Florida’s Summer of Black Political Enthusiasm

“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.”

Source: Josiah Walls: Florida’s Black Congressman of Reconstruction by Peter D. Klingman; University Press of Florida, 1976, p. 13

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.

A. Phillip Randolph’s Chicken vs. Egg Concern of Freedom


“Negroes must be free in order to be equal, and they must be equal in order to be free… Men cannot win freedom unless they win equality. They cannot win equality unless they win freedom.”

A. Phillip Randolph, civil rights activist, labor union  leader and Florida native.

The ‘So-What?!’ Significance: Today, black people are “free,” but are they seen as equals in the eyes of American society? Looks like it’s still a work in progress.

Harry T. Moore’s ‘Plan B’ Lifted the Florida NAACP and Put the Moore’s in the History Books


By Douglas C. Lyons

“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

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.

Virgil Hawkins’ Sacrifice Opens the Door for Black Law Students in Florida

Virgil D. Hawkins
Virgil D. Hawkins

By Douglas C. Lyons

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

Gov. Lawton Chiles Compensates Rosewood Massacre Descendants


By Douglas C. Lyons

Rosewood, Fla. 1923

Every now and then the state government of Florida does the right thing and acknowledges a historic wrong, sometimes it goes as far as to commemorate that transgression. Such was the case on May 4, 1994.

That was the date when the late Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles signed a $2.1 million compensation bill for the surviving families of the Rosewood massacre, which took place in 1923 after rampaging whites sought revenge for a woman who claimed she was raped by a black man. The crazed crowd devastated the black community of Rosewood in rural Levy County. Five black residents were killed, property was burned or stolen, and the survivors fled the county to live the rest of their lives in shame.

Entering Rosewwod

But, in 1994, several survivors of the Rosewood families filed a claims bill in the Florida Legislature, and ultimately a Special Master appointed by the Florida Speaker of the House ruled that the state had a “moral obligation” to compensate the survivors for mental anguish, property loss and the violation of their constitutional rights. The bill signed into law by Gov. Chiles gave nine survivors $150,000 each and established a college scholarship and a separate fund to compensate descendants of the Rosewood survivors who could prove property loss.

Acknowledgement of a wrong bordering on commemoration.

Douglas C. Lyons is the founder of www.BlackinFla.com.

Photo Credits:

Florida Schools Surprise with Strong Civil Rights History Standards



By Douglas C. Lyons

Douglas C. Lyons

Well, well well. The Sunshine State received a passing grade in one educational category that frankly surprised me — civil rights. According to Teaching the Movement 2014, a report put out by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Teaching Tolerance, Florida earned a ‘B.’

Congratulations are in order. Florida ranked 11th, beating out California, Massachusetts, Illinois, the District of Columbia and many other states where you’d think the civil rights movement would be a part of the curriculum. Guess not.

The state’s Next Generation Sunshine State Standards contains a number of benchmarks specific to the civil rights movement from kindergarten through high school, the report found.

The report also had kudos for the state’s African American History Week Task Force, which ensures awareness of requirements and recommends any action needed to improve instructional materials and partnerships.

Is there room for improvement? Of course. More, for example, could be said about Jim Crow, segregation laws and other episodes of white resistance, and while overall content is strong, more is needed to show conflicts within the movement or connect the movement to current events.

Still, the report’s conclusion raises hope: “With a few changes,” the report reads, ” the state could have model standards for teaching the civil rights movement.”

Florida can be proud of this 2014 assessment, The challenge today, though,  is to ensure the state of Florida keeps it moving in the right direction.

Douglas C. Lyons is the founder of www.blackinfla.com.






Remembering the ‘Coalition of Conscience’ March , Tallahassee’s Largest Civil Rights Protest


By Douglas C. Lyons

Douglas C. Lyons

It all started when two black Florida legislators decided to wait for an audience with the governor. At the time, then–state Sen. Kendrick Meek and Rep. Tony Hill had hoped to talk to then-Gov. Jeb Bush about his executive order to end affirmative action in state government and replace it with One Florida.

When Bush told the lawmakers they had better get comfortable because there would be no meeting to discuss the policy change, well, as they say, the rest is history. The two lawmakers stayed put, and their sit-in prompted a civil rights protest. On March 7, 2000, more than 10,000 protesters rallied at the state capitol in Tallahassee to voice their opposition to the state’s “race-neutral” policy.

Dubbed the “Coalition of Conscience,” the protest march on the Capitol coincided  with the beginning of Bush’s “State of the State” speech at the opening session of the Legislature. At times, the governor’s address competed with the noise of the demonstration outside of the capitol building. It was one of the largest rallies held in Tallahassee, exceeding that of the nearly 10,000 protesters who gathered to support the Equal Rights Amendment in 1982.

Among those who attended: the Rev. Jesse Jackson, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume and the Rev. Martin Luther King III, along with several national union leaders and Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women.

One Florida remains a landmark of Jeb Bush’s political legacy, and although you don’t hear much about it — or affirmative action, for that matter –both issues shouldn’t be forgotten.

Ensuring that all job applicants and students aspiring to college have an equal chance at obtaining their goals remains important today, particularly in a world economy where competition not only comes from outside our borders but from mechanization, artificial intelligence and other forms of new technology.

The more things change …

Douglas C. Lyons is the founder of www.blackinfla.com


Let’s Do a Better Job Cherishing Florida’s Black History


By Douglas C. Lyons

Douglas C. Lyons

I consider myself one of the fortunate ones. I had the chance to celebrate my very own Black History Month moment this February. I wish others could have that same experience.

My aunt, Juanita Lark, was the first black graduate of Goshen College, and the school decided to honor her this month by renaming its welcoming center the “Juanita Lark Welcome Center.” My family thought that was pretty cool, especially for a predominantly white school in Indiana.

My aunt graduated in 1943. She was pretty much by herself as the only “Negro” in a Mennonite college located in rural Goshen, Indiana. I can’t imagine doing what my aunt did — leaving Washington, D.C. for a college education in a very far away place and a very different culture.

But, my aunt did, and went on to establish a successful teaching career in the city of Chicago. Members of my family enjoyed the celebration, and it was just that — a celebration.

My wish for black folk in Florida is to learn and cherish their state’s rich cultural roots. Bowlegs, Harry T. Moore, James Weldon Johnson, T. Thomas Fortune, Josiah Walls and Daniel “Chappie’ James are just a few of the black Floridians who grace our nation’s history books but whose accomplishments risk being lost to history. Shouldn’t happen, folks.

There’s more to Florida’s Black history than what many residents in the Sunshine State see or know.  Let’s do better in cherishing it next February.

Douglas C. Lyons is the founder of www.blackinfla.com.