‘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
“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
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.
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.
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
“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.”
On November 5, 1968, Joe Lang Kershaw made political history. He became the first black since Reconstruction to win a seat in the Florida Legislature.
Kershaw was born in Miami, graduated from Florida A&M University and spent a good part of the Great Depression and World War II mentoring black youth and officiating football games in the Miami area.
A civics teacher, Kershaw served 14 years as a state lawmaker, representing a Miami-Dade County district as a Democrat. His biggest accomplishment? He passed legislation that repealed a state tax on cane pole fishing, a popular form of entertainment and food source among many Floridians.
Photo Credit: State of Florida Archives, Florida Memory
On November 5, 1943, Frederica Wilson was born in Miami. She is 74 and currently represents Florida’s 24th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Known throughout her district as “The Hat Lady” because of the large and colorful hats she typically wears to honor her late grandmother. Ms. Wilson began her career as an educator, having once worked as a principal Skyway Elementary School.
Her political career began on the Miami Date County School board, followed by a stint in the Florida House of Representatives and then the Florida Senate. Ms. Wilson ran for Congress in 2010, when U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek D-FL, stepped down to run for an open U.S. Senate seat.
Besides her political career, Rep. Wilson takes great pride in the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence, a mentoring program she founded when she was on the county school board.
Photo Credit: Official U.S. House of Representatives Portrait
Imagine a determined black man running for political office who plays off a well-known political name and somehow against all odds wins election. No, we’re not taking about The Distinguished Gentleman, the movie starring Eddie Murphy.
On November 4, 1980, it happened in real life. John “Gus” Plummer became Florida’s first Republican African American .
Plummer was a former school bus driver in Miami who got involved in politics. He ran as a Republican, hoping to represent a Miami district in the Florida Legislature. He was a political unknown in a largely black Democratic district, but Plummer had one thing going for him — his last name. It was the same as that of a prominent white Miami-Dade County family.
Plummer ran a stealth campaign. He refused interviews and didn’t use or allow his photo to be taken. He did capitalize on his name. His campaign slogan: “The family name Plummer speaks for itself.” And it did, at least for one term.
Two years later, Plummer the incumbent lost his bid for re-election.
Source: Black Republicans: New Faces in By John Kennedy Sun Sentinel July 27, 1998
On November 3, 1992, three black politicians are elected to Congress from Florida in newly drawn minority majority political districts. Democrats Corrine Brown from Jacksonville, Alcee Hastings of Miramar and Carrie Meek of Miami became the first blacks elected to Congress since Reconstruction.
Of the three, only Hastings is still in the Congress. Meek retired, which opened the door for her son, Kendrick Meek, to run and win the seat.
Brown lost her bid for re-election in the 2016 primary, ending a 24-year career amid a federal indictment and changes to the longtime boundaries of her district.
Source: The New York Times The 1992 Elections The New Congress; Democrats Promise Quick Actions on a Clinton Plan by Adam Clymer Nov. 5, 1992
Photo Credits: U.S. House of Representatives, Portrait Photos
November 2, 2010 was a big day for black Republicans.
In the year of the Tea Party, Allen West was perhaps the movement’s biggest star. He took on a Democratic incumbent and won, becoming the first black Republican elected to Congress from Florida since Reconstruction.
In that same election cycle, Jennifer Carroll, a black state Representative, won the job of Lieutenant Governor, a first for a black politician. She ran with Republican gubernatorial nominee Rick Scott, a multi-millionaire and Tea Party favorite.
Both flamed out early in what could have been extended political careers.
West only served one term in Congress. He sought re-election in what he thought was a more favorable district but lost in a close race to Democrat Patrick Murphy.
Carroll resigned four months after the election when law enforcement officials questioned her about ties to a purported veterans charity organization at the center of a multi-state racketeering probe.
No charges were filed against Carroll, and two years later she agreed to pay a $1,000 fine for failing to accurately report income she received from the internet cafe industry before the 2010 election.