A woman from Boynton Beach, Florida, is suing the city for depicting her as a white woman in a commissioned mural.
Latosha Clemons, 48, made history as the city’s first-ever Black firefighter. The city reportedly also whitewashed the former fire chief, who is also Black.
Clemons advanced to the rank of deputy chief of the Boynton Beach Fire Rescue Department before her retirement last year.
Clemons filed the lawsuit in April. In the complaint, she wrote that the mural, intended to honor her and others for their service to the city, “reflected her as a White member of the city fire department.” According to CNN, she then filed an amended complaint in September “to redress the defamatory statement [the City of Boynton Beach] made regarding her race and/or its negligence in failing to properly oversee an approved use of the likeness of Clemons.”
“The unveiling of the mural was humiliating, painful and demoralizing,” Ms. Clemons said in a statement issued by her lawyer.
“After providing the city of Boynton Beach with a lifetime of professional fire service, to be whitewashed and not memorialized for who I am will forever live with me. As the first and only Black woman in the department, I deserved the respect I earned on a daily basis serving the citizens of Boynton Beach and deserved to be recognized for who I am: a Black woman.”
The New York Times received a statement from the mural’s creator Debby Coles-Dobay, who said that top officials in the fire department had compelled her to make changes to the painting.
“It was not to ‘honor the contribution of Fire Rescue Department employees’ as published in the city statements,” Coles-Dobay said. “Prior to artwork installation, senior-level staff Chief Matthew Petty and Fire Marshal Kathy Cline refused to approve the installation and directed me to convey the changes to be made.”
Clemons is seeking damages of more than $30,000.