Tomorrow is the day! We begin our summer road trip through Florida history on www.blackinfla.com., and the question is: Where should we start?
How about Jacksonville, a town that once was the South’s most progressive black community? Or St. Augustine, home of Florida’s first settlement for runaway slaves? Or Key West, a sanctuary city long before Americans ever knew about the term? Check back to see where we begin and follow us on this unique tour. You’ll enjoy the ride and might learn something. — Douglas C. Lyons
“I know you cannot all remember my name, but you will remember this face, remember this crown of white hair, remember the yearnings of a heart that is pleading for the unity of the world, that all of us may brothers be.”
Source:Mary McLeod Bethune: Building a Better WorldEdited by Audrey Thomas McCluskey and Elaine M. Smith; Indiana University Press, 1999 p. 57; and; “Address to a World Assembly for Moral Re-Aarmanent” July 27, 1964 Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation, Bethune-Cookman College, Daytona Beach, Fla.
The ‘So-What?!’ Significance: Given her contributions, from serving as a key advisor to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to the generations of black graduates from Bethune-Cookman University, we shouldn’t forget Mary McLeod Bethune.
“You are young, gifted and Black. We must begin to tell our young. There’s a world waiting for you. Yours is the quest that’s just begun.”
James Weldon Johnson, author, civil rights, activist, composer, diplomat, educator and Florida native.
The ‘So-What?!’ Significance: The words resonate. They did when James Weldon Johnson first uttered them. They did when Nina Simone and poet Weldon Irvine recorded those same words in the late 1960s in the hit song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” and the words should still have meaning today.
Mark your calendars. The summer road trip through Florida history starts here at www.blackinfla.com on Thursday, June 8th. Check back to see where we begin and follow us on this unique tour. You’ll enjoy the ride and might learn something. — Douglas C. Lyons
“An awakening black interest in registration, voting and politics poured into this already complicated milieu in the summer of 1867. This was true in Alachua County as elsewhere in Florida, Josiah Walls soon found himself a new and rewarding career. In Alachua County, black registrants far exceeded whites, a result more of the conservative boycott than of disenfranchisement.”
The ‘So-What?!’ Significance: Black voter enthusiasm propelled Josiah Walls into Congress as Florida’s first black member of the U.S. House. Black voter enthusiasm re-surfaced more recently in 2008 and 2012 with the success of President Barack Obama’s election and subsequent re-election. If blacks want to see continued progress, they had better re-kindle that enthusiasm at the polls.
“In 1938, the city of Fort Lauderdale formed its Public Housing Authority. A survey of the Negro area revealed that 600 of more than 900 families were renting their homes. Approval for the housing program became a reality on May 28, 1938 after city officials took many trips to Washington, D.C. The local branch of the Housing Authority quickly completed its first two projects: the 150-unit Dixie Court for Negroes and the 108-unit Dr. Kennedy Homes for whites.”
Source:Across the Tracks: An Oral History of the Black Community in Broward County, Florida by Dr. Gwendolyn Hankerson with the Council of Elders Thema Production, Inc. 2003 p. 20
“On May 27, 1946, the Budget Committee of the Florida NAACP mailed a letter to every important African American leader in Florida: ministers, educators, NAACP branch presidents and heads of businesses and fraternal orders. “It is common knowledge,” it began “that the steady growth [of the Florida NAACP] has been due largely to the energetic leadership of Mr. Harry T. Moore… Mr. Moore has agreed to devote his full time to this important work.”
Harry T. Moore had just lost his job as school principal. To make matters worse, his wife, Henriette, also received word that her teaching contract would not be renewed. The terminations came as the family was set to send their second daughter to join her older sister as a student at Bethune Cookman College.
The official “blacklisting” came after years of volunteer work with the NAACP Florida State Conference, an organization Moore founded and formed into an effective vehicle of black activism. Faced with few options to renew his teaching career or support his family, Moore decided to make a bold move — forward.
Source:Before His Time: The Untold Story of Harry T. Moore, America’s First Civil Rights Martyr by Ben Green 1999 The University of Florida Press pages 62 and 63
The ‘So-What?!’ Significance: The risks that come with taking a stand haven’t really changed over the years. The outspoken Harry T. Moore had a Plan B when white school administrators stripped him and his wife of their teaching jobs. Having options remains key for survival today as it was in Moore’s time.
On May 25, 1949, Virgil D. Hawkins filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida. His goal? Hawkins wanted to attend the University of Florida Law School, a school that barred blacks. Hawkins had waited a long time. He was 41 years old son of an Opahumpka preacher and a Bethune Cookman College faculty member at the time of the lawsuit.
Hawkins was qualified; state officials all but admitted that. Racial segregation, however, dies hard. Even though the university’s stand drew nationwide scorn, the Florida Supreme Court snubbed its nose at a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Hawkins should be admitted to the law school.
Hawkins had no idea of the sacrifice he would make to integrate the state’s only public law school. To sidestep the High Court and allow black students to attend the UF law school, state officials opened a law school at Florida A&M College, the state’s all-black public college. They urged Hawkins to apply there. He refused.
In 1958, state officials agreed to a settlement that opened the law school’s admission policies to all Florida residents — except one. The settlement would go into effect only after Hawkins promised never to enroll. Hawkins eventually earned his law degree from a college in New England, not UF.
The ‘So What?!’ Significance: Let’s give Virgil Hawkins credit. He had the “balls” to file a lawsuit against the state of Florida and stuck with it to the point where victory seemed obtainable, only to be dashed by a “settlement” that kicked him to the curb. He put other black aspirants ahead of his own desire to attend Florida’s premiere law school. Sounds like a sacrifice for the greater good.
Douglas C. Lyons is the founder of www.blackinfla.
Source:Virgil Hawkins Stood Up to State 50 Years Ago, by Ramsey Campbell Orlando Sentinel May 23, 1999
Photo Credit: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory