Remembering Harry T. Moore

 

 

On November 18, 1905, Harry T. Moore was born in Houston, a tiny rural farming community in the Florida Panhandle. Life was hard. His father died at an early age and young Harry was sent to live with aunts for a chance at a better life.

Harry T. Moore
Harry T. Moore

Education would be Moore’s path to success, that and a pamphlet from the NAACP. Moore was already a respected teacher and principal in Brevard County when a cousin gave Moore some brochures from the civil rights organization. Organizing an NAACP chapter in the deep South was risky, to say the least.

Moore didn’t flinch.

“In the eight years that he had been in Brevard County, Harry T. Moore had been biding his time, building a family and teaching career, and waiting for the right moment to get involved. Waiting for this. He would begin with the issue he knew best — education — but would soon be battling on political fronts he had never foreseen.”

Source: Before His Time: The Untold Story of Harry T. Moore, America’s First Civil Rights Martyr by Ben Green  University Press of Florida, 2005 p. 32

 

Seeking Serenity? Try Mizell-Johnson State Park

 

Walkway leading to the beach at Mizell-Johnson State Park
Walkway leading to the beach at Mizell-Johnson State Park

I’m not sure if people living in the Fort Lauderdale area realize what a treasure they have in the Mizell-Johnson State Park. Many probably won’t recognize the park’s name.

Say John U. Lloyd Park, and perhaps, you’ll see a glint of recognition.

Von D. Mizell was a prominent black physician and founder of the local NAACP chapter. Eula Johnson was a businesswoman who owned several gas stations and became NAACP chapter president. Both worked to change the Jim Crow laws that kept blacks and whites separate.

On July 4, 1961, they led a “wade-in” protest at Fort Lauderdale’s “whites-only” public beach. The one that is now the economic engine and tourist attraction.

In their honor, the one-time blacks-only beach was renamed after Mizell and Johnson. Three pavilions have also been renamed to honor other black dignitaries in the Fort Lauderdale area.

Regardless of the name change, the park is a beautiful locale and a nice alternative to the city’s more popular — and heavily used — beach.

Yes, the Fort Lauderdale beach along A1A and Las Olas Boulevard is free, and there’s a cost to get into Mizell-Johnson. It is a state park after all.

Looking north along Mizell-Johnson State Park
Looking north along Mizell-Johnson State Park    convenient and inexpensive place to park. Try negotiating space on the beach itself after you crossed traffic to even get to the sand and shore.

The  irony is hard to miss. The one time “all-white” beach and cultural attraction for Fort Lauderdale can be a experience of sand, shore and crowd control. The more serene historic “all-black” beach in Dania Beach is the real  jewel.

In place of the congestion that comes with a tourist-trap strip, Mizell-Johnson State Park offers a very pleasant shoreline, park amenities and tranquility. If you’re looking for serenity in South Florida, I can’t think of a better spot to find it.

Photo Credits: Doug Lyons

 

Sunshine State Cruelty

“Florida went farther than some other slave states in the creativity of its repression: slaves could not gather to pray. They couldn’t leave their plantation, even for a walk, without written permission by their owner. If they were accused of wrongdoing, ‘their hands were burned with a heated iron, their ears nailed to posts,’ or their backs stripped raw with seventy-five lashes from a buckskin whip. The few free blacks in the state had to register with the nearest probate court or could automatically be enslaved by any white person who stepped forward to claim possession.”

Source: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson Random House 2010 p. 58

Give Me That Ol’ Time Religion

Who was Florida’s first black minister, and where was Florida’s first regularly organized black church? It’s not the typical question answered in most history books. But, as good fortune would have it, the answer can be found right here.

qtq80-ylZbSPJames Page was a slave born in 1808 in Virginia. Page’s owner, Col. John Parkhill, brought Page and his wife to Leon County, Florida thirty years later. It was Parkhill who encouraged Page to take up the ministry. In 1851, Page was ordained by a white Baptist minister in Newport and became a Florida first. After the ordination, Parkhill gave Page the land to build the Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church, the state’s first regularly organized black church.

In 1867, Page would become a Leon County delegate to the Republican Convention. A year later, he served as legislative chaplain of the Florida Senate. He also served on the Leon County Commission and was later appointed as the county’s Justice of the Peace.

Source: Wikipedia: The Free Encylopedia

Photo Credit: Stock Photo

Happy Birthday Corrine Brown

 

On November 11, 1946, Corrine Brown was born in Jacksonville. She would go on to become an elected official representing that part of the state, first in the Florida Legislature and then more than two decades in the U.S. Congress.

Brown graduated from Florida A&M University, and she received a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Florida. In the Congress, she served as an advocate for improved veterans programs and several public works in projects, including the expansion and dredging of the Port of Jacksonville.

Brown
Brown

Throughout Brown’s long political career, both in the state legislature and in Washington, she has been recognized as a fighter on behalf of her constituents and colleagues. She aptly fit the mantra that marked her many campaigns: “Corrine Delivers.” As a lawmaker, she brought hundreds of millions of federal dollars back to communities throughout her district and the state of Florida.

Brown’s tenure as a public servant though was laced with controversy. She was recently indicted as she sought her 13th term in office. She lost her primary to former state Sen. Al Lawson, a popular politician from the western edge of her newly redrawn congressional district.

Sources: Office of U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Florida: A Haven and Unwanted Harbor

‘By the 1780s, Florida was home to Spanish speaking Africans, fugitive slaves from the colonies and indigenous and migrated Indian tribes, including the Seminoles. Fugitive slaves established maroon settlements in Spanish Florida with names like ‘Disturb Me If You Dare’ and ‘Try Me If You Be Men.’ By 1819, when the United States purchased Florida from Spain, General Andrew Jackson commented that the transaction had finally closed ‘this perpetual harbor for our slaves’.”

Source: Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms by Nicholas Johnson, 2014, Prometheus Books p. 128

Prophetic Quote from Florida’s Own

 

 

“Look for the enemies of Medicare, of higher minimum wages, of Social Security, of federal aid to education and there you will find the enemy of the Negro, the coalition of Dixiecrats and reactionary Republicans that seek to dominate the Congress.”  — A. Phillip Randolph during his 1963 March on Washington speech

Remembering Esther Rolle

Esther Rolle
Esther Rolle

On November 8, 1920, Esther Elizabeth Rolle was born in Pompano Beach, Fla. She was the tenth of 18 children.

Rolle grew up in Broward County and graduated from Blanche Ely High School. She went on to attend Spelman College before moving to New York and an eventual career as an actress.

Rolle is best remembered for her role as Florida Evans in the 1970 sitcoms, Maude and Good Times. But, Rolle was also an accomplished dancer and stage actor. She often appeared in plays produced by Robert Hooks and the Negro Ensemble Company. Her most prominent role was in the 1973 Melvin Van Peebles play, Don’t Play Us Cheap.

Rolle also landed roles in several made for television movies and films, including Driving Miss Daisy, My Fellow Americans, Rosewood and I Know Why the Cagsed Bird Sing. She won an Emmy for her work in Summer of My German Soldier.

Although best known for her role as a maid on Good Times, Rolle was no shrinking violent on the set. The James Evans character, played by John Amos, came after Rolle fought for a husband and father figure to be included in the show. She also wanted meatier and more relevant scripts and became critical of the show’s direction with the success of Jimmie Walker’s character.

After a standoff with producer Norman Lear, Rolle left Good Times at the end of her contract, although the show continued for a fifth season without her.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Red Letter Date: Remembering Miami’s M. Athalie Range

 

 

On November 7, 1915, Mary Athalie Wilkerson was born in Key West. Her family would later move to Miami, where she met and married Oscar Lee Range. The couple would start a family and a thriving funeral business. Mary Athalie Range would go on to become an icon in Miami, the state of Florida and beyond.

Range became Miami’s first black city commissioner — first by appointment and then an election and re-election. She fought to improve city services for Miami’s black community. Garbage pickup was a prime example.

M. Athalie Range
M. Athalie Range

Miami’s black communities would have their garbage picked up once every three weeks, while white areas received pickups twice a week. When the commission twice failed to approve Range’s ordinance to equalize the pickups, she urged her black constituents to bring their garbage to city commission meetings. The commissioners got the message and approved Range’s garbage pickup proposal.

In 1971, Range became the first woman appointed to head a state agency when Gov. Rueben Askew appointed her Secretary of the Florida Department of Community Affairs. Her early support of Jimmy Carter’s bid to become president resulted in Range being appointed to the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, the governing board of AMTRAK.

Ironically, Range would find herself back in a familiar position, thanks to a political appointment to fill a vacancy on  the Miami City Commission.

Photo Credit: State of Florida Archives, Florida Memory

For Those Who Think Their Vote Doesn’t Count

“As racists rewrote Florida’s history as well as its constitution, it was forgotten how well black people in Florida had taken to electoral politics. According to Carter Brown’s study, Florida’s Black Public Officials 1867-1924, nearly 1,000 black people, the great majority of them Florida-born ex-slaves, held office following the Civil War. By profession, they ranged from farmers and laborers to craftsmen and preachers.”

Source: Finding Florida The True History of the Sunshine State by T.D. Allman Grove Press, 2013 p. 297