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Who is Leta Foster? Florida protester receives outpouring of support

Staff Writer
Walton Sun
Walton Sun

Police sent out an email alert Tuesday asking residents to stay away from Town Hall around 3 p.m., when police had word that protesters might venture into town to protest the killing of George Floyd.

The demonstration that concerned police never materialized. But the alert triggered an unintended result.

One town resident showed up with a Black Lives Matter sign in hand to protest Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer and President Donald Trump’s handling of the nationwide demonstrations protesting police violence against black people.

Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin, who is seen on video with his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, and three officers who stood by all have been fired and criminally charged.

Leta Austin Foster, 80, a businesswoman and married mother of six children and 10 grandchildren, said she felt compelled to demonstrate her support for the black community by exercising her right to free speech and expression.

“I’m so brokenhearted about our country right now,” Foster said Friday. “The COVID-19 thing was so mishandled. I think Trump is trying to keep people stirred up so they will forget about that.”

Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club is on the island.

A native of North Florida, Foster has been a town resident and interior designer for 48 years. In addition to having an office in New York, Foster for years has run the Leta Austin Foster Boutique with a design studio above it in the Via Mizner off Worth Avenue. She and husband Ridgely live in Midtown Palm Beach.

Foster said that, since Tuesday, she’s received hundreds of supportive phone calls. In less than 24 hours, she said, nearly 1,900 people responded favorably to a picture of her Black Lives Matter sign that she posted on her Instagram account.

Her granddaughter has started a petition in support of the Black Lives Matter cause. A New York Times reporter contacted Foster for an interview.

“You can’t believe how many people have written in to say, ‘Had I have known, I would have been with you,’” she said. “But the town put out a warning to be safe. I think that’s a bad way to do things.”

Among her professional honors, Foster received a 2018 Addison Mizner Medal from the Florida chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art in recognition for her renovation of a Palm Beach home, one of many projects she has designed on the island. In 2017, she received an honorary doctorate from the New York School of Interior Design to recognize her contributions to the design field.

On Tuesday, Worth Avenue merchants were boarding up shops to protect against potential vandalism after learning from police that demonstrators might cross one of the bridges from West Palm Beach into Palm Beach. One shopkeeper said she feared a “riot.”

At least once this week, police barricaded demonstrators from crossing one of the bridges into town. The town announced it would close Worth Avenue to vehicular and pedestrian traffic at noon Friday in anticipation of a possible demonstration.

“I don’t think that sends a good message,” Foster said. “I think it’s best to say that we are listening.”

Foster said she was upset to learn about the government tear-gassing peaceful protesters in Washington this week so Trump could cross the street to be photographed, with a Bible in his hand, in front of a church. She also was offended by Trump’s suggestion that the military be used to restore order in cities where protests turned violent.

“Trump doesn’t care about the Constitution,” she said. “Anybody that would call the American army out on American citizens is a tyrant.”

This story originally published to floridatoday.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.