How Can We Forget Mary McLeod Bethune?

“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 World Edited 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.

James Weldon Johnson Knew the Power of Being Young, Gifted and Black

“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 Calendar for the Start of Our Historic Road Trip

State Flag of Florida

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

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.

Fort Lauderdale Creates Its First All-Black Public Housing

“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

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

1969 Band Protest Against ‘Dixie’ Brings Results for Black Students in Pensacola

“In the fall of 1969, the Escambia School Board chose Pensacola High School to host a football exhibition featuring the Pensacola Naval Air Station squad. The school band planned to play ‘Dixie’ as part of its ‘Fiesta of Flags’ halftime show, but several blacks who belonged to the ensemble objected to the song. The band director gave them an ultimatum — play the tune of fail the music course.

The students took their dilemma to [Rev. H. K.] Matthews, who also despised ‘Dixie’ because he believed it romanticized the antebellum plantation culture. School officials refused to compromise with the dissenters or meet with Matthews, so he decided that the black students who participated in the halftime festivities should make their sentiments clear. When the band began to play ‘Dixie’ near the end of the halftime routine, most of the group’s black students lowered their instruments and walked off the football field. Many white band members kept playing, unaware that the students had abandoned their marching formation, while some stopped in astonishment as their classmates left the group.

Blacks in the crowd cheered the protest, except for a few parents who shouted at Matthews angrily. Stunned silence characterized the response of white crowd members. In the days that followed the episode, PHS reversed their policy on ‘Dixie,’ removed it from the band’s song list and did not fail any blacks as punishment for their actions.”

So What?!: In case you haven’t noticed, the push to remove memorials that commemorate the ugly memories of the antebellum South continues to this day.

Source: Beyond Integration: The Black Freedom Struggle in Escambia County, Florida 1960-1980 By J. Michael Butler The University of North Carolina Press, 2016 p. 75