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.

 

James Weldon Johnson’s Observation on Negro Dialect

“I had read some Negro dialect and heard snatches of it on my journey down from Washington; but here I heard it in all of its fullness and freedom. I was particularly struck by the way it was punctuated by such exclamatory phrases as ‘Lawd a mussy!’ ‘Gwan man!’ ‘Bless my soul!’ ‘Look heath chile!’ 

These people talked and laughed without restraint. In fact, they talked straight from their lungs, and laughed from the pits of their stomachs. And this hearty laughter was often justified by their droll humor of some remark. I paused long enough to hear one man say to another, ‘W’at’s de mattah wid you an’ yo’ fr’en’ Sam?’ and the other came back in a flash, ‘Ma fr’en? He my fr’en? Man! I go to his funeral jes de same as I’d go to a minstrel show.’ I have since learned that this ability to laugh heartily is, in part, the salvation of the American Negro; it does much to keep him from going the way of the Indian.”

Source: The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson Library of America Paperback Classics, 2011, p. 36

Florida’s One-Man Civil-Rights Movement

 

Harry T. Moore
Harry T. Moore

As a strategist, Harry T. Moore was ahead of his time. Years before the Civil Rights Movement took hold, the leader of the Florida NAACP State Conference methodically took on brutal racial atrocities, including his most challenging case of the Groveland Boys, largely by himself.

Facing Willis V. McCall, a sheriff who made Birmingham’s Eugene “Bull” Connor look like a Sunday school teacher, Moore began his 1949 campaign to bring justice to the four men accused of raping a white woman by writing state officials, urging them to stop the white violence against blacks. A telegram and letters to the governor hand state attorney soon followed.

Moore didn’t stop there. Eventually, he wrote a letter to President Harry Truman and members of the Florida congressional delegation, urging them to hold a special session of Congress to pass a civil rights bill. He even conducted his own investigation and issued a press release accusing McCall of police brutality.

It was a good start; it even prompted an FBI investigation. Unfortunately, it was only the beginning of a long process that tragically ended in Jim Crow justice.

Sources: Before His Time: The Untold Story of Harry Moore, America’s First Civil Rights Martyr by Ben Green University Press of Florida 2005, pages 88-108 and A Traveler’s Guide to The Civil Rights Movement by Jim Carrier Harcourt 2004 pages 187-188

Photo Credit: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

Remembering a Florida Icon: Butterfly McQueen

By Douglas C. Lyons

Yikes! I missed Butterfly McQueen’s birthday.

Many others may have forgotten this Florida native, like I did. But, on January 7, 1911, Thelma McQueen was born in Tampa. She would change her name and experience infamy.

Her initial career goal was to become a nurse, but a high school teacher thought she had the talent to act. So young Thelma set new sights and became a dancer, hoping to one day get a chance to act. Her big break would come and it would end up being her most memorable role — Prissy.

Prissy was a young slave in the film, Gone With the Wind, and although McQueen didn’t have much of a speaking role, the line: “I don’t know nothing ’bout birthing no babies!” proved to be both racially stereotypic and iconic.

Butterfly McQueen

The part brought similar roles that McQueen found demeaning. Her commentary on the type of roles that came her way resonate today in our #Hollywoodsowhite era.

“I didn’t mind playing a maid the first time, because I thought that was how you got into the business,” McQueen said. “But after I did the same thing over and over, I resented it. I didn’t mind being funny, but I didn’t like being stupid.”

Bottom line? McQueen had higher aspiration than the roles offered her in a time when film and television were clearly a whites-only realm. Diversity has come a long way from McQueen’s day, but there are still hurdles to overcome.

McQueen quit acting in films in 1947, but she continued acting, taking bit parts in television and radio. In 1979, she won an Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Children’s  Programming for the ABC Afterschool Special episode “Seven Wishes of a Rich Kid.”

McQueen also earned a degree in political science, which helped her in 1983 when a jury awarded McQueen $60,000 from a lawsuit she filed against two bus terminal security guards. McQueen sued for harassment after she claimed the security guards accused her of being a pickpocket and a vagrant while she was at a bus terminal in 1979.

Her only bit of controversy came long after the Prissy role in 1989 when was honored for her beliefs as an atheist. Her remarks at the Freedom from Religion Foundation event were later used as advertisements in Atlanta and Madison, Wisconsin. McQueen died in 1995 at the age of 84.

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

 

New Year’s Day Not Good for Rosewood

By Douglas C. Lyons

New years always bring changes. For many blacks,  2017 brings a sense of dread with the incoming Trump administration threatening to undo much of the progress made in government under President Barack Obama.

Rosewood, Fla. 1923

Imagine the fear 94 years ago on New Years Day when the 200 residents of Rosewood were chased out of their homes by an angry mob of white men who believed that a white woman in nearby Sumner had been attacked by a black man. Many blacks believed the story was a lie to cover up a beatdown the woman received from her white boyfriend.

The facts, of course, never deterred a racist mob. At least six blacks were killed and the mob destroyed the frame houses, churches and a meeting hall that made up Rosewood, located 10 miles east of Cedar Key in rural Levy County.

Rosewood wasn’t the only black community in the 1920s to experience this type of bloodbath. However, it was the only black community that mob violence completely destroyed.

All that’s left are open fields a few bricks, a historic marker  and the house of John Wright, one of the few whites that tried to help black residents during the violence. Fortunately, this historic tragedy was remembered. There was a movie and in 1994, the Florida Legislature approved a bill that Gov. Lawton Chiles signed into law that compensates survivors and their descendants of the massacre.

Source: African American Sites in Florida by Kevin M. McCarthy Pineapple Press, Inc., 2007 p. 134

Photo Credit: Florida State Archives

 

A New Year’s Resolution for 2017

 

 

By Douglas C. Lyons

The late Carlton B. Moore, a civil-rights activist turned city commissioner in Fort Lauderdale, once gave a talk that I’m sure escaped notice.

Carlton B. Moore
Carlton B. Moore

This was no speech before a huge audience that warranted media coverage. This was simply brief remarks to Moore’s core constituents —  a gathering of residents of Northwest Fort Lauderdale and a smattering of black professionals who come and go through the city’s historic black neighborhood.

To be honest, I don’t recall the exact location or time of Moore’s remarks. I do, however, remember his message: black folk need to support their institutions.

For Moore, the point was easy to make. He grew up in the NAACP, ultimately becoming the president of the Fort Lauderdale chapter and transforming the branch into a vehicle to fight racial discrimination and rebuild communities. Moore knew something about strength in numbers and the power of organizations; he had lived it.

It’s a lesson black America must take into 2017. History teaches us that blacks in Florida, the South and across America survived and thrived in the harshest of times through business leagues, civil rights groups, the church and secret societies. They put their heart, soul, time and money into these organizations to achieve a far greater good. That was the essence of Moore’s message.

We should support our institutions, and others, that support us moving forward.

Editor’s Note: Lyons is the creator of www.blackinfla.com.

Photo Credit: City of Fort Lauderdale

Christmas Day Marks the Death of America’s First Civil Rights Martyr

Harry T. Moore
Harry T. Moore

Who among us has the courage of Harry Tyson Moore, a Florida schoolteacher turned activist who became the first martyr of the Civil Rights Movement? True commitment to a worthy cause comes with a price, a cost Moore paid dearly.

At 10:20 p.m. on Christmas Day, 1951, a bomb planted under Moore’s home in Mims, Fla., exploded, ending the lives of Moore and his wife of 25 years, Harriette, who died from her wounds a week later.

Moore was the Florida coordinator of the NAACP, crisscrossing the backroads of the Sunshine State in the 1940s to educate and organize black people. Investigating lynchings, registering black voters, writing letters of protest to state officials — all in the face of intense bigotry and personal danger — Moore blazed a trail as a civil rights leader long before the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X or Medgar Evers came to national attention.

To date, no one has been convicted for the crime.

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

Florida Governor Leaves State of the State in a Mess

 

 

William Pope DuVal
William Pope DuVal

“In late 1833, William Pope DuVal resigned as governor of Florida. During his twelve years in office, he had turned a territory at peace into a swamp of injustice, ethnic hatred and smoldering violence. He did not intend to be the one in charge when the chickens came home to roost.”

Source: Finding Florida: The True History of the Sunshine State by T.D. Allman  Grove Press, 2013 p. 138