Vagrants, jugglers and banjo players oh my!

Remember the Good Old Days when we didn’t put up with all this liberal lallygagging in the streets?

When vagrants, jugglers, banjo players, scolds, idle children and garden variety wastrels knew better than to let the sun set on them inside Gainesville’s city limits?

And, listen, don’t even get me started on “lewd, wanton and lascivious persons.” Not in this town, pal!

No, we knew how to deal with their kind of scoundrel.

Seriously, every now and then I like to escape modern day reality and remind myself about where we’ve been and how we got here. Usually I start with Jesse G. Davis’ 1966 volume “The History of Gainesville.”

Old Jesse wouldn’t know what to make of GNV today. Panhandlers holding up traffic. Buskers on downtown sidewalks. Students walking around like they owned the place. Protestors waiving signs in everybody’s face.

I dunno. Maybe we need an ordinance like city fathers passed in January, 1890, to “Promote the morals of the City of Gainesville and to Inculcate in Certain Persons Desires Of Industry.”

You can tell they were dead serious about it, too, just from the number of words they capitalized in the ordinance title.

And believe me, this ordinance covered the…um…waterfront

“That all vagrants, tramps, idle and dissipate persons who go about begging…..”.

And not to forget…

“…persons who use juggling or unlawful games or plays….”

Jugglers have been disrupting the public order since time immemorial. But not in this town, pal.

And that’s not all….

“…common pipers or fiddlers, banjo or guitar players….”

Banjo players! Fiddlers! Guitar players! Talk about instruments of the devil.

And even that’s not all…..

“….stubborn children, common scolds, raiders and brawlers, common drunkards, common night walkers, pilferers and runaways, lewd, wanton and lascivious persons….and all persons without any visible means of livelihood.”

Oh, it went on and on, friends and neighbors. We didn’t overlook “persons who misspend their time by frequenting houses of ill-fame, gaming houses or tippling shops….”

All of those miscreants were subject to being “sentenced to work upon the streets of the city for not less than one day and no more than 30 days at the discretion of the mayor.”

Wow” Talk about a strong mayor!

On the other hand. Perhaps the driving motive behind this hard labor ordinance wasn’t exactly as, um, black and white as simply being necessary to “protect the morals of the City of Gainesville.”

More likely, as in cities and towns all over the post-Reconstruction South, Gainesville’s overstuffed vagrancy law was simply aimed at keeping Black people in their place.

Good thing we don’t teach that sort of history in the schools anymore. It would just make everybody feel bad about the way things used to be around here, don’t you know.

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