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Sunday Favorites: Local Civil Rights Activists

Published Sunday, July 6, 2014 12:05 am

July 2 marked the 50-year anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. While we are familiar with the major players during the civil rights movement, like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall, a large local movement is often overlooked. Today, I wanted to share with you some of the local acts of human rights and how they impacted our community.

 

1930 Fight for Education 

Lincoln Academy was established in 1930

Garfield DeVoe Rogers, an African American businessman, established Lincoln Academy in 1930. He purchased a plot of land on the corner of Second Street and 10th Ave., Bradenton and arranged for the original 1890 courthouse to be moved there and converted into a school. Unlike white schools that received government funding, Lincoln functioned through an exchange program. Bradenton High School donated books and football uniforms and the students, children and parents held fundraisers to buy equipment. 

 

When Lincoln first opened, it only offered curriculum through an eighth-grade level. African Americans seeking a higher education went to one of five private academies located throughout the state. By 1931, the school had expanded to 12th grade. In 1948, it merged with Memorial High School in Palmetto and became Lincoln Memorial High School. The school’s last graduating class received its diplomas in 1969. The following year, all underclassmen integrated with other schools around the county. 

 

1937 Sports Role Models 

Before Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, black children who dreamed of playing professional baseball idolized players in the state and national Negro leagues, especially members of Bradenton’s Nine Devils Team. The team thrived from 1937-1956, when blacks were not permitted to integrate with white players. Consisting of players from Manatee and Sarasota counties, the Nine Devils played from 70 and 75 games a year against both white and black ball clubs all over the state. Originally called the Bradenton Aces, they were renamed after winning their first nine games one season. They frequently drew a crowd to their home fields, McKechnie and Roush Parks. 

 

1945 Federal Court Rules in Favor of Black Teacher

During the 1940s, teachers all over the nation began to sue school boards for equalization of salaries. Black teachers’ wages were far less than those of whites. When Miss Frances H. Stephens locally sued the Manatee County School Board, Garfield DeVoe Rogers was instrumental in getting Thurgood Marshall, then chief counsel for the NAACP, involved in the dispute. 

 

When school boards around the state lashed out, firing any black teachers who showed any hint of support of the cause, Garfield accepted them with open arms. As president of the Central Life Insurance Company, he notified departments throughout the state that he would hire any teacher who was fired for supporting the suit. 

 

Stephens was represented by an African-American attorney, S.D. McGill, from Jacksonville, while an all-white team of attorneys including W.J. Daniels and Velma Keen of Bradenton, along with R.W. Shackleford of Tampa represented the Manatee County School Board.

 

Successful businessman G.D. Rogers offered employment to any teacher who was fired from their teaching position for fighting for equal pay.

A federal court ruled in favor of Frances in March of 1945. The schoolteacher who had funded her own lawsuit not only won but completely reformed the rating system that had been in use for years. Judge William J. Barker submitted a new non-discriminatory salary scale for teachers. Under the new system, a teacher’s ability, educational attainments, cultural background, and effectiveness in teaching would be considered for salary compensation and be determined by a rating committee made up of the superintendent and other board members, according to the Afro-American Newsletter.

 

1960 Sit-ins

In 1960, lunch counter sit-ins at stores like Woolworth’s became popular. Following in the steps of African American attorney Samuel Wilbert Tucker, who organized a series of sit-ins in Greensboro, N.C., local African Americans also went to the segregated lunch counter and ordered food, although they were not served. The protests led to Woolworth’s reversing its policy of racial segregation in the Southern United States.

 

1961 Freedom Riders

We’ve all heard of the Freedom Riders who traveled on an interstate bus system and challenged segregation in some of the most controversial cities. But did you know that several local civil rights leaders took the Freedom Riders in during their time in St. Petersburg?

           

St. Petersburg residents Dr. Alsup, Reverend Enoch Davis, Dr. Wimbish and his wife C. Bette Wimbish, not only gave the riders food and shelter, but Dr. Alsup admitted the first black patient at Mound Park Hospital (now Bayfront Medical Center) despite the hospital being segregated. By 1964, it was up to the doctors as to whether or not they would treat black patients.

           

Other establishments followed suit; St. Petersburg Junior College admitted its first black students Rosalie Peck, historian and author, and Frankie Howard.

 

1965 Police Officer Lawsuit

Twelve African American police officers sued the city of St. Petersburg for the right to patrol neighborhoods that were not considered “African American,” and for the right to arrest white citizens. The officers first lost the case in federal district court, but won an appeal.

 

1967 No more “Negro News”

The St. Petersburg Times discontinues its Negro News pages at the request of longtime staff member Peggy Peterman.

 

Joe Savage led sanitation workers in St. Pete on a three-month strike for equal pay and better working conditions.

1968 Sanitation Strike

Joe Savage led City of St. Petersburg sanitation workforce on a strike for three months, May-August, demanding better pay, working conditions and benefits. The strike prompted a four-day riot during which several business were burned.

 

1977 School Board Leadership

In 1977, Louise Rogers Johnson, (daughter of Garfield DeVoe Rogers), became the first African-American to be elected to the Manatee County School Board. Johnson had taught in Manatee County for 42 year prior to her tenure on the board. In 1993, a year after her death, the county named a school in her honor – answering a petition with over 1,000 requests from residents to do just that. She was the next generation of educators that turned the tables of opportunity for black children in the area.

 

The next time you think of civil rights, don’t just remember those national leaders as the people who paved the way for equality. Think of the Garfield DeVoe Rogers, the Louise Rogers Johnsons, and all the other local heroes that made a difference in our community. 

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Once again you have written a great article. Thank you for bringing these facts to print for us.
Posted by Karen Etchells on July 6, 2014
 

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