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Black veterans say Delray Beach locked them out of American Legion Post, then took building

Veterans called American Legion Post 188, now fenced off, their second home
Posted at 5:47 PM, Jan 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-14 09:54:08-05

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — A group of veterans is suing the city of Delray Beach claiming the city locked them out of their American Legion Post and took their building.  

Army veteran Imani Betts said she found a second home at American Legion Post 188 in Delray Beach along Eighth Avenue in the early 1980s.  

"When I found this place, it made a big difference in my life," Betts said. "It was a place where I could talk about my experience in Vietnam."

Betts and her fellow veterans are locked out of their building after a lawsuit claims the city of Delray Beach terminated a 99-year land lease with the historically Black post.  

The veterans also claim ceremonial weapons from the post went missing after the city locked them out. They recently filed a lawsuit claiming the city unlawfully took possession of the post, fenced it off and locked the gates.  

Post Commander Jimmie Nelson told Contact 5 the post owns the building, and the city owns the ground.  

"We fought. We defended. We gave our life, blood," Nelson said. "We don't need this."  

Records given to Contact 5 by an attorney representing the post, show in 1947, city leaders granted a request by the post for a 99-year lease "to be used for the construction of an American Legion hall."

According to the lawsuit, construction of the post began in 1948.  In 2018, the city sent a letter to terminate the land lease to a post commander who died eight years earlier.  

A spokesperson told Contact 5 that the city does not comment on pending litigation when we requested an interview and comment for the story.  

The city's attorney, Lynn Gelin, told commissioners during an April 2019 meeting that the city "elected to exercise one of the provisions in terms of the lease" and "any party can cancel the lease upon giving 180 days notice and that's what the city did," she said.  

Gelin also told commissioners at the same meeting that there were issues with the condition of the building and that it did not meet requirements under the Americans With Disability Act.

City leaders at the time also claimed the veterans vacated the post, which they deny, and that the building required more than $100,000 in repairs.

Veteran James Dildy told Contact 5 that the building is safe and that there's nothing wrong with it.  

"Even the air conditioners in the building were only three years old," Dildy said. "There was no sign of water anywhere in the building. The only thing wrong with the building in my opinion is it needed cleaning and, yes, it needs to be modernized. To have a home taken away from you, under these circumstances, I didn't think was fair."