Herb Donaldson
Who am I?
Playwright, Herb Donaldson’s first play 'At A Time Like This' was featured by NBC as part of their PSNBC Festival at HERE Theatre. It went on to the National Black Theatre Festival and was later produced by Arcos Communications as part of its Downtown Urban Theatre Festival (DUTF). Another work, 'A Matter of Seconds', was produced by the Urban Pop Theatre Festival and later at the Walnut Theatre (Philadelphia, PA) by BanjiGirl Productions. He was also a writer for the short film 'Love Aquarium' that was accepted into numerous film festivals, including Los Angeles, the Hampton’s, and was featured on BET Shorts (Black Entertainment Television). Mr. Donaldson was marketing consultant for Walker International Communications Group; assistant to noted Directors, Woodie King, Jr. (New Federal Theatre in NYC), and George C. Wolfe (Public Theater/NYSF); he was also Marketing Assistant for the Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival; and Director of Interpretive Programming for The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. His play 'Brighterburn' launched the Fifth Annual Downtown Urban Theater Fest, at the Cherry Lane Theatre, receiving an opening introduction from writer/activist Amiri Baraka (formerly Leroi Jones) as the Cherry Lane celebrated the 30th anniversary of Baraka’s play, 'The Dutchman'. Mr. Donaldson developed the ‘We ARE The People’ reading event for Roy Arias Studios (NYC) which featured 16 new plays from underground writers in a three-day time period. He is one of the original founders of The Palaver Tree Theater Co., and currently serves as Artistic Director.
Where I am now...
Since 2010 he has written a series of plays dealing directly with Wakulla County’s history (his hometown). He is a freelance writer for the Wakulla News, and host of the Wakulla Sunday Radio Program. His first book, 'Southern SHOCK Americana', is the true life account of his uncle’s life on Florida’s Death Row. Yuhanna Abdullah Muhommad (formerly known as John Mills, Jr.) was executed by the State of Florida on December 6, 1996, for a murder in the county that many believe he was not guilty of. “The goal of the book,” Mr. Donaldson explains, “is to come to the truth of what took place the day of the murder, as well as what followed in the courtroom and county of Wakulla, afterwards." "It’s not like I enjoy talking about Death Row, or the life my uncle was forced to fashion out while there. I wrote the book to get the story out my system; out of my family’s system. For example, let’s say, someone you loved was killed. And you suspected foul play was involved – and were armed with certain facts to back those assumptions: Would you say nothing? Would you ‘let it go’ - as I've often been advised - and move through life as if none of it happened?" "Well, I couldn’t. Most likely, it will only be those who’ve experienced something similar in life that can understand why such a book, an account, was necessary. And if I reach them, and encourage them to tell their stories, then that's all I need." "A victim of a crime such as murder, along with the loved ones they've left behind, deserve justice. But sometimes, in our zeal, we accuse the innocent and create even more victims. In writing and researching this book, I've learned that there is a need for restorative justice, and forgiveness. That means forgiving the person - or persons - who actually committed the crime, and - as in our case - forgiving an entire community that sought revenge.”




Southern SHOCK Americana: The Life and Death of John Mills, Jr.


At a Time Like This
A Matter of Seconds
Purple Hearts and Green Boxes
The Small Town Experiment
The Wakulla Stories:
Through A Looking Glass
A Hankerin’ for Headhunting (Based on the works of Elizabeth Fisher Smith)
The Wakulla Volcano
A Mania for Speculation (Wakulla Co. and the Forbes Purchase)
Who Killed Old Joe?


Black History Month: A Profile of Black-Owned Businesses
SCENE in Wakulla Was a Success (July 2013)
Palaver Tree Sneak Peek (January 2013)
‘Left Hand Singing’ Readers Theatre article (February 2013)
Macedonia Banquet (March 2013)
Black History: The Story of Lacie Hudson (February 2013)
The Black History Celebration (February 2013)
The Noah Posey Article (November 2012)
The Historic Macedonia Church (November 2012)
Operation Santa: Helping Families in Need (November 2012)
Wakulla’s Working Waterfronts (2012)
Arts Conference: Colquitt, GA / Swamp Gravy (June 2012)
Class Reunion (August 2012)
Remembering Ruth McCallister Davis-High (August 2012)
A Conversation with Leo Lovel (August 2012)
May 20th Celebration: Emancipation (May 2012)
Life’s Lessons: In Wakulla, We Are All Connected (Feb 2011)
The Legacy of John and Charlotte Rosier (Feb 2011)
John Mills: The ‘Black Mayor’ of Buckhorn (Feb 2011)
WakullaStory: A Hankerin’ for a Headhuntin’ (Feb 2012)
Suicide: A Difficult Topic (December 2011)
Black History Month: Women Leaders: Colleen Skipper and Anginita Rosier (Feb. 2012)
‘WakullaStory’ is about local history (March 2011)
The Randy Nelson Interview (Feb 2012)
Black History: Christian Coalition (Feb 2012)
Wakulla Christian Coalition: Honoring Dr. King (January 2012)
Homeless in Wakulla County: A Look At the Problem (November 2011)
Making History: Historical Society’s 20th anniversary (October 2011)
‘Buckhorn: A Ghost Town Revisited’ (May 2011)
Judge Mike Carter article (November 2011)
Personal Reflection: Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City (September 2011)
Sheriff David Harvey: The End of an Era (September 2011)
Promise Land Ministries (September 2011)
Smoke and Fire: Wakulla Co. Firefighters (October 2011)
Nature’s Classroom’: St. Marks Wildlife Refuge (September 2011)
‘Keep Pushing:’ A Talk with Ruth Williams (Feb. 2011)

Radio Programs:

Sneak Peek (Episode One)
A Graceful Independence (Episode Two)
Native and Nature (Episode Three)
Beyond the Doors (Episode Four)
One of Us: The Sammy Tedder Interview (Episode Five)
New Growth: Young Adults of Wakulla County (Episode Six)
The Sheriff David Harvey Interview (Episode Seven)
What’s That You’re Reading: Wakulla Co. Public Library (Episode Eight)
Nature’s Classroom: St. Marks Nat. Wildlife Refuge (Episode Nine)
Where There’s Smoke: Wakulla Fire Dept. / EMS (Episode Ten)
Wakulla Green (Episode Eleven)
In the Making: Wakulla Co. Historical Society (Episode Twelve)
Like A Shot: Gun Culture of Wakulla Co. (Episode Thirteen)
A Christmas Tree & A Wedding / Holiday Episode (Episode Fourteen)
Black Owned: Black Businesses of Wakulla Co. (Episode Fifteen)
The Randy Nelson Interview (Episode Sixteen)
Colleen Skipper / Anginita Rosier Interview (Episode Seventeen)
The Human Politic Part One (Episode Eighteen)
The Healing Touch: Healing Arts of Wakulla County (Episode Nineteen)
Freeing Wakulla: May 20th Emancipation Episode (Episode Twenty)
The Human Politic Part Two (Episode Twenty-One)


Purchase your PAPERBACK or KINDLE copy of SOUTHERN SHOCK AMERICANA: The Life and Execution of John Mills, Jr. HERE: http://www.amazon.com/Southern-Shock-Americana-Herb-Donaldson-ebook/dp/B00HSVKBFI

Previews & Excerpts

PIECES of Mind

So, there I was. Years ago. A kid going to church with his family.

Hearing people pray throughout the service was natural. It was part of the worship.

I was always praying for it to be over so that I could go home and get me something to eat.

One Sunday, I overheard an elder woman’s convo with God.

She was sitting in the pew behind me, saying she was thankful for her health and such.

But she used a term that I never forgot because I didn’t fully understand it:

“I’m thankful that I’m in my right mind.”

Back then, I kinda / sorta thought I knew what she meant.

With everything that’s happened since, in all these years; happened yesterday, today, and even Thursday night as I watched it unfold on CNN, I’m only beginning to grasp that lady’s meaning of “In my right mind.”

There’s so much to take one out of it.

So much to snatch one out of that “right mind”.

I don’t go to church anymore.

Then again, that may not be true.

I attend church on a regular basis.

For me, that church is the theater.

Theater is the one place that triggers an internal sensation as soon as I pass beneath the threshold.

I can walk in and not feel the sting of human judgement, or rejection, for simply being me.

Looking the way I look.

Sounding the way I sound.

Acting the way I act.

All that I’d been led to believe were my ‘flick-ted’ quirks, were actually the currency that paid my way into the creative fold.

I was among brothers and sisters who took joy in the fact that we all survived another 24-hour trial of life, and were – once again – alive, in one another’s presence.

The theater allowed me and so many others (That peculiar brand of holy people!) – to let it OUT.

Live the performance.

Pen your truth.

Direct a path for others to follow so that you may lead them back into their “right minds”.

That church (the theater), is all that I know.

Those of us that love it realize that we are, in essence, involved in the almost scientific study of breaking people, places, and experiences down to their barest essential.

Even today, the creators (artists) who live among us are watching, knowing full well that there is something deeper than the televised actions that have taken place.

In the center of these actions are hard packed nuclei; reasons and causes.

We are merely witnessing the effect. The uncontrolled explosion of itty bitty bombs, slights, injustices, raw deals, lies, and promises not kept that have built up over time.

This death, aloneness, and bewilderment that appear to surround us, did not come from thin air – and we know this. We, as a nation, don’t like it, but we know it.

What if we actually admitted that America is not the perfect superhero of all nations?

Admitted that we, as citizens of this country, are not perfect.

Admitted, that God may not actually be “on our side”, no matter how many times our sons formed a cross on the football field and dropped to one knee.

If we admitted only a few things, would we, possibly, find ourselves face to face with that salivating-from-the-fangs monstrous demon: Ourselves?

It would appear that we cannot live without the illusion that we are better than most. Therefore, we often abuse those who trust that illusion the least, and speak freely of that distrust to our faces.

I’ve been here before.

Our family witnessed the state of Florida execute my uncle for a murder that to this day no one can say – with a definite certainty (reasonable doubt?) – that he committed.

There is a woman walking this earth as I write these words (and not a Black American one) who managed to elude our (then) local law enforcement. Who knows? Maybe she had help.

A few of her personal items were found not far from the murdered man’s body and, somehow, she transformed into vapor. Completely, entirely, scot-free, GONE.

We screamed, we shouted – we won’t discuss the tears – and the state, the taxpayers, and the electric chair took my uncle’s life anyway.

As a child, I loved when the Dr. Seuss “Special Presentations” played on television.

They basically told children, through story, that if we walked a bad path, everything around us would become bad as well; would follow our lead, so to speak.

From our bodies, to our community, to our institutions, to our children, right down to the streams and into the soil. All of it would sour because we stepped into the bad side.

As I got older, the cartoons didn’t change. I did.

Like reading an old love letter from someone who, back then, I would have given my all for. Only now, when reading the letter, pieces of my love have disappeared.

Pieces of my love for the way this country works, have disappeared.

Those childlike visions of hope poured out from me like water to the ground with my uncle’s passing.

Like everyone else, I was told to grow up, and “get over it”.

The getting over, is a mutha.

Try telling a veteran, still suffering PTSD from his days in Vietnam, “Aw, man, that was 50 years ago – get over it.”

And yet, Black Americans hear similar words from their fellow Americans who treat Black history – in this nation – as something to be gotten over, instead of recognizing it for the all-American cornerstone that it is. One that has earned its right in history to be better understood, embraced, and atoned for.

Black American history is approached as an almost minor thing. Even with the use of the very word “minority”. Imagine, as an adult man or woman, consistently being referred to as a “minority”; a minor, small, trivial thing.

Last night there was a vigil held in one of our local parks for the members of Texas law enforcement who were killed during the shootout this past Thursday.

The vigil was a well-intentioned a gesture that moved towards respect and healing.

The idea that some, in our community, thought enough of what was happening around the country to gather as one to be silent; to be still in their remembrance, is heartwarming.

However, it brings to mind a vigil held not long ago by our local chapter of the NAACP, in response to the letters “KKK” being spray-painted on the signs of two (and later three) historically Black churches here.

The atmosphere that noted vigil precipitated in the county was one of distrust and dark intentions.

Am I allowed to ask Why?

Our Sheriff was told on social media not to give into “them”.

Am I allowed to ask Why?

This one worded question, unsettles. To simply ask it, is equivalent to insult.

But… Why?

I feel a lightheaded distance witnessing all that is happening now.

Again: This sticky accumulation of sadness and confusion is not new to me.

But I honestly feel that now, more than ever, I understand my purpose and how it is that I am called to be of use.

In Martin Luther King, Jr’s speech, “The Tree Dimensions of a Complete Life”, he spoke:

“Now the other thing about the length of life: after accepting ourselves and our tools, we must discover what we are called to do. And once we discover it we should set out to do it with all of the strength and all of the power that we have in our systems.

And after we’ve discovered what God called us to do, after we’ve discovered our life’s work, we should set out to do that work so well that the living, the dead, or the unborn couldn’t do it any better.

Now this does not mean that everybody will do the so-called big, recognized things of life. Very few people will rise to the heights of genius in the arts and the sciences; very few collectively will rise to certain professions. Most of us will have to be content to work in the fields and in the factories and on the streets. But we must see the dignity of all labor.”

When I post about Palaver Tree Theater and what we hope to accomplish, I know what it is that I am working toward. Our mission statement says clearly that we use artistic means to “…explore the moral and social fabric our society.”

Like Woodie King, Jr., Douglas Turner Ward, Barbara Ann Teer, and Joseph Papp, we are not bound by the physical structure of our “church” building. We don’t serve only “our” congregation.

Our work must be in the street, among the people; providing an offering to those that don’t have the luxury of handing over a tithe at the door.

I know that artists are out there working; crafting plays, music, novels, film, and visual art to make us stop and say:

LOOK at this beauty. You can bring beauty about, too.

WATCH this otherworldly reflection of your world being played out in front of you on the stage and on the screen.

SEEK the moral of this cautionary tale you’ve just witnessed.

CONSIDER it when you are about to act – or react – to something – to someone – that has offended you, your life, your purpose in this one and only life you’ve been given.

But…its art. And I know that may seem trivial.

But it altered the course of my life.

From the moment I asked to be in a play at Wakulla High School and had to walk, act, and become an existence that was other than my own, it gave me something to work towards.

It taught me how to study people, to ask questions.

To understand why we are the way we are.

To connect.

Without it, I would not know how to reach deep within myself and make sense of the collective madness that exists in the world at this moment.

I want to clear a space for artists.

We need them to capture these moments that we are experiencing.

We need them, as the Mad Scientists of Mankind, to present their findings in the public squares so that their efforts can be studied and enhanced upon.

So that the lessons learned can be put to use among the people.

Everybody loves a good story, a great song, or the majestic nature of a visual artwork. They trigger something within us that affects the ways in which we view the world.

Laws, judicial systems, and those that sit in seats of authority, can be cold. And when you petition for a change within those laws; within those systems – when you question authority, you do so in front of a people with hearts, possibly long ago, chilled over.

How do we, those involved within the arts, assist in the creation of better people?

How long will we put our hopes in to the hands of people on “the hill” who, when staring down to view us, seek ways to divide us as a whole, into groups, so that they may conquer – devour – our minds, in smaller portions?

I appreciate Black Lives Matter, and so many other groups, organizations, and individuals who attempt to tweak the machine so that each of us has a chance of passing through it smoothly, and not be ground to gristle along the way, because:

“…after accepting ourselves and our tools, we must discover what we are called to do…”

Jupiter, Mars, and the newly discovered planet can wait.

I’m using what tools I have to break down a wall so that my community can finally climb over into a new era: Discovering ourselves.

I just hope I’m in my “right mind” when doing so.



Food, toy, and gift-giving drives have flooded our county this holiday season. This is a beautiful thing to see and participate in.  But what can we do to give a gift towards someone’s character? What present, once unwrapped, can reveal and uplift the moral conscience of the one who has received it?

I attended an NAACP meeting the day after Thanksgiving regarding the recent cartoon postings by Undersheriff Morrison, and comments made by our deputies, along with a few others.

The purpose of the meeting, which was stated clearly to all, was to give every Wakulla resident an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings with the Sheriff.  

And that, simply, was it.

The vice president of NAACP’s northern Florida region, Dale Landry, who is responsible for all branches from Pensacola to Lake City, said the following when referring to the cartoon and postings:

“This is not a meeting to debate the comments.”

He recited this for the audience:

“The mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination.”

“When we say ‘colored people’”, continued Mr. Landry, “Folks often relate that to people that are black. Let me help you define what that means. It means that all people can be members of NAACP because all people have color. There is one type of person that cannot be a member. And that is a person who is translucent.”

This brought hints of laughter from the crowd because, in short, he was talking about an invisible man; a thing that, physically anyway, does not exist in nature as we know it.

Wakulla chapter president, Anginita Rosier, Sheriff Creel, and people from the community spoke throughout the meeting.

I chose to listen. I needed a way to understand and sort through my feelings. Like others, I have been in contact, sat down, and kept company with those on both sides of this incident. 

Later I viewed a few social media outlets for comments and found statements from residents referring to NAACP as a ‘racist group’. These comments came from those who didn’t attend the meeting; who had no idea of what was addressed.  

This is all it takes to rip apart the universal goodwill that people are actively working to achieve.

Weeks later, after the spray-can man showed his acetone, I attended the prayer vigil at New Bridge Missionary Baptist Church.  It was one of the locations recently marked with the letters ‘KKK’.


Undersheriff Morrison spoke at this event. Before he said a word he was greeted with heartfelt applause.

“Earlier today I had a long-time friend call me,” said Mr. Morrison, “and he asked me ‘Why’re you going?  You’re gonna be ridiculed.’”

Mr. Morrison continued:  “I said to him, ‘Well, first off, I’m going to church. Forgiveness, to me, is a big thing.’”

He apologized for how he may have hurt the community with his online postings.

It was a moment where everyone present made a certain mental –  emotional – sacrifice.  Everyone had to lose something in the hopes of gaining something better.


The Undersheriff could have stayed home and made up – in his mind – what type of boogeymen ‘those people’ were. Some of us have learned (learned) to do that.


I believe it played a part in Ferguson, Staten Island, Tallahassee, and here in Wakulla.  We are too tightly wrapped in the straightjacket of fear and terror(ists).

If that were not, in some way, so, we would have no need of God.

Or guns.

Or wars. 

Or weapons of mass destruction.

We wouldn’t tremble and shake when someone bigger, broader, darker than we are passed us in a dark alley.  Or on a street corner in broad daylight.     


There are people who appreciate the courage it took for Undersheriff Morrison to apologize. It does not mean that they will feel safe if he, or other deputies listed on those postings, were to pull them to the curb for the slightest infraction, in the dead of night.

And what if it’s a woman who is pulled over? We’ve heard such accusations before.

Even colder:

Some people will put the Undersheriff down for having dared stooped so low as to even apologize in the first place.

No one wins in a game like this.  

It is thought that when trouble arises law enforcement is the first one called. This depends on the experience one has had at the hands of law enforcement.  One does not always see a savior in uniform. They are human just like us.

Upon their arrival they bring with them their history and all that they have learned both in and outside of their training. When confronted by an officer, we too bring our history and training with us.

How do we work together, understand both histories, and train ourselves towards true and proper justice?   

The citizens and law enforcement officials have begun an honest dialogue. My hope is that we come to understand one another, and our neighborhoods (our neighbors), better.

No one wins in a game like this. If we are all losers this time around, there still may be an opportunity to pool our resources and go for the gold – together. 

Yes, I know this sounds all pie-in-the-sky and Tinkerbell pansy-ish.  But I’d much rather have a feeling and vision towards that, than the Jeremiah-prophet-of-doom episodes of late.


Although I felt encouraged after the vigil, there was a thought I couldn’t shake.

Alphonse Karr once said, “The more things change, the more they are the same.”

I don’t want to be guided by this thought, but I won’t deny that it’s there. I am eager to hold on to something positive.

During the prayer vigil, Wakulla pastors – black and white – from numerous congregations throughout the county, stood up to read their favorite passages of scripture.

The beauty of it was that members in the audience, choir, and the pulpit began to recite the chosen verses with them aloud, as one. 

There are moments when unity burns brighter than any cross in someone’s front yard ever can.  This was one of those moments.

I am not a Christian.  I do not attend church. But I can only hope that there is something larger than we know that is waiting to work for our personal and overall benefit. I want my energy to last so that I can be a part of it and lend my hand to the work.   

It was all well and good to be in a church, experiencing a moment with ‘God’s Chosen’.

But there were others in attendance, too.

There were atheists and agnostics there.

There were gays and lesbians there.

This is to name only a few of the people who have been, in a sense, shut out from the love of God. Who have been told to their faces that God does not love, care, want, or need them.

We speak easily of opening our minds and embracing our collective ‘differences’.  When we say we are here to serve and care for all, do we really mean it?

This is larger than race.

This is larger than the NAACP or the KKK.

This is a larger, more telling indicator of who we truly are, as opposed to who it is we claim to be. 

Yes, this is one of those moments that we will not be sure of until it’s over.

And all it took was a can of paint.



PART ONE: http://www.herbdonaldson.com/uncategorized/all-it-takes-is-a-can-of-paint-part-one/

PART TWO:  http://www.herbdonaldson.com/uncategorized/all-it-takes-is-a-can-of-paint-part-two/

PART THREE: http://www.herbdonaldson.com/uncategorized/all-it-takes-is-a-can-of-paint-part-three/

PART FOUR: http://www.herbdonaldson.com/uncategorized/all-it-takes-is-a-can-of-paint-part-four/



Enter: The infamous ‘man with the can’

Only a few weeks ago did his (…or is it ‘their’) brand of visual toxin bloom like poison flowers on church property and automobiles.

new bridge

Can an act that was meant to hurt be turned towards healing?

Sheriff Creel feels that teenagers may have done the deed. 

In my youth, I recall times when I said hurtful things to friends and loved ones. The favor was returned in full force and I was grateful. Grateful, because it helped me learn that I can’t unjustifiably hurt someone without my own pride taking a payback punch.


Things done in early life can haunt a person’s mind, and the minds of those who were there to witness it all, for decades.

If teenagers committed this act, once caught and known, it won’t matter if they grow to become shining individuals of society that cure cancer, or end poverty as we know it. They will always remain suspect for this abysmal deed. Things can be forgiven, but seldom forgotten.

I want to believe that our young folk are better and smarter than we think. I want to give them a chance to be looked up to, instead of stared down upon.

Their modes of expression are vastly different from my generation.  Or so it seems.

For instance, how do we know if the suspected teenagers (if teens they be) are all white?

And, for the record, yes, I know how that may sound.  But this is precisely how different our world is today.

There was a time when almost no one could conceive of a black person being a serial killer; or of our founding fathers siring biracial children. Just because we cannot imagine it does not mean it isn’t so. 

Why are certain realities so hard to face?  Why does our skin prickle when confronted with these things? Who, really, are we trying to please, and why?   

Time, perceptions, and stereotypes can change. They don’t need our consent in order to occur.  In time, all decision will be stripped from us and handed to the young, as you and I rest deep within the dust.


When people saw the initial image and postings that ignited the present outrage, there were comments made by citizens equally as painful and revenge-filled as that of which the Undersheriff and deputies had been accused.

The only difference being that one group was hired, sworn in, and are committed to the following:

Promote a safe environment, free from crime and the fear of crime.

Provide an optimum level of service to the citizens we serve.

Practice our core values of:


Integrity is the trademark of the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office. We are committed to the standard of excellence in our performance, ethical conduct, and truthfulness in all relationships.

This sheriff’s office holds itself accountable for its actions and takes pride in the highest professional level of service to our citizens and visitors.


The Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office treats all persons in a dignified and courteous manner. We model understanding of cultural and ethnic diversity, both in our professional and personal undertakings.


We provide quality service in a courteous and efficient manner. We pride ourselves in our accessibility to all of those who call upon us for assistance.


We are responsive to all people and treat all people impartially, with consideration, compassion and respect.

The other group (regular citizens) are therefore, not bound by these standards.  (NOTE: The above Mission Statement can be found on the Sheriff’s office website)

If teens are involved in the Wakulla Spray Can Incident, what kind of light does it shine on their parents?

And let us not begin to think about an adult who could do such a thing.

Sheriff Creel has mentioned many times that he wants to provide help and counseling to inmates who are thought to be mentally unstable. Yet, there are people walking around every day who need that exact same help.

Some drive buses.  Some fly planes. Some teach in classrooms. Some even wear uniforms.

And yes, some of them are probably writers too!! 

There is a larger ailment that afflicts us all. We just can’t name it, or put our finger on it. But when it flares up, we attack one another.  Some say its simply human nature.  I tend to think its a lack of human understanding regarding the human nature.  

This entire ordeal is a test of our compassion and what we perceive justice to be. Race may be a factor, but it is never, ever the only factor.

What is happening now is a great deal deeper than we think. But we’re not ones to probe too deep, because it hurts too much. There is a spiritual debt to be paid and it is owed to many. Will we run from the collector this time?

PART ONE: http://www.herbdonaldson.com/uncategorized/all-it-takes-is-a-can-of-paint-part-one/

PART TWO:  http://www.herbdonaldson.com/uncategorized/all-it-takes-is-a-can-of-paint-part-two/

PART THREE: http://www.herbdonaldson.com/uncategorized/all-it-takes-is-a-can-of-paint-part-three/

PART FOUR: http://www.herbdonaldson.com/uncategorized/all-it-takes-is-a-can-of-paint-part-four/



Years ago, as a student at Crawfordville Elementary, our teacher would gather the class and lead us to the covered walkway that stretched from the cafeteria to the main building.

She would yell: “Time for free play”, as our disorganized shriek arose and we set forth into madness.

Those moments were made all the more special because of a dog named ‘Maggie’.  She was a small, brown, black, and beige beagle. I gained an appreciation and sincere love for animals through Maggie. She belonged (I believe) to a family that lived next door to the school. In a way, she belonged to us all.

But one day something happened. I’m not sure if Maggie was hit by a car or attacked by another dog, but she was hurt. I’d never seen an animal wounded or in shock. From the looks on our faces as we stared down at her, neither had many (any) of my classmates.

The boy who owned her sank to the ground calling her name: “Maggie… Maggie…” 

His face burned red as he cried in that uncontrollable way children do, with Maggie’s head in his lap. We cried with him. 

I shared this recollection, which is almost 40 years old at this writing, with the boy who is now a full-grown man.

It was during my last high school reunion that I saw Clarence Morrison, who we all called ‘Trey’, blink and smile with recognition at the mention of his departed pet. (At least, I believe Maggie was his, for they were very close.)


There are friendships and there are acquaintances. 

I am quick to call a person my ‘friend’ who is, really, more of an acquaintance.  Having been born at or around the same time, we meet in kindergarten and say goodbye at high school graduation. 

We greet people in church, Winn Dixie, or Walmart and claim to ‘know’ them. But we’ve never sat in their homes, or they in ours, to break bread.  We are ‘friendly’.  Our lives fail to intersect, if ever, on a more personal level.

Years pass. A face pops-up on television, or is written in a column and something triggers in the mind:

“Hey, I know –”, or

“Know of –”, or

“Have a connection to –” that person.

This happened to me recently when a former classmate wrote:

“Say it ain’t so Trey, say it ain’t so.” 

If you live in Wakulla, then you already know where this is heading. 

I looked at the image that was included. It was not flattering. Neither were the other images or comments that followed. It was these images that set many eyes on edge. 

Photo 1

I tried to view it all in a way that would not take away from the ‘good thoughts’ I had about a man who, once he became Undersheriff, represented the ‘can do’ spirit of Wakulla High School’s Class of 1987. 

One of ours had risen to a position that was worthy of respect and was also a position of power. He was – and is – one of us.  When one person in our group succeeds, we all, in a sense, succeed. When the ball is dropped, we all hit the ground.   

Photo 2

I also knew the young woman who took offense to the cartoon and the remarks. I went to school with her siblings.  Coming up, they didn’t live far from us at all. Members of her family have and still do work in the Wakulla Sheriff’s office.

Photo 3Photo 5

Imagine it…

Imagine being a white female…  

A white officer has been shot and killed…

Imagine that officer not having a great reputation, but still being a likeable guy. After all, he had a family and was thinking of continuing his education. But now he’s dead…

Imagine, the only person whose word you can take for how he died, is that of a young black man who claims the officer attacked him.

Would you believe him?

And – suddenly – a cartoon image of a white officer (any white officer) appears on your social media device.

Imagine that it is an image of a white male officer with robust jowls, drooping lips, and an exceedingly large nose, with eyes that appear near dead and vacant.  Is he high? Is he some sort of strange baboonish animal…

Imagine that the officer is holding a gun to his head with the word ‘violence’ inscribed on it as if it were the only thing he is worthy of creating…

Imagine the hat on the officer’s head that, instead of an official insignia, read ‘Loot’, as if thievery and ‘taking from society’ were the only things in his mind…

Imagine his mind – his brain – depicted in the image as being the size of a walnut, as if he had no common sense at all.

Imagine, as a young white mother, your son seeing this image before you do.

Imagine your child turning to you, holding that image up and asking: “Is this ME?”


There is often a brief glimpse into a person’s character when you hear them tell a dirty joke. It may cause your perception of that person to shift.

To watch those around you double-over in laughter at the comical nature of the joke makes one question the company they keep.

But what if that breathless laughter ringing in your ears is coming from you? 

I sensed my former classmate’s “Say it ain’t so” arose not from mockery, but from the same stunned confusion and disbelief that I felt.

I had hoped that the image was part of a larger, more incomprehensible joke that I was not privy to, and did not want to be. 

It is not hard to know where a satirical image like that created by cartoonist Michael Ramirez, can lead the mind.  But that is Mr. Ramirez’ job: To disturb our thinking through his imagery. And he is paid handsomely for it.

When looking deeper, it seems the comments that followed the posted image hinted towards a hardness of heart, coming at the expense of someone’s dead teenage son.

Regardless of what we may feel about Ferguson; putting aside the dead husband/father/son from Staten Island; or the deputy lured to his death in Tallahassee; or the man who opened fire at FSU; or the person who left a Wakulla resident dead in the front yard; or the ‘coward with a spray can’ – they all belonged to, were believed in, and loved by someone.

It may seem odd to talk about love and brotherly kindness in such an open manner.  But we live in Wakulla. 

As soon as you drive in to the county you are confronted with a larger than life billboard that states ‘Wakulla Loves Jesus’.

Does Wakulla love anybody else? 

Some might see the sign as saying, ‘Buddhist, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses and all other faiths unlike ours need not apply’, when some of them are already here and have been for some time.

With almost 80 churches in this one county, how can faith, hope, and charity not be challenged, or put the test?  If you claim the faith, then, being tested – to strengthen that faith even more – is part of the package.

Which sections or groups of people within the county are to be loved in their entirety? Which are to be despised – according to our faith?

Upon entering the pearly gates of the afterlife do we break into groups, class types, and races – according to our faith?

Jesus, by most accounts, is doing alright. We are not faring so well. This is why His mainline is constantly on the ring. 

Perhaps, our asking the Higher Power to make us a kinder, more compassionate people gets answered in unexpected ways.

PART ONE: http://www.herbdonaldson.com/uncategorized/all-it-takes-is-a-can-of-paint-part-one/

PART TWO:  http://www.herbdonaldson.com/uncategorized/all-it-takes-is-a-can-of-paint-part-two/

PART THREE: http://www.herbdonaldson.com/uncategorized/all-it-takes-is-a-can-of-paint-part-three/

PART FOUR: http://www.herbdonaldson.com/uncategorized/all-it-takes-is-a-can-of-paint-part-four/



By Herb Donaldson

December 2014


These last few weeks have been trying on the nerves, soul, and on the idea of what we assumed our present to be.  We are now reconsidering and possibly redoing the roadmap of our future.

Some things remain unresolved. Not long ago a man was found dead in his front yard. His killer has yet to be brought to justice.

As we contemplate racial, religious, politically correct vs incorrect, law enforcement, freedom of speech, and social media issues, a family mourns an all but forgotten loved one.

How did we fall captive to a fear so slick and smooth that we slid into confusion and accusation willingly and without notice?

Recently, I have seen people who I once considered friends posting some of the ugliest rants I’ve ever seen online. Statements that I never thought would fall from their mouths or fingertips, while implementing new millennium code words to describe America’s children, adults, her living, and her dead:  Thug. Animal. Ghetto scum. Savages.

A weighted cloud looms wide above this season. Its menacing presence has lingered for as long as anyone living today has been alive.

Why, now, is it so fresh and so new?

People still ask why certain Americans use the word n***er and why certain Americans can’t. No one possesses power over another’s tongue. People say whatever they want. We learn more about them, their beliefs, and moral character when they do.

I used to go to a church in Tallahassee with a highly diverse congregation. One Sunday our pastor referred to himself jokingly from the pulpit as a “Florida c****er”.

Even though he meant to use the term as a way of relieving tension within the congregation, I would never have thought to turn to my neighbor and call them that word – with love (!) – to their face.

Almost all groups suffer from the cumbersome absurdity of trying to accept another’s definition of who they are, and what they are supposed to be.  ‘Ugly’ words exist for practically every group, race, and gender under the sun. 

Eventually comes that moment when words used for so long to denigrate, are snatched from the oppressor and put to bloody use upside his head – by the oppressed.

Some, for whatever reason, need negative words to define others when they are, in fact, describing something about themselves.

PART TWO:  http://www.herbdonaldson.com/uncategorized/all-it-takes-is-a-can-of-paint-part-two/

PART THREE: http://www.herbdonaldson.com/uncategorized/all-it-takes-is-a-can-of-paint-part-three/

PART FOUR: http://www.herbdonaldson.com/uncategorized/all-it-takes-is-a-can-of-paint-part-four/

The journey of my TEDx Jacksonville Talk


Herb Donaldson delivering his 'How to Survive an Execution: 5 Things You Should Know' speech at TEDxJacksonville.

(( That’s me, delivering my ‘How to Survive an Execution: 5 Things You Should Know’ speech at TEDxJacksonville. ))

“I have been looking for inspiration and next steps regarding the book. And now, I have found it.”

This quote I placed on our Southern Shock Americana (Life and Execution of John Mills, Jr.), Facebook page this past March, in reference to a TED Talk video by Bryan Stevenson.

As a lawyer and director of the Equal Justice Initiative, Mr. Stevenson’s speech, ‘We need to talk about an injustice’, dealt with unfair sentencing practices within the criminal justice system.

He has had more than his share of experience with people on death row, children prosecuted as adults, and individuals perceived to have been mentally ill at the time of their sentencing.

Later, I received a note from a man in Jacksonville who read ‘Southern Shock Americana…’ and had relatives in Wakulla.

He also donated to last year’s Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the book’s first printing. He encouraged me to apply for something called TEDx Jacksonville.

TED Talks, which take place around the world, began as an idea in 1984 to merge Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) together in a public presentation. It took years before their ‘Ideas worth spreading’ concept caught on with the general public.

Today, TED Talks are viewed online for free by millions across the globe. From scientists to seminarians to schoolteachers, each speech presents an idea that brings a new awareness to old thinking. TEDx Talks are the offspring of the original TED presentations.

I filled out an application for TEDx Jacksonville and sent it in. I mentioned it to only one person.

In August, the email arrived.

My mother and father were at their home that day and I recall asking them to sit and watch Bryan Stevenson’s TED Talk with me.

When it ended, I handed my mother the email announcing that out of 90-plus applications I had been selected to present my talk. She howled.

My father sat with a cryptic smile.  I’ve known his face for more than forty years, but it is this particular smile that I’ve never been sure of.

It is a mix of joy and worry:  

Joy, because it can strike a match to illuminate the darkness we’ve dwelled in for so long.

Worry, because opportunity often carries consequence.

Since writing the book, a few of our Wakulla citizenry tend give me the sideways glance. And to think, I’m not even a politician.

And that is how my TEDx Jacksonville journey began.


( ( The 2014 logo for TEDxJacksonville: (un)knowing. ))



(( OCTOBER 4/ VISIONARIES DINNER: The aim of the dinner was to thank everyone involved, including TEDxJacksonville partners, speakers, performers and team. Here I am with Jacksonville’s own ‘Keith Herring’s Ghost’ phenomenon, Chip Southworth. Though much of Chip’s life has been spent as a graphic designer and critically acclaimed studio artist, it was his provocative street art that catapulted him to folk hero status in Northeast Florida just over three years ago. Chip’s speech for the TEDxJacksonville was titled, “Art, a Powerful Conduit for Change” ))


(( VISIONARIES DINNER: With Chevara Orrin, 2013 TEDxJacksonville speaker on ‘The art of “soul connecting’. ))


(( VISIONARIES DINNER: Hanging with the peeps who make it happen. Coach, Sarah Clarke-Stuart; Co-Organizer and Executive Producer, Sabeen Perwaiz Syed; and co-host, Al Letson. This brother is THE example. In 2008 he won the Public Radio Talent Quest, an effort by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to find new voices and innovative programming on NPR. Since then, his program, State of the Re:Union, has become one of the fastest growing shows in public radio, airing on more than 200 stations with critical acclaim. ))


(( My brother from another mother: Chuck Robinson, creator of Bricklauncher, and vice prez of our Palaver Tree Theater Co. My life in Wakulla would not be the same without this brother and his family close by. So glad he could join me for the Visionaries Dinner. ))


(( TEDxJacksonville upon entry ))


(( TEDx… marks the spot. ))

Once my speech, ‘How to Survive an Execution: 5 Things You Should Know’, was written, I was provided a coach to help craft its presentation. In this, I was lucky.


(( Agnes Furey, David Murphy, with writer and TEDx coach, Sarah Clarke Stuart – the coach that DON’T PLAY! I am honored to know such a wonderfully talented and inspiring person. ))

The coach, Sarah Clarke Stuart, lived in Jacksonville but was originally from Tallahassee. Years back, her mother had been a Wakulla school teacher, which meant that Sarah was familiar with the area.

Sarah is now an English professor at Florida State College at Jacksonville and also a writer.

One of her more popular works, Literary Lost: Viewing Television Through the Lens of Literature, takes as its main focal point, the once popular small screen hit, Lost.


(( Agnes Furey and Herb Donaldson. Admit it Agnes: We were like two twin spirited teenagers at this event!!! ))

The following months were a busy time, filled with rewrites, memorization, and preparation for both Creature Feature at Wakulla Springs, and an upcoming theatre performance in Tallahassee.

I’d been working with Agnes Furey to turn her book, Wildflowers in the Median, into a one-act play.

Agnes’ 40-year old daughter, Patricia, and 6-year old grandson, Christopher, were murdered by a man they’d befriended named Leonard Scovens.

Agnes Furey, co-author of 'Wildflowers in the Median'.

(( Agnes Furey, co-author of ‘Wildflowers in the Median’. ))

Agnes rallied for Leonard’s life to be spared. Due to her efforts he is currently serving consecutive life terms in prison.

She and Leonard have corresponded over the years in an attempt to come to grips with their collective tragedy. It was from their letters to each other that the ‘Wildflowers’ book was born; co-authored by both.

I chose to take Agnes to the TEDx event as my guest. I wanted her with me because we shared a similar pain, but on opposite ends of the pain spectrum. She represents the family of the victim, whereas I represent that of the accused.


The final rehearsal for all TEDxJacksonville speakers took place in late October, on a Friday, with the main event to be held the next day.

All was fine that sunny Jacksonville Friday, until I stepped into the stage arena. It was huge, bright, and electric.

I looked at Agnes, looked at the stage, and was desperately concocting a route of escape.

Tedx set up

When Saturday arrived I was anxious; mentally and physically exhausted.

There were twelve speakers. The theme of the event was “(un)knowing”. Or, how a particular knowledge – if unlearned – could possibly open minds and become a catalyst for a new way of thinking.

The event was broken into four sessions:




and (un)rest

…with food breaks and musical performances in between.

Herb Donaldson and musical guest, singer/songwriter, Joseph Shuck.

(( Herb Donaldson and musical guest, singer/songwriter, Joseph Shuck. Great talent! His song about Jacksonville is a moving, honest melody that should make his city more then proud. You can hear Joseph’s tune by CLICKING ON OUR PHOTO ))

As luck would have it, I would open the last session. This meant my simmering in torment for hours before giving the speech. My mental state was not made any better by this (un)wanted knowledge.

The talks ranged from internet privacy, to the future of neuroscience, to unraveling the perceptions of what it means to be physically disabled, with other tantalizing topics spread throughout.

TEDxJackonville speaker, Dr. Spring Behrouz, before delivering her 'Dynamic Future of Neuroscience' speech.

(( TEDxJacksonville speaker, Dr. Spring Behrouz, before delivering her ‘Dynamic Future of Neuroscience’ speech. ))

And yet, my thoughts kept turning back towards home. Not the urge to physically gather myself and leave at that precise moment, but the mounting realization of what – and who – I represented when speaking in a public forum such as this.

There were two talks that made a profound impression on me.

One was by Ed McMahon, of the Urban Land Institute in Washington DC, who spoke about the power of uniqueness.

He began with a generic photo of Anytown, America, overrun with fast food, gas, department store, and ‘buy here, buy now’ signs.

The entire landscape was all but obliterated by signage that – even in their plastic silence – began to scream with suffocating effect.

Thoughts of Wakulla came to mind. It was late October and the county was teetering on the decisive edge of an election season.

“Place is more than a spot on a map,” said Mr. McMahon. “Place is what makes your hometown different than mine. It’s what makes the physical surrounding worth caring about.”

“The image of a community is fundamentally important to its economic well-being,” he continued. “Every single day in America, people make decisions where to live, invest, vacation, retire… based on what a community looks like.”

I thought of my many trips to Jacksonville before the event and the relaxed feeling that comes when reaching Bloxham Cut-Off, knowing I’m not far from home.

I thought of the signs that greeted me at my county’s front door each and every trip that led up to the election.

I wondered: If I’d never been to Wakulla before, what would the landscape tell me about the people and the things they value?

The second talk came from Ali Butcher, a geographer and historian from Vancouver, Canada.

Ali spoke about bringing new vision to old spaces and how Vancouver has incorporated art, organic lawn gardens, an urban reef, and wetlands to develop more than property value; becoming true stewards of the earth by giving something back to it.

Herb Donaldson and Ali Butcher.  Mr. Butcher is a geographer, historian, and city enthusiast from Vancouver, Canada.  As a TEDxJacksonville speaker, he delivered the 'Re-Imagining Urban Space: Sustainability and Creativity in the City' speech.

(( Herb Donaldson and Ali Butcher. Mr. Butcher is a geographer, historian, and city enthusiast from Vancouver, Canada. As a TEDxJacksonville speaker, he delivered the ‘Re-Imagining Urban Space: Sustainability and Creativity in the City’ speech. ))

From Ali’s talk I began to see a way out of the recent Wakulla Wetlands War of 2014.

But, something like that would take the work of human hands that want nothing whatsoever to do with the brutality that often stinks the wind of political seasons and elections.

2013 TedxJacksonville speaker, Barbara Colaciello, and 2014 speaker Sara Gaver. Love these women.  Sara's speech at this year's TEDxJacksonville event was titled, 'Beyond Face Value: Unraveling Perceptions to Look Past Physical Disabilities'.

(( 2013 TedxJacksonville speaker, Barbara Colaciello, and 2014 speaker Sara Gaver. Love these women. Sara’s speech at this year’s TEDxJacksonville event was titled, ‘Beyond Face Value: Unraveling Perceptions to Look Past Physical Disabilities’. ))

Myself and Aman Mojadidi.  THIS man!  His history, story, and presence still linger.  Aman's TEDx speech was titled: Swimmin' with Existential Gators, Gone With the Wind, & Geography of Self'.

(( Myself and Aman Mojadidi. THIS man! His history, story, and presence still linger. Aman’s TEDx speech was titled: Swimmin’ with Existential Gators, Gone With the Wind, & Geography of Self’. ))

Co-Organizer and Exec. Producer of TEDxJacksonville, Sabeen Perwaiz Syed. Her nickname should be either WONDER or BIONIC woman. With someone like her on your team, you're in a winning position.  Sabeen is seen here with TEDxJacksonville coach, Harolyn Sharpe, and Ted Powell, a true gent.  Ted's 2014 TEDxJacksonville speech was titled, 'When Your Mind Works Against You'.

(( Co-Organizer and Exec. Producer of TEDxJacksonville, Sabeen Perwaiz Syed. Her nickname should be either WONDER or BIONIC woman. With someone like her on your team, you’re in a winning position. Sabeen is seen here with TEDxJacksonville coach, Harolyn Sharpe, and Ted Powell, a true gent. Ted’s 2014 TEDxJacksonville speech was titled, ‘When Your Mind Works Against You’. ))

Each of the talks that afternoon held and fascinated me. But my time was close.

That’s when Mama Blue, a Jacksonville native who received a scholarship to Jacksonville University in vocal performance, stepped onto the stage.

I said I WILL NOT LEAVE THIS EVENT without a photo of Mama Blue and I.  And here it is.

(( I said I WILL NOT LEAVE THIS EVENT without a photo of Mama Blue and I. And here it is. To hear MAMA BLUE’s MUSIC and learn more, CLICK on our PHOTO. ))

“I don’t have anything deep to say about my songs,” Mama Blue said, “except that they are seeds and I am grateful, and feel blessed, to be planting them in the most fertile soil in Jacksonville today.”

The song was ‘Have a Little Faith in Me’.

It spoke of how we are not alone, and how the memories of loved ones gone somehow remain with us.

I thought of my mother and father and how excited they were for me to be here; of my uncle, whose life was destroyed and would have been lived in vain if I failed to take the next step.

I thought of Maya Angelou’s ‘Our Grandmothers’ poem that states: “I go forth alone, but stand as ten thousand…”

Something in me shook and I began to shed tears about the past and the future.

All of it mingled with tears of gratitude for the present.

Finally, someone from the tech crew placed a tiny clip-on microphone to my shirt and pointed me to my spot.

The event’s co-host, Hope McMath, Director of The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, announced me.

I was not aware until that moment that she had read my entire book and was now proceeding to give the audience – of well over 300 – a heartfelt history of my family, uncle, and myself.

It was overwhelming.

I put my hand in my pants-pocket, touching the small gray stone from my uncle’s grave that I brought with me.

The other hand felt at my shirt pocket where his prayer cap was neatly tucked close to my heart.

Again my name was spoken and, although I heard the applause, I felt it more than anything else.

And so, I took a deep breath…

Stepped forth…

Into the light.

In one of those moments that you are that cannot be stopped, controlled, or tamed. It must be lived, so that the next moment can be born.

(( One of those moments that cannot be stopped, controlled, or tamed. It must be lived, so that the next moment can be born. ))


This is Shane. He asked the most soul-stirring question after the show.  I will never forget this brother.

(( This is Shane. He asked the most soul-stirring question after the show. I will never forget this brother. ))

Michael O'Connell, Brand Manager for TEDxJacksonville!  I dig this brother - and he knows why!!

(( Michael O’Connell, Brand Manager for TEDxJacksonville! I dig this brother – and he knows why!! ))

 ORDER your copy of


The Life & Execution of John Mills, Jr.


“Horrifying that this can actually happen. I was shocked that this had taken place in the county where I live. It certainly opened my eyes.” – Marianne Dazevedo

“I can’t find the words to write how horrified I am that racism still rears up in all of its ugliness and ignorance in this country. Hatred is hatred and it is insanity at its worst. Herb brings this to light in his book. He is a gifted writer! That he took action to right this wrong by bringing it to light is a tribute to his soul! It is a must read!” – Mary Kaye Keller

“This is one you can’t put down for very long at a time. Having worked in law enforcement and the judicial system of Wakulla County, as well as being acquainted with the “players” of this writing, I am dumbfounded by my ignorance of the manipulations involved in this murder and trial thereof. It will rattle long held beliefs concerning the death penalty and our “justice” system. Only God knows the truth of this one. May He have mercy on all involved – the good, the bad and the ugly. I am thankful that this was a few years before my move to Wakulla.” – Patricia Tadlock

“I read this book in two days. It was hard to put down. I found it shocking that Florida could execute someone based on the evidence that was presented. My heart went out to all families involved.” – Wilma

“If you thought that racism was gone in the south by the 80’s, you are sadly mistaken. I was there! I reread pages many times and kept saying WHERE WAS I? Kept me enthralled through the whole book. Written in an entertaining way even though the subject matter is intense. LOVED THIS BOOK.” – Cheryl Morgan

“A worthy read for anyone who values history, family, community, and justice. Written in a style which allows the pages to flow smoothly, bringing myriad divergent threads together in a sensible manner which neglects neither fact nor humanity.” – Grace

BookCoverImage LARGER

Southern Shock Americana: WFSU interview

A quick interview with Tom Flannigan from WFSU’s ‘Perspectives’, in Tallahassee, Florida.




Feel free to drop a note!

Email: herbdonaldson@live.com
Phone: 718.682.3870

No more, where are you going?

Go back to top or use the menu to your left to navigate.

Thanks for downloading!