, two decades before the Civil War, Horseshoe Plantation housed somewhere between 130 and 150 slaves. It changed hands many times over the years, ultimately becoming what is now modern-day Killearn. The designation as Horseshoe Plantation’s registered agent simply means DuBose Ausley has been designated to receive legal, government and business correspondence on the plantation’s behalf. It’s not clear what connection he or the Ausley family, had to the original Horseshoe Plantation.
But regardless of the reason for his connection there, DuBose himself has also been personally accused of racial discrimination. While serving on the board of the Capital Health Plan in 1987 and 1988, Tallahassee resident Edward Holifield accused him of discriminating against Black doctors:
The Ausley family also owns a stake in Capital City Bank, which was founded by Confederate Army veteran George Saxon, son of the aforementioned slave owner, Henry Saxon. In recent years, Capital City Bank has been the subject of a racial discrimination lawsuit, with at least one employee claiming he was not promoted because of his race:
Two years later, the Ausley’s Capital City Bank was criticized in a report over “discriminatory lending practices” in which it was found that they denied loans to Black applicants three times as often as whites:
LORANNE AUSLEY’S PERSONAL WEALTH
In an era of “white privilege” and “cancel culture,” Loranne Ausley’s political candidacy has thus far managed to skate through the campaign cycle without a second thought from most Florida Democrats. To those that know her, she is viewed as a wealthy former state representative with deep family ties to the city. Few voters have bothered to look up her mandatory financial disclosure she filed in June of this year. On it, she claimed a net worth of $2.4 million. Over $700,000 of that comes directly from her share of ownership in Capital City Bank:
(Ausley’s full financial disclosure can be viewed here.)
The revelations raise serious questions about whether Loranne Ausley’s social media solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement is genuine, or mere lip service. Should she be held accountable for the sins committed by previous generations? Better yet, is there anything Ausley can do to win back votes from those who are disgusted by her family’s history?
For Khana Aramint, the answer is no.
“Too much time has elapsed. She had a lot of opportunity to be more forthcoming about her family history,” Aramint says. “That’s a history which she has strategically concealed. And the reality is that a lot of people put blind faith in politicians who aren’t deserving of it.”