Journalist Mabel Norris Reese’s sculpture to be unveiled Jan. 12

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Jim McNalis works on his sculpture of Mabel Norris Reese to be unveiled Jan. 12 at Mount Dora. // Photo from remembermabel.com used with permission

Mount Dora’s Mabel Norris Reese first gained national recognition in the 1950s as one of America’s most courageous journalists. She soon will join a relatively small number of American women to be recognized with a portrait sculpted in her honor.

Created by artist Jim McNalis, the work will be unveiled at 3pm Sunday, Jan. 12, at the Mount Dora Community Building, 520 N. Baker St. Admission is free, and no tickets are required.

The event will feature the artist along with author Gilbert King, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Devil in the Grove” and its follow-up, “Beneath a Ruthless Sun” brought Mabel to the attention of readers around the world. Emmy Award-winning author and journalist Bob Kealing will moderate a panel discussion at the unveiling, according to a news release.

The discussion will highlight the courage of Mabel, whose focus on local news changed from social events and city council meetings to the life and death struggles of the Groveland Four, four African-American men who, in 1949, were falsely accused of raping a white teenager. When Mabel began to challenge the authority of Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall, she became a target of his wrath, the release states. Bombs were detonated at her Sylvan Shores home, her newspaper office was vandalized, a cross was burned in her yard and her dog was poisoned.

Nevertheless, she persisted. In columns that gained national and international attention, Mabel consistently exposed the corruption of the sheriff and his deputies and revealed his use of torture to coerce confessions and his reliance on manufactured evidence to gain convictions. In 1954, she led the effort to find justice for the Platt children who McCall and the county school board judged to be “negroes” ineligible to attend Mount Dora’s whites-only schools. In 1957, McCall and Lake County Prosecutor Gordon Oldham framed Jesse Daniels, a mentally disabled 19-year-old, for rape and had him committed without trial to the state hospital for the insane in Chattahoochee, according to the release. Their crime prompted Mabel and Jesse’s mother, Pearl, to launch a 14-year quest to secure his release.

“Few women in America, much less female journalists and investigative reporters, are represented in sculptures and portraits,” Gary McKechnie, founder of the Mabel Norris Reese Tribute Fund, says in the release. “But Mabel deserves to be remembered, not just to remind us of the importance of a free press, but to remind everyone of their role as citizens in a democratic society.”

In the feature “Breaking the Bronze Ceiling,” CBS News reported that of more than 5,000 statues in America, fewer than 10 percent are dedicated to women. This honor will be added to Mabel’s December 2018 induction into the Lake County Women’s Hall of Fame.

For more information, visit remembermabel.com.

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