Twelve Black Floridians
V A 1414
by LEEDELL W. NEYLAND
Professor of History
Florida Agricultural and MeFanical University
FLORIDA AGRICULTURAL AND MECHANICAL
UNIVERSITY FOUNDATION, INCORPORATED
by The Florida Agricultural and
Mechanical University Foundation, Incorporated
ALL RIGHTS REWSVWD
LraLIn Or CONGmas CATALO CAD NummIs: 72-630133
12 Black Floridians
To my daughter, KATRINA, whose life personifies
unyielding determination and courage
If one were to read the current histories of the State of
Florida which are now being used in public classrooms, he
would get the impression that black people had made no con-
tributions to the growth and development of the state. Even
though blacks at one time constituted more than half of the
state's population, and have participated in all phases of state
life, textbooks most frequently omit their achievements as
if they were non-existent.
This small volume of sketches is designed to help fill this
void, especially for students at the junior and senior high
school levels. Twelve notable blacks who have given fifteen or
more years of service to the State of Florida have been
selected and historical adaptations of their lives and works
are presented in an interesting manner. It is a first step in
trying to portray correctly the heritage of Negro Floridians
and to build a foundation of pride in self for young blacks and
confidence in their ability to achieve in a changing world.
There are many other notable blacks in Florida who have
made equal or even greater achievements which continue to
go unnoticed. Perhaps, this publication will cause others to
study these neglected lives and present them as positive,
character-building images for young Americans. By doing
so, black youths will gain motivation and inspiration, and
white youths will learn to develop greater respect for black
people and their abilities to achieve.
Even in a small work of this type, the author finds himself
indebted to many persons and agencies. Funds were made
available for research in Negro life and culture by the Ameri-
can Association of State and Local History and the Carnegie
Fund. Special acknowledgements must be given to the staff of
the University Printing Department-Mr. James L. Bruton,
Mr. Archie V. Hannon, Mr. Harvey L. Robinson. Mr. George
C. Floersch, and Mr. Ervin Holiday, for providing the major
direction for the productioA; to Dr. Edward 0. Minor, Director
of the Media Center, for advice and assistance with the techni-
cal, artistic, and general presentation; to Mrs. Emma L. Blake
for permitting me to draw heavily on two articles that she
had written; to Mrs. Sadie R. Gaither for assistance with the
sketches on "Jake" Gaither and "Bob" Hayes in particular;
to Mr. Ernest Jones and Mr. Tyrone Brown, both students at
Florida A. & M. University, for art work on each subject and
the cover; and to Mr. Ernest L. Fillyau, University Photo-
grapher, for all of the photographic work in this volume.
A number of the faculty and interested persons have
read parts of the manuscript and have made many valuable
suggestions. Among the former were Mr. Robert Sanchez,
Mrs. Willie T. Williams, Mr. John W. Riley and Dr. Grace R.
Maxwell. My son Keith, a very harsh critic, and Miss Margaret
Brown, a youthful writer, assisted me immeasurably in my first
attempt to write for a junior high school audience. Especial
acknowledgements must also go to Miss Mozura Farmer, Mrs.
Trudie Battle, and Mrs. Susie Gilliam who used their spare
time to type the seemingly endless revisions of each of the
The readers will note that the terms "black" and "Negro"
are used interchangeably throughout the volume. While the
author more readily accepts black as the most desirable
usage, he is highly conscious of the fact that he has not
completely abandoned other historical usages for the black
race in this work.
Leedell W. Neyland
Chapter 1 JONATHAN C. GIBBS:
Florida's Only Black Cabinet Member ........
Chapter 2 MATTHEW M. LEWEY:
Florida's First Black Newspaper Editor .
Chapter 3 MARY McLEOD BETHUNE:
A Life Directed by Faith ....... .................
Chapter 4 JOHN ROBERT EDWARD LEE, SR.:
A Pioneer in Florida Education ..............
Chapter 5 EARTHA M. WHITE:
Jacksonville's "Angel of Mercy" ..............
Chapter 6 ZORA NEALE HURSTON:
Author and Folklorist ...............................
Chapter 7 ABRAMS LINCOLN LEWIS:
Founder of the Afro-American
Life Insurance Company ......................
Chapter 8 GEORGE HENRY STARKE:
Physician With a Mission ...........................
Chapter 9 ALONZO SMITH JAKEE" GATHER:
A Legend in Athletics ................................
Chapter 10 ROBERT LEE "BOB" HAYES:
"World's Fastest Human" .........................
Chapter 11 HARRY TYSON MOORE:
Martyr for Freedom .................................
Chapter 12 FATHER JOHN EDWIN CULMER:
Builder of Churches and Men ................
SJonathan C. Gibbs
florida's only black
"NOW THAT we are free citizens and can vote,"xsaid
:Jonathan Gibbs to a friend, "there are so many important
things for Negroes to learn! You and I are educated men.
How can we teach our people what they need to know in
order to live as citizens of a free society ?"
"You have taught them a great deal about worshipping
God and living in peace and justice with their neighbors,"
said his friend. Gibbs was a clergyman, who had come to the
South as a missionary and had opened a school for freedmen.
"True," said Gibbs. "But I think we need more than that
now. People need to know about good government, and they
need a good education in all fields. And they need skilled,
educated representatives to make sure that all the people of
Florida, Negro and white, have a good government and a good
way of life."
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
This was in 1867. Gibbs was forty years old and a native
of Philadelphia; he had gone to Dartmouth College and to
Princeton Theological Seminary, but he could work with his
hands as well as with his mind. His father had died when
Jonathan was only four, and the little boy had been appren-
ticed to a carpenter. That was the trade he had followed
until he became a clergyman.
The Civil War had just ended, and the Negroes were not
only free; they could now vote. But the Period of Reconstruc-
tion had brought Florida's politics (and the politics of the
whole South) to a sad condition. There was a great bitter-
ness between the Democrats and Republicans, and between
the various factions of the Republican party. The conser-
vative Republicans supported President Andrew Johnson; the
radical Republicans followed Thaddeus Stevens, whose main
concern was to punish the former Confederate leaders and
give the Negroes equal rights immediately. Hardly anyone
had stopped to think that the state must provide good schools
and a good education for all its citizens. Politicians betrayed
their friends and took and offered bribes. Illegal organiza-
tions such as the Ku Klux Klan terrified many people with
their threats, their violence, and their fierce opposition to all
Negro politicians and to many white politicians, too.
Jonathan Gibbs was determined to do something about
Florida's problems. So he entered politics and was elected a
delegate to the Florida Constitutional Convention in 1868.
And nobody forgot the impression he made at that Con-
vention! For Gibbs was a handsome man and a powerful
orator in an age that remembered the oratory of Daniel
Webster and Stephen Douglas-an age that never heard of
microphones or television cameras, where a man had to stand
up and make people listen to him by the power of his own
voice and projection of his own personality. Gibbs was prob.
J. C. GIBBS
ably the best-educated man at the Convention, and certainly
the best speaker. "Oh, that all the old masters in the South
could have heard him this day!" exclaimed one listener.
Harrison Reed, who was the first Republican governor
of Florida, soon had a good reason to be grateful for dedi-
cated men like Gibbs. First, Reed discovered that the Negro
voters were very angry with him; they thought he was pay-
ing very little attention to their needs and interests. Then
he discovered treachery within his own Cabinet. His assis-
tant, Secretary of State George J. Alden, was a native white
Unionist, and Reed discovered that Alden and some others
were plotting to impeach him! Reed got rid of Alden, but
there were'few capable men in politics who could be found
to take the Secrtary's place.
"What about appointing Jonathan Gibbs?" asked his
advisers. "That way you will make the Negroes feel that you
certainly are looking out for their interests, having a Negro
in such a high position, and Gibbs is a fine man for the job."
"Excellent! said Reed. So Gibbs became Secretary of
Having a Negro in such a position seemed strange, some-
times, to the other state officials. Many of them were former
Confederate army officers. But Gibbs quickly showed that
he could work with them. He could act in Reed's place when
the governor was away, and he tried his best to heal the
ill feelings between parties and between various politicians.
Gibbs was respected and admired by his friends and even
by many of his bitter Democratic opponents. But some of
his opponents were real enemies dedicated to trying to de-
stroy Florida's free society, to erase the gains made by the Ne-
groes and return the state to white control. These were the
men who terrorized the countryside at night, and Gibbs
redoubled their hatred by his attempts to find and punish
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
One day his brother, Mifflin W. Gibbs, who was an at-
torney in Little Rock, Arkansas, came to visit Jonathan.
The Secretary of State did not seem to be at home; so Mif-
flin Gibbs asked the housekeeper if his brother was out.
"No, sir, Mr. Gibbs is at home," was her answer. "His
room is in the attic."
"The attic!" exclaimed Miffin, as he started up the
stairs. There, indeed, was Jonathan's well-guarded bedroom;
there also was a number of guns and other weapons for
self-protection. "A considerable arsenal, Brother Jonathan!
Is politics such a dangerous occupation ?"
"It seems to be," said Jonathan Gibbs. "The Ku Klux
Klan has made some serious threats on my life. I am safer
here than I would be sleeping downstairs where house-
breakers and snipers could find me more easily."
"I am surprised you would want to engage in such a
dangerous way of life."
"The danger shows how much these men fear what I
am trying to do, and how important my work is to our peo-
ple and to all of Florida."
When Governor Ossian Hart succeeded Governor Reed,
he appointed Gibbs State Superintendent of Public Instruc-
tion and a member of the new governor's cabinet. Here was
a new challenge, one that had been Gibbs' goal for a long
time-to create some sort of order and system. in public edu-
cation, which was in a terribly chaotic state. There were no
standard textbooks, no official course of study; money was
scarce, as were good teachers; and many Floridians ob-
jected strongly to tax-supported schools and education for
Negroes. 'Gibbs was often discouraged. But he plunged into
the task, knowing that a good public school sy stem
could do more for the people of his state than any other
J. C. GIBBS 5
institution. His Department of Education published a series
of textbooks, making it possible for all students to follow
the same course of study; enrollment increased 80%; ex-
penditures increased almost 75%.. The National Education
Association itself was amazed at the progress that Gibbs
managed to make in only a year and a half'
Yet one and a half years was all Gibbs had. In August,
1874, he spoke at a Republican meeting in Tallahassee and
afterwards was working with his brother in his office. Suddenly
his brother came out with a stricken look on his face and the
startling news: "Gentlemen, I deeply regret to tell you-
my brother Jonathan is dead."
"Dead! How could he be? He was alive and well just
a few hours ago, and we heard the powerful speech he made!
What could have caused such a sudden death ?"
"It was a stroke," said his brother. But many people
believed, instead that Gibbs had been poisoned. In those days,
there was no modern apparatus for crime detection; nobody
could prove that he was, or was not, poisoned. It remains
a mystery to this day.
Certainly, his enemies did hate him enough to want
him out of their way; for Gibbs had done more than any
other Negro at that time to ensure the functioning of a
free society where outlaw organizations could not snatch
power. By developing the public school system he had im-
pressed on the citizens of Florida that freedom and education
go together; that before a man can exercise his freedom in
a democracy he must have the knowledge to make wise
choices& The dangers from his enemies did not stop Jonathan
Gibbs from accepting the challenge to use his training and
skills in public life and service to Florida, his adopted state.
S a Matthew M. Lewey
florida's first black
Young Matthew Lewey struggled to keep his foothold on
the steep hill while holding up the flag and standard of his
regiment. Around him cannons were roaring, shells crashing,
bullets zinging. He gripped the standard a little tighter, re-
minding himself that he was holding the colors of the famous
Fifty-Fifth Massachusetts Regiment-one of the Negro regi-
ments organized to fight for the Union after the Emancipation
Proclamation. He looked across the battlefield. There were
hundreds of white soldiers of the Confederate Army on the
other side. Even though he had lived up North for a long time,
it seemed strange that Negroes should be fighting against
whites. Yet, a deep desire within him for freedom for him-
self and for his black brothers impelled him to go on. Suddenly,
he was awakened from his thoughts by the horrors of battle.
Bullets exploded around him, and Lewey slumped to the
ground. He was wounded in the arm, leg, and shoulder.
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANb
Lying there in agony on the rugged slope of Honey Hill
near Grahamville, South Carolina, Matthew Lewey remem-
bered many things. It was November 30, 1864, but it was un-
usuually cold for that time of year. He remembered his parents'
home in Baltimore and the African School he attended there.
He remembered the smell of tar and creosote from the ships
he had worked on and the excitement of living in New York
City with his aunt and grandmother. There was a good school
there which he had attended and enjoyed very much. He
wondered if he would ever go back to school.
Lewey remembered other action he had seen in the Civil
War-especially the great Battle of Olustee near Jacksonville,
Florida, when he had seen the State of Florida for the first
time. His comrades of the all-black Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts
Regiment and the First North Carolina Regiment were terri-
bly defeated in that battle. He remembered that the Fifty-
Fifth had also been ordered to the battleground of Olustee,
but was forced to retreat to Jacksonville as the total Union
forces, black and white, fled the onslaught of the Confederate
forces. The Confederate army had won the battle, but black
regiments had fought bravely against great odds.
The fame of these black soldiers had been enhanced in
other battles, too. They had fought throughout east Florida
and South Carolina. The men of these regiments had shown
what they could do towards working together with white men
in their common cause of preserving the United States.
Matthew Lewey, lying wounded on the battlefield, hoped that
he would live to do more.
Soon he was rescued and taken to a temporary hospital
in Beaufort, South Carolina. Some of his friends were not so
lucky; quite a number of them had been slaughtered in
that battle on Honey Hill. Five months later, Lewey was trans-
ferred to the De Camp General Hospital on David's Island, New
M. M. LEWEY
York. Finally, in late January, the doctor announced that he
was fully recovered and could leave the hospital.
"Good!" said Lewey.
"What are you going to do now ?" the doctor inquired.
"Go back to school," was the prompt reply. "I think a good
education is the most important thing for me now."
So Lewey went back to school, first to the preparatory
department of Lincoln University in Oxford, Pennsylvania,
then to Lincoln University itself. (The records have been lost
in a fire, but he probably got his college degree.) Then Matthew
Lewey enrolled in the Law School of Howard University. He
was a good student, even though he was becoming just a
little restless. He had been studying without pause for seven
years. He wondered if it was time to do something else for
awhile-to get out and see the world.
It was around this time that he met one of the Congress-
men from Florida, Josiah T. Walls, the only Florida Negro
who gained national fame during the Reconstruction period.
Walls understood the young man's restlessness. "Come to
Florida for awhile," Mr. Walls urged. "We need capable young
men like you, and I can help you find a job somewhere in
Alachua County. Have you ever been to Florida ?"
"Only during the war," said Lewey.
"I think you will like it much better as a place to live in
Lewey got a job teaching school in the little town of
Newnansville, near Gainesville, Florida, and became active in
local politics. He served as justice of the peace, postmaster,
and then mayor of Newnansville, and continued his study of
law which had been only temporarily interrupted when he left
Howard. In 1876 he was licensed to practice law.
"Do you know," said one of his friends excitedly, "that you
are the first licensed Negro lawyer in Florida ?"
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
"So I heard," said Lewey. "We need more Negro lawyers-
and more Negro educators, politicians, businessmen."
"You would do well in all of those fields, too" his
"Well," said Lewey, "I intend to try them! Did you know
that I am going to run for election to the lower house of the
His political campaign was a success. Soon the ex-school
teacher had a chance to do more for education, when the
Speaker of the House appointed him to the Committee on Edu-
cation. "There must be good teachers before there can be good
schools," he said. The Committee agreed, preparing a bill which
would set up "normal schools"-schools for training teachers.
But the way the bill was written, the teacher training schools
would be made a part of two academies which accepted only
white pupils. Lewey was terribly distressed.
"If we are ever to have a truly educated society," he plead-
ed, "we have got to have schools for training Negro teachers
as well! Of course it will cost money. Some people may think
it useless. But this is something that must be done." The Com-
mittee on Education listened and agreed with him. An amend-
ed bill passed the House, and Florida teachers could be trained
at two Negro academies as well at the two white ones.
Matthew Lewey had every reason to be pleased with what
he had accomplished so far in his life. But there was more
to be done, and one day he stumbled upon the answer: many
times Negroes just didn't know what was happening in the
state, in the nation and the world, even in their own com-
munity. There was not a single Negro newspaper in the entire
state of Florida. Yet, newspapers were as important then as
they are now-even more, perhaps, because there was no
radio or television.
"So now I'll become a businessman-a newspaper pub-
lisher," Lewey vowed, and in 1887 the first issue of his paper,
The Florida Sentinel, appeared in Gainesville. They were
nothing but "patent sheets and plenty of plate matter" at
first-but Lewey could hardly keep up with the demand for
them! The next year he bought an old surplus army press for
$40, which meant that he could produce 100 copies an hour of
a 4-page paper. Two years later, he obtained over $2000 worth
of printing equipment. The paper was attractive and well-
produced, with advertisements from leading businesses. Fur-
thermore, subscribers to the Florida Sentinel included both
Negroes and whites.
But business was bad in the early 1890's, and Lewey had
bought his equipment on a deferred-payment basis. It became
harder and harder to make the monthly payments; then it
became impossible-there was no more money. "I can't do it,"
Lewey said to his friends. "The paper, the equipment, the
whole printing plant--it's too heavy to carry-an absolute
elephant." Not only was he sorry that the Negroes' most
important source of information would no longer exist-he
was embarrassed, too. What businessman likes to admit that
he was wrong, that he cannot finish what he started?
Just when things looked the worst, though, Lewey found
that other people thought his newspaper was important too.
"Florida needs your newspaper," a banker friend said to him--
a white banker, not a Negro. "Pick out $500 worth of equip-
ment and try again in Pensacola." Greatly encouraged, Lewey
Ten years later, in 1904, the Sentinel had hundreds of
dollars' worth of modern printing equipment that could turn
out 1600 pages an hour, and Lewey was convinced of the im-
portance of Negroes in business-and of their capabilities.
"Every page of the Sentinel is set in type, adjusted, and printed
by Negroes in an office owned, conducted, and managed by a
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
Negro," he said. "It is written by and for Negroes. It is not
merely a protest organ, but an instructive guide for Negroes."
In his editorials, Matthew Lewey told his readers: "It
takes only hard work for you to command personal respect
and civil recognition from the white man, not only in the
South but in the North likewise. The sooner we rely entirely
upon ourselves in the development of manly character, aspire
to excel in everything, work hard day and night, get money,
educate our children, don't beg but depend upon our own brains
and muscles-in the very nature of things white men will
soon recognize seven million Douglasses, Langstons and Bru-
Even while he was busy with his newspaper, Lewey found
time for many activities concerned with racial progress and
full citizenship for Negroes. At the National Convention of
Colored Men, in 1893, he presented his belief that Negroes
should not try to evade the challenges that America present-
ed. Lewey argued that with education, hard work, and intel-
ligence, Negroes could make themselves equal in every way
to the white men who until so recently had ruled their lives.
Yet the problems which Negroes faced then were not
simple ones that could be overcome easily. The bitterness
engendered by the Civil War and Reconstruction, poor educa-
tion, and poor moral leadership had led to deep hatreds and
to many lawless and immoral acts in the supposedly-civilized
society. At the Convention, Lewey was the co-chairman of a
committee which prepared a resolution condemning the prac-
tic of assaulting women. Too often in those days a woman,
white or black, was not safe outside or even in her own home.
The resolution could hardly find words strong enough to
condemn the situation:
Resolved, that we express our intense abhorrence of
any assault upon feminine virtue, by whomever per-
. MM. LEWEY
petrated, and against whomever directed, and, we
hereby pledge both our combined and individual
efforts to the prompt arrest and conviction of the foul
fiends who are responsible for such attacks.
What happened if it was a Negro who attacked a white
woman? In many cases he was lynched by illegal bands of
white terrorists who thought they had the right to take re-
venge on the accused lawbreaker without waiting for a trial.
"This hideous and barbaric practice of lynching must stop,"
Lewey insisted. "Laws should be enacted and enforced to
punish the criminal, and also to punish those who think they
can take the law into their own hands. It is the courts and
juries who punish the guilty, not bands of men who terrorize
the countryside by night. Law and order are basic to an orderly
society; there must be decency and justice before there can
be freedom and opportunity."
Lewey never received a great deal of money from his
newspaper, either when he was the sole owner or after he
formed a company in 1913 in Jacksonville. He knew that many
Negroes, poor, uneducated, often unemployed, had to worry
about buying necessities before they could afford the luxury
of buying a newspaper. He was satisfied if his paper served
its stated purpose: the enlightenment of Negroes and the de-
velopment of pride in themselves, their state, their heritage,
and faith in their own abilities.
"What I find strange," said one of the men who worked
on the paper with him, "is that you accept advertisements
from white businessmen. Shouldn't we be more concerned with
supporting Negro businessmen ?"
"The whole point of what I am doing," said Lewey, "is to
show that we need more businessmen-black and white-that
there is a tremendous opportunity in America for everyone!
There is not a single business conducted in the city by Negroes
where white people do not give it a share of their patronage.
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
Look at J. D. Cunningham, the grocer! Thirty thousand dol-
lars' worth of business a year, and many of his best custom-
ers are white. We must live together in this country. The
Sentinel has stood for equal opportunity all these years, and
for the education necessary for the Negro to take his place in a
free society beside the white man."
"You know," he went on, "in 1893 I was delegate to the
National Convention of Colored Men, and at that time Bishop
Turner was urging that we go back to Africa and fulfill our-
selves in an all-black country. Some people were surprised that
I opposed him so strongly. Oh, businessmen do well in Africa,
and I have no objections if they really want to go there. But
the challenge of America is the challenge of 'commanding a
place in the sun' together with white businessmen. With edu-
cation and hard work and character, others can do it, as I
have done it."
Just before his death in 1933, at the age of 88, Lewey had
the pleasure of helping to put out the 48th anniversary edition
of the Sentinel. From its tiny beginnings, the paper had grown
to 6000 copies a week, published by a staff of fifteen. The
dean of Negro journalism had reason to be proud of his life's
,/ WMary McLeod
MRS. McLEOD had gone inside to deliver the laundry
to Mr. Wilson, and her daughter Mary was left outside.
Wandering around the yard, Mary came to a smaller build.
ing-a playhouse. White children have their own house, she
thought. Their own house, all properly fitted, just to play in.
As she was looking, two little girls, Mr. Wilson's grand-
daughters, came out of the playhouse. "Hi," one of them said.
"Hi," Mary said shyly.
"Would you like to come in and see our playhouse?"
Mary went in slowly, wondering, and walked around ad-
miring the dolls, the toys, the tiny doll clothes and dishes.
Then her attention was caught by an object on a little stand
-a book. She reached out and picked it up. Suddenly, angrily,
one of the little girls snapped, "Put down that book! You
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
Stunned, Mary dropped the book and stared at the other
girl, the girl who could go to school, who had learned to
read. And the determination flashed into her mind: "Maybe
I can't read now. But I'm going to learn."
Her mother listened to Mary's outburst after they got
home. "Mary, death she said gently, "how many brothers
and sisters do you have ?"
"And you know your father and I were slaves that
I used to belong to Mr. Wilson ?"
"You know there isn't much chance of your going to
"I know," her mother said. "Don't you give up. Maybe
we can find some way."
Determination was strong on Patsy McLeod's fac e.
"Mother had royal blood in her veins," Mary said of her later.
"She was intelligent and brilliant, although uneducated. She
had a will of her own, was very constructive, had a great
vision. She was the business manager of her family."
Soon, Mary's chance came. The Mission Board of the Pres-
byterian Church had sent a number of teachers to the South
during the Reconstruction Period, in order to provide schools
for the Negroes who had thus far been ignored. Miss Emma
Wilson, a Negro who had been trained at Scotia Semi-
nary in North Carolina, was sent to Sumter County, South
Carolina, where the McLeods lived. Mary was in the first
group of children who walked five miles each way, every
day, to attend Miss Wilson's Mission School.
She learned to read. Soon she had dusted off the old
family Bible, which had lain unused for years in a place of
M. M. BETHUNE
honor in their house, and, through it, Mary grew also in her
religious life and faith. When she read John 3:16, "For God
so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that
whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have ever-
lasting life," she was elated. "It should say 'whosoever,' she
thought. "That means that a Negro girl like me has as much
chance as anybody else in the sight of God."
After she graduated from t h e little Mission school,
Mary was given a scholarship to Scotia Seminary by a lady
in Denver, Colorado-a dressmaker named Mary Crissman,
who had spent her meagre life savings to make more educa-
tion possible for some Negro child. Mary McLeod was an
average student, but she was developing a real talent for lead-
ership and for public speaking. More than anything else,
she wanted to be a foreign missionary and, with this in mind,
she attended Moody Bible Institute in Chicago for two years.
But the appointment as a foreign missionary never came.
Finally she accepted an appointment as instructor at
Haines Institute in Augusta, Georgia; while she was there
she met and married Albertus Bethune. They moved around
a great deal in the ten years between 1895 and 1904: Au-
gusta; Sumpter; Savannah, Georgia; Palatka, Florida. Their
son Albert was born in 1899. These were long, lonely years for
Mary Bethune. The marriage was not a particularly happy one.
"Mr. Bethune was never interested in education, although
himself a teacher," she said later. "To him teaching was
merely work. He could not understand that my soul was on
fire to do things for my people."
She prayed, and waited, and hoped, remembering a visit
she had made to Tuskegee Institute and vowing that some
day she would found her own school. In 1904 her chance came.
Henry M. Flagler was laying the Florida East Coast
Railroad, and Negroes from all over the South were heading
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
towards Daytona to join the labor force. "They will need
education desperately," Mary Bethune said to her pastor,
Rev. Pratt. "I'm sure that the railroad company doesn't
provide any sort of schooling."
"Go then," said Rev. Pratt "Take this bell, to remind
you; go down the East Coast and ring up a school! But I
warn you, we have heard that conditions down there are
dreadful. Appalling squalor. Are you up to that?"
For reply Mary gathered up her few belongings and
little Albert, and hurried to Daytona Beach. Along the way,
someone gave Albert a quarter; and he brought it to his
mother, smiling, eyes shining. "Can we start a school now,
Mother ? Do we have enough money ?"
She counted it out. "We have a dollar and a half now."
"Is that enough for a school ?"
"That's all we have, so I guess it will have to be."
Walking along the railroad platform, she saw that con-
ditions were even worse than she had been warned to ex-
pect. Flagler's company knew that the Negroes were des-
perate for work and had nowhere to turn for help, and the
laboring force was living in conditions that were as bad as
the worst days of slavery. "This is where we stay," she
said, "This is the place for the school."
She found a four-room shack on a dump in the outskirts
of Daytona Beach, rented it for $11.00 a month, and fur-
nished it with an abandoned bedstead, an old broom, a
lamp, some boxes and burlap bags. She earned the money
for the rent by speaking in churches, taking up collections,
buttonholing anyone who would listen, door-to-door can-
vassing. The school opened on October 3, 1904, with five
little girls and Albert as pupils. Tuition was fifty cents a week.
Mrs. Bethune and the children cleared away the rubbish,
carefully saving broken chairs, cracked dishes, anything that
M. M. BETHUNE
could be mended, cleaned, and used. They boiled and dried moss,
stuffed burlap bags with it, and thus had mattresses for their
beds; they made charcoal to use instead of pencils and mashed
pokeberries to use as ink. "After those days of digging in
the dump for everything we needed," said one girl, "we
knew that we could always make a home no matter what the
In less than two years, the school had grown to 250.
Many of the white people in the area disapproved of Mrs.
Bethune's efforts-they thought that Negro children had no
need of education; but there were kindhearted people who soon
saw that she was doing some very necessary things. Some
of the Negro mothers went north with the white families
who had been at Daytona Beach for the winter, and left
their children in Mrs. Bethune's care. Often she was down to
the last of the food; but before the next mealtime had passed
without anything to eat, some benefactor with money or food-
stuff would almost miraculously appear. Two of her earliest
benefactors were Thomas White, whose company made the
famous White Sewing Machine, and James Gamble, a soap
Now she needed a larger building, and she needed the
school placed on a more official basis. The first meeting of
the Board of Trustees was in 1905; the mayor of Daytona
Beach was a member, as were a prominent realtor, two clergy-
men, and Mr. Gamble. The soap manufacturer had his per-
sonal attorney draw up the charter, and when this document
was signed, the school was a reality.
The first building, called Faith Hall because faith had
brought it into existence, was started in 1906. It contained
an assembly hall, dormitory, office, dining facilities, living
quarters for Mrs. Bethune and her family, and a small in-
firmary. They had to move in long before it was finished,
with no bathroom facilities, running water, or electricity,
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
and half-finished walls not yet plastered. Just before cold
weather came, however, Mr. White came to the rescue-
arranging for builders to complete the construction imme-
diately, and donating blankets and bed linen.
Mrs. Bethune's work extended beyond the sphere of edu-
cating young people. In the years between 1904 and 1923
there were many pine forests around Daytona Beach, and
many camps had been set up where men boiled down the
pine sap for turpentine. Most of the laborers were Negroes
who knew almost nothing about health and hygiene, and
this fact, plus the lack of sanitation in the camps, meant
there was a great deal of illness. Mrs. Bethune helped to
set up a hospital to serve these camp workers and others
in the community. Her school was growing during this time
also; she always managed, somehow, to keep going, in spite
of the often acute lack of money and food and supplies.
"Why?" her husband kept asking. "Why are you doing
all this? Doesn't your o w n happiness, the happiness of
your family, mean anything? Don't you ever get tired of
begging for money to hold this school together?"
"It will be worth it. When the girls can receive a good
education, grow up healthy and strong-this is my life's
Her husband shook his head. One day in 1909 he vanished;
she never saw him again. Now she was really alone, with no
one to share her triumphs and tragedies at all. But, although
she had few people very close to her, the number of people
who understood her efforts and determined to help her was
growing. Mr. White and Mr. Gamble stood by her all their
lives as did other famous people-Marshall Field II, John
D. Rockefeller, Mrs. Flora B. Curtis. Their money and moral
support, with the money and moral support of many others,
kept the school going, growing slowly, until 1923.
M M. BETHUNE
There was a boys' school in Jacksonville, Cookman In-
stitute, which had been set up by the Freedmen's Bureau to
educate Negro boys. It was not doing very well any more.
And Mrs. Bethune's girls' school was growing too slowly.
Why not merge the two schools? Mrs. Bethune would be
President and the Methodist Church would handle the fi-
nances, leaving her free to be an educator without having
to worry about money.
"It sounds sensible," Mrs. Bethune said, but her eyes
were clouded. "I scraped up every cent for this school-it's
been all mine-and the idea of letting someone else run
"You will still be President-there will be boys as well
as girls; everything will be on a more solid basis."
Reluctantly, she agreed, but it was like giving up her
own child. On the day the merger was made official, she
spoke to her Trustees and to the representatives of the Metho-
dist Board of Education:
It is a big thing to yield all. My feet are sore now,
my limbs are tired, my mind weary. I have gone
over hills and valleys, everywhere, begging for nick-
els and dimes that have paid for this soil, for
these buildings, for this equipment .. I hold back
nothing, But, in doing this,. in yielding my pow-
er, my personal power, my mental power, I am
doing it with the confidence that you will never
fail me .. Take it-develop it-use it.
Everything worked out well. Amazingly well! The com-
bined schools, now known as Bethune-Cookman College started
to grow and to attract state-wide and nation-wide atten-
tion. Mr. White's will left a trust fund of $67,000. New
buildings rose on the oak-shaded campus; every year more
young men and women were graduated to take their places
as leaders of the Negro community throughout the United
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
In 1927, her friends said, "You haven't had a vacation
"I haven't had time," Mary Bethune said.
"Don't you think the school could manage without you
for this summer ? You've never been out of the United States.
Wouldn't you like to see Europe?"
"Europe! On what?" She started to list the things her
college needed; but they hushed her.
"This trip is a present for you. Go get yourself some
So began her memorable European trip. In London, she
had tea with the Lord Mayor, and Lady Nancy Astor gave
a lavish garden party in her honor; in Glasgow, Scotland,
she visited Lady Edith McLeod-a relative of the McLeods
who had once owned her grandfather. One suitor pursued
her all over Germany with a proposal of marriage; another
(who happened to be an Italian) greeted her with, "Ah,
Princess! Kissed by the sun!" Nothing like this had ever
happened to her in Florida!
She visited Belgium, trying to discover some clue to
the character of this little nation. It owned the hugh colony
of the Belgian Congo, sprawling across the equator in Africa,
and the stories of cruelties practiced by the Europeans there
against the natives were almost past belief. Yet Belgium
itself was a pleasant little country with charming people.
Why did they become so cruel in Africa? Nobody seemed
to know. She saw democracy in other places-at the Hague
in the Netherlands, and in Berne, Switzerland. In Berne
there was an ornamental garden, which she called the In-
ternational Garden, where the flowers represented all the
various people on earth. It had roses of every shade and
color-red and yellow and white, and a gorgeous black rose
like a velvet-dark midnight.
M. M. BETHUNE
She even visited one of the casinos at Monte Carlo, and
thought again, Central Florida was never like this!
Back home again to Bethune-Cookman, and to growing
national fame. Several magazines, including the widely-known
Time and Saturday Evening Post, carried articles on her.
Look magazine, with a circulation of over two million, also
had the story: "Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune has become an
outstanding world leader. With $1.50 she started a Negro
college now valued at a million dollars."
She could still raise money. One of her organizations,
the National Council of Negro Women, was growing rapidly
and needed a new headquarters in Washington. Mrs. Be-
thune called on her friend Marshall Field III and explained
what she needed. Within ten minutes she had his check for
$10,000. "I don't know of anyone who could have done that,"
said Mr. Field.
By this time she was receiving ten times as many in-
vitations to speak as she could accept. Her accomplishments
brought more responsibilities. She served as Director of
the Office of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Adminis-
tration, Special Advisor to the President on Minority Affairs,
and a special advisor for choosing women to attend the
Officers' Candidate School of the Women's Army Auxiliary
Corps. Honorary degrees and awards almost without number
were bestowed on her.
Throughout it all she remained warm-hearted, kind, con-
siderate, and a deeply religious person, with infectious laugh-
ter and an unfailing sense of her mission. "She is the uni-
versal woman," her women friends said; men respected her
clear, quick-thinking, decisive mind that never fumbled in
important meetings or with influential people. As she ap-
proached her 80th birthday, she said, repeating after her
old slave grandmother, "Here I sit with my feet on deep
24 TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
carpet, bathed in light and wrapped in soft raiment, having
the good things of life. Thank you, Lord."
Her indomitable character had impressed itself on the
lives of countless young people; they called her "a mighty
mother to the youth of the world." And it all started with
those early words: "Put down that book! You can't read."
"But I'm going to learn!"
John R. E. Lee, Sr.
C a pioneer in florida
WHAT do you need in order to create a state-sponsored
school or college where people can really get a good edu-
cation? Good teachers, mostly, and enough money to pay
them well. Good equipment and good buildings, dormitories,
classrooms, laboratories, libraries: and enough money to
take care of them. You need to be willing to work with many
different groups and kinds of people in order to provide
educational facilities for everyone. And, most of all, you
need leaders who can obtain all these elements and combine
them into the whole thing-the successful college.
John Robert Edward Lee, who was President of Florida
A and M College from 1924 to 1944, took a college that no-
body cared very much about and made it into a good place
to obtain an education. It is not the most famous university
in the world, or even in the South. But it serves the state
well as a place where men and women can come and from
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
which they can go to enter the world well prepared to lead
in their chosen fields.
J. R. E. Lee was born a slave in 1864 in Seguin, Texas.
Of course, he became a freedman while still a baby, and
was able to attend the public school in Seguin. In 1889 he
graduated from Bishop College. His career as an educator
began that fall, when he accepted a position as principal of
a school in Palestine, Texas. There were two teachers in
that school. No chance of anyone being overlooked or ignored
in that school by Principal Lee! In following years he taught
at Bishop, Tuskegee Institute, Benedict College, and Lincoln
High School in Kansas City, Missouri. He became more and
more capable as an administrator as well as a teacher.
Three years as Extension Secretary of the National
Urban League, two honorary LL.D. degrees, and the found-
ing of the National Association of Teachers in Colored Schools
made impressive additions to Lee's academic credentials.
Lee was pleased with his large family-his wife Ardella and
seven children-and with the success of his work and with
the knowledge that thousands of people had acquired a better
education through it. But he was always ready to accept a
new challenge, and that challenge came in 1924, when he
was offered the position of President of Florida A and M
College for Negroes.
The members of the Board of Control, (now Board of
Regents) which directed the college, were quite frank that
they were asking him to take on seemingly insoluble problems.
"The previous administration left the college in a state
of chaos," they admitted. "Over a third of the faculty has
left, three major buildings burned down in a fire which we're
almost sure was set, the Legislature refuses to give us
enough money, and hardly anyone would care if Florida A
and M disappeared off the face of the earth. But Florida
J. R. E. LEE
needs it, and the people of Florida-especially the Negroes
They went on to explain that although a rent-free house
on the campus was provided, they could only pay him $2500
a year-not very much, even in 1924, for an experienced
administrator. "You are the man we want, and we hope you
will accept the position. You are a man of good education,
fine executive ability, a good disciplinarian, and we believe
well fitted for the position,"
Lee did accept the position, and came to the campus in
Tallahassee to see what his new home was like. It hardly
looked like a college! There were fifteen wooden buildings,
many of them just small cottages, and all the large ones
badly needing repairs. The only concrete walk was the one
leading from his house to the small auditorium. The sewerage
system was completely inadequate. Even worse, nobody seemed
to care very much about solving the problems; especially not
the Legislature, which was the organization that provided
"It is one of the supreme duties of our institution here
to bring our people to the realization of their possibilities
right here in our own state," he said. "This institution should
stand out with advantages equal to those offered to colored
people by any state in the Union, where provisions are made
for colored people. That means there should be provisions
for buildings, equipment, teaching force, course of study,
normal training, mechanical, academic, agricultural, domes-
tic science, and art and health training that would make it
clear to every citizen and parent in Florida that the oppor-
tunities here are fully equal to opportunities in any other
The Legislature listened. It sounded fine to them. Who
wouldn't agree that the college should have good buildings
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
and teachers and effective courses of study? Then Dr. Lee
presented his first request for money-$355,013 to be used
for the first necessary repairs.
"But that's more money than we have appropriated for
thirty-seven years!" the members of the Legislature ex-
claimed. "Nobody has ever asked for so much at once.!"
It is easy to see why the college was in such a state of
The Legislature did not give Lee his $355,013. But it
did give him some money, enough to start the repairs, at
least. Lee confided to a friend that he had deliberately asked
for a larger sum than he expected to get.
"You ask for a great deal," he explained, "and even if
you don't get it all, you will get something. If I had only
asked for a small sum, they would have given me only a
fraction of that, which is hardly enough to be useful. Aim
high, and even after they make cutbacks, there is enough
money to make substantial improvement."
But a small amount of money was not going to solve the
problems of Florida A and M College, and Lee realized that
the Legislature was not becoming any more cooperative than
it had been in the past. Whom else could he turn to? For-
tunately, there were private organizations which were in-
terested in helping worthy educational institutions that were
in financial trouble. Lee knew Jackson Davis, who was the
Field Secretary for one of these organizations, the General
Education Board. Davis had recommended him for the pres-
idency of Florida A and M. Lee contacted the General Edu-
cation Board in the spring of 1925, and not a moment too
soon! For in March of that year, the Board of Control notified
After the 30th day of April, 1925, all work at the
institution was to be discontinued for the remaind-
er of the term except the Administrative Depart-
J. R. E. LEE
ments and the field work of the Agricultural De-
partment, unless, however, before the first day of
May the Legislature appropriates funds to continue
the Institution for the remainder of the term, or
such additional funds are provided by other means."
"Now we've got to have help," Lee wrote to the General Edu-
cation Board. And it responded with $5,000, which made it
possible to keep all departments open and complete the year.
Lee even managed to start a summer school for teachers, and
plan an extension program for in-service teacher training
to start in the fall. After that, the worst was over. Later
that year the General Education Board donated another
$100,000 to start construction of a quarter-million-dollar
auditorium and administrative building. The legislature, some-
what ashamed of its rejection of Florida A and M that
spring, appropriated $250,000 to complete the auditorium and
put up the first brick dormitory. By 1932, Florida A and M
had received the following amounts of money:
Appropriated by the State $ 1,993,439
Appropriated by the Federal Government 200,000
Student board and fees 730,496
Sales and services 92,075
General Education Board 178,632
Rosenwald Fund 44,000
Total $ 3,517,330
Contrast that with the $355,013, which Lee could not
get in his first year as President!
When the restoration of the physical facilities was under-
way, Lee turned to the other problems which the college faced.
The greatest of these was its lack of accreditation. "Accred-
itation" indicates that a college measures up to certain
standards which have been set up by a state, regional, or
national education agency. Because Florida A and M was not
accredited, many gifted young people were going elsewhere
to college. Inadequately trained faculty, low salaries, classes
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
that were too large, and poor library facilities were the rea-
sons for its lack of accreditation. But Lee, with the help
of the Rosenwald Fund, corrected all these conditions so that
the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools
gave Florida A and M a partial accreditation in 1931 and
a full "A" rating in 1935.
/The worst problem was securing adequate salaries. In
1938 President Lee received only $3600 a year, and some
of the professors as little as $600! It seemed only right
to most people that Lee's salary be raised. But this was a
state college, and so its problems were apt to become politi-
cal issues. Governor Fred P. Cone disliked the idea of spend-
ing more money on salaries-perhaps he had been aggravated
by Lee's large requests-and he said so while discussing
the subject with his cabinet. "No Negro is worth $4000,"
he said firmly. He regretted that remark very soon, es-
pecially when it was repeated in the newspapers But it
shows the kind of opposition that Lee was facing.
Other members of the state hierarchy felt a little dif-
ferently about supporting Florida A and M when Lee put on a
show for their benefit! He had made sure that the college
had an excellent choir and other musical and dramatic groups.
These groups would perform frequently for organizations
which, Dr. Lee knew, could provide money either as public
servants or as private individuals. Many of their songs
would be spirituals and old favorites, calculated to appeal
to the emotions of the listeners. Then Dr. Lee would speak.
"Can you allow Florida to lose talent like that? These are
your young people, this is your college. Help us to keep it
alive." It worked! The legislature gave money, other people
gave money, and Florida A and M grew and prospered.
People outside the state noted the genius of this man.
Floyd Calvin wrote in the Pittsburgh Courier, "It is this
mixture of teacher, prophet, genius, and magician that is
President Lee, who is able to make colored people and white
J. R. E. LEE
people alike 'give until it hurts in a cause that is just."'
His genius was not just in the art of influencing people and
raising money-it was also in interpreting the purpose uf
the college. "We are not here just to educate those who are
full-time students," he said. "There are many, many others
whom the college can help." And so the campus was host to
rural ministers' institutes, medical and health clinics, ag-
ricultural and home economics conferences, farmers' insti-
tutes. Students going to classes might observe meetings of a
midwives' conference one week, a meeting of school principals
another. Items donated by friends of the college-such
as a bandstand, movie projector, hospital equipment-were
especially helpful. If some group could not come to the cam-
pus, Dr. Lee made sure that the college went to them-with
music, lectures, dramatic groups, and always with the mes-
sage: "Our purpose is to help you. Won't you also help us?"
,/On Lee's seventy-fifth birthday, when he had been presi-
dent for fifteen years, a banquet was held in his honor at
the college. The highlight of the evening was a book of over
100 letters from leaders all over the United States who knew
of his fine work. George W. Carver praised Lee as "my ideal
as a great scholar, profound teacher and Christian gentleman."
Governor Cone, who had not wanted to raise Lee's salary,
wrote: "As chief executive of this State I have watched your
work closely and wish to state that you are doing a splendid
work for your race." Even the arch-conservative newspaper-
man John Temple Graves said, "President Lee has been the
principal factor in a physical, mental and spiritual growth
whose worth to the South is beyond totalling."
But what of the people whose opinion counted most-those
who studied at Florida A and M and had gone out from the
college to become leaders all over Florida? Lee had said to
them, "Your own mind, your own ambition, your own will-
ingness to labor and sacrifice will determine the heights
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
of usefulness to which you will attain." Their feelings were
summed up in a poem written by Mrs. Theresa I. Lang:
If mine were the power to sing this song,
I should sing out merrily,
I should sing of one who for fifteen years
Has labored at Famcee;
I should sing my song in joyous notes
That would ring out full and free
So that the listening world may know
Of big-hearted J. R. E. Lee.
"It has all been worth it," said Lee. "Testimonials like
this assure me that Florida A and M has a great future--
that I have laid the foundation well for that future."
When Lee died in 1944, the buildings of the college were
worth over a million dollars; the student enrollment had in-
creased eleven times, and there were nearly four times as
many faculty and staff members as there had been in 1924.
Admittedly, his administration had been very paternalistic.
People had complained more than once, "Lee runs everything
just as if it were all his own family. There are other ways
of doing things. Doesn't he know that? Aren't any of our
ideas ever going to get an audience ?"
"Later, perhaps," said others. "Accept things as the:,
are for the time being. Look at the support Dr. Lee gets, and
the money he manages to obtain! We-you and I-would
not be here if it weren't for him."
The college has gone on from where Dr. Lee left it,
building on the heritage he left to become Florida A. and M.
University. It was a heritage not only of money, but of
leadership, of ideals, and of well-trained and dedicated teachers
and alumni. How do you create a school where people can really
get a good education ? You create it by making the most out
of all the resources at your command-just as Dr. J. R. E.
Eartha M. White
i r, jacksonville's
"angel of mercy"
CLARA WHITE looked down at the tiny newborn
baby in her arms. "You've got to live," she said, her voice
sounding almost desperate. "You're my last baby. You would
have had twelve brothers and sisters-they're all dead now.
You have to live!"
Meanwhile, in the other room of the small two-room
house in Jacksonville, the rest of the family was discussing
names for the new baby girl. Eventually the choice was nar-
rowed to two. "Call her Eartha," insisted her cousin, Henry
Harrison. "Everything you get comes from God's good
Her father, Lafayette White, nodded.
"She ought to have a Biblical name," her grandfather,
Adam English, insisted. "The best name would be Mary Mag-
dalene-after the woman who anointed the body of our Lord
Jesus for his glorification."
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
"There's no reason to argue," her mother said, when
they presented the dilemma to her, "we'll give the baby
both names. Maybe they are prophetic of what she will do
in the world."
It was a long name she ended up with, Eartha Mary
Magdalene White. Her parents were worried lest she die in
infancy, as so many children did in the years around 1876.
But Eartha grew up healthy and energetic and creative.
One of the very first things she heard was stories of the slave
trade told by her mother, who had herself been sold as a
slave not so long before. As Eartha thought about the stories
of inhumanity and oppression a plan began to form: "I'm
going to do things for people when I grow up."
"That's fine," her mother said, "but you get your edu-
cation first and learn a trade to support yourself."
So Earth went to the Florida Baptist Academy which
had just been started under the sponsorship of the Bethel
Institutional Baptist Church. She and her mother spent their
summers up north, where Clara White worked as a stew-
ardess and later as a stewardess trainer on a cruise ship that
ran from Connecticut to Rhode Island. Eartha would stand at
the back of the ship dreaming of the future and flinging scraps
to the gulls which circled around. It was cooler out on the
water-so much nicer than spending the hot, humid days in
New York City.
But usually she was in New York during the summer,
and taking advantage of the fact, she took various courses.
One of the most successful was a course in beauty culture.
One of her white customers heard her singing as she worked,
and said, "You have a beautiful voice. You really ought to
With this encouragement, Eartha entered the National
Conservatory of Music and studied under the famous Harry
E. M. WHITE
T. Burleigh. She was chosen a member of the famous Orien-
tal-American Opera Company, the first company of its kind
traveling in (and even outside) the United States.
Meanwhile, she had found the man she wanted to marry
-James Lloyd Jordan of South Carolina. The date of the
wedding was set and preparations were under way; then,
just a month before the wedding, James Jordan died.
"You're young still," her relatives and friends told the
distraught girl. "You'll find somebody else to marry."
"No, I won't," Eartha insisted; a nd then, becoming
calmer, she told them, "I know now that there will be some-
thing else for me instead of marriage. I am going to be
married to the cause of Christ and His Kingdom, building
for God and humanity at large." This "marriage" was consu-
mated and has lasted over the years.
When she graduated from college, Eartha knew that
in spite of her success up north as a singer, she was needed
more in her home state. She started teaching in a dilapidated
rural school near Bayard, in Duval County. While there,
she persuaded the county to build a new two-room school
to replace the old one-a foretaste of a lifetime spent in
getting people to do what needed to be done!
In 1901, her career as a humanitarian was underway.
A few months before, the Afro-American Life Insurance
Company had been founded by the pastor of Bethel Institu-
tional Baptist Church and others to provide low-cost insurance
for Negroes; Eartha White was acting as clerk of the company,
and'its first woman employee. When the disastrous fire which
destroyed Jacksonville erupted, she risked her own life to
rescue the books and records of the company moments before
they would have been engulfed by flames. She had saved
the company by her heroism.
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
Many people were homeless after the fire, a number of
them old people with nowhere to go and no one to look after
them. This was long before the existence of Social Security;
there were almost no programs to help elderly or handi-
capped persons. An old people's home was certainly needed.
Sixteen years before, in fact, a group of Negroes had or-
ganized the Union Benevolent Association and had purchased
a tract of land where they planned to build such a home. But
the organization had become inactive; it took Eartha White,
with her energy and purpose and directness, to reactivate
the group. The Association elected her its president, an office
she has held ever since.
In 1902, she and her mother began soliciting money for
the Old Folks' Home. Contributions came in generously from
churches, o t h e r institutions, private individuals; a n d a
home was started that same year. Since then hundreds of
Negroes ranging in age from 60 to 107, with no other place
to go and no one else to care for them, have found a pleasant
and friendly home here in their late years. The Home is at
present being rebuilt, financed in part by the Federal Gov-
ernment, and when finished will have a value of $750,000.
In 1929, the American economy, which had been growing
too fast without proper safeguards, collapsed; the Great
Depression had started. Now there was even more need for
social workers with commitment and the ability of Eartha
White. In 1930 her mother, to whom she was deeply de-
voted, died, and Eartha established the Clara White Mission
as a memorial to her mother.
"Thia will be the focal point of our work," she said.
"We will purchase the building which is for sale on West
Ashley Street, and it will become a storehouse for all the
people and a blessing to everyone." Ashley Street was known
as an infamous center of vice and crime, but because of
Eartha, it became a symbol of hope.
E. M. WHITE 37
"But where," asked her associates, "in the mi of
this depression, are you going to get the money?"
Bankers and officials of loan companies listened to her
story and shook their heads. "We are sorry, Miss White.
The whole project is too financially risky-especially for a
single woman, like yourself, with no husband to take the
responsibility for debts."
"I will do it on my own," she said-rather stung by the
charge that she was not responsible! Through the support
of friends she managed to get the money; later the lend-
ing institutions, which were so reluctant at first, also helped.
In spite of the Depression, the building was purchased for
$15,000; it burned in 1944 and was rebuilt as a modern build-
ing at a cost of $65,000. By 1965 the Mission was out of debt,
greatly expanded in both facilities and scope of work, and
was valued as $150,000.
It soon became obvious that the country could not pull
itself out of the economic depression without government help.
After the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in
1932, various government agencies were started to give
people employment and get the economy going again. One of
these was the famous Works Progress Administration which
provided temporary employment for many thousands of peo-
ple in all sorts of positions. Eartha White's mission pro-
vided the WPA with lights, water, telephone service, and
trucks. It also served as a center for cultural activities, free
art courses, and a band for music and recreation.
The Mission's annual Christmas Tree, surrounded by
baskets of food and clothing and toys, made Christmas a
little more cheerful for poor families who otherwise would
have had nothing for the holiday. A free soup kitchen served
hot food to those who, out of money and out of work, had
no place to go for a meal. During the worst stages of the
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
Depression, she gave aid to many and fed the poor. For her
work, she was affectionately called Jacksonville's "Angel of
Mercy." But Eartha White knew that such direct charity-
handing out food and clothing-was not what people really
needed. "Hardly anyone wants charity," she said. "People
really want jobs so that they can earn money, be independent
and self-supporting. The most important thing we can do
is make employment possible for these people." And so she set
up a free employment agency, started a sewing room at
the Mission where women could be employed, and began a
writer's project, a program of training for domestic service,
and a training shop for the blind. Hundreds of men and wom-
en, over the years, came to the Mission-poor, unemployed,
not sufficiently trained to do productive work, and through
Miss White's various programs were able to find training and
jobs that would free them from dependence on charity. Bible
training and religious services gave spiritual support also.
One of the greatest problems facing a woman who has
children and who must work is who will take care of the
children. If there are no relatives or friends available, the
mother must take her children to a nursery. And most pri-
vate nurseries cost more than a poor woman could afford.
Earth White obtained an old office building, which she moved
to Milnor Street and used for a nursery where children of
working mothers could have good care during the day.
At times the Milnor Street Nursery was financed by govern-
ment agencies-the WPA and the Lanham Act-and some
appropriations came from the city government of Jackson-
ville, but much of the money Miss White raised herself.
Another project which indicated her wish to "help peo-
ple to help themselves" was the first playground for blacks in
Jacksonville (Oakland Park), which provided a supervised
play area and reduced the high juvenile delinquency rate
in the city.
E. M. WHITE
A milk fund Committee organized in the early 1930's
obtained milk for underprivileged children, making it possi-
ble for them to grow stronger and more able to work and
create a good life for themselves. A Tuberculosis Rest Home
was dedicated in 1936. For the first time, Negroes had a
place to go if they became infected with tuberculosis. There
was less chance that their families and associates would
catch the disease, and more chance that they would receive
proper care and be cured.
The deplorable conditions in which Negroes at the Duval
County Prison Farm lived also came under Eartha White's
concern. "You cannot keep men in inhuman surroundings like
this!" she exclaimed, and her condemnation led to the ren-
ovation of the Negro section at the prison. Sunday serv-
ices, which she led at the prison for more than fifty years,
assured the men that people "on the outside" had not for-
gotten them. Miss White managed to get a number of pris-
oners released in her custody, and because she believed in
man's essential goodness and was willing to give these men
a chance, she had great success in rehabilitating them. A
correctional home for girls, which she persuaded the Legis-
lature to establish in 1942, made it possible to keep delinquent
girls out of adult prisons and gave them more chance of a
Eartha White's list of accomplishments goes on and on-
many of them "firsts" for a Negro. She was the first Negro
census-taker in Jacksonville and the first county social
worker who had an office in the courthouse. Other jobs
which she had included: working for or managing a depart-
ment store, steam service laundry, employment and home
cleaning bureau, licensed real estate office, and a taxi com-
pany! All this in addition to her jobs as beauty operator,
singer, teacher, and social worker. She did government work,
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
also, during the two world wars-raising funds for the gov-
ernment, entertaining troops, coordinating National Defense
efforts, and arranging housing and food for Negroes on leave.
Dozens of organizations have honored Eartha White for
her outstanding leadership. Among the most significant honors
are an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Florida
Memorial Institute and the honorary Doctor of Laws degree
from Edward Waters College in 1961. She received a semi-
finalist citation for the coveted Lane Bryant Award for out-
standing community service, and a citation from Florida
A and M University for social service in Florida. The Ear-
tha White Historical Museum serves as a respository for
records of her work and that of other outstanding Negroes.
Even now, when she is older and more and more of the
projects which she started are being administered by other
agencies, Eartha White has kept up her interest in those
who need assistance. Her latest project is the Arcade Serv-
ice Men's Center in Jacksonville, which furnishes compan-
ionship and assistance to men in uniform. It is now supported
by the Jacksonville Recreation Department.
In 1941, the Mayor of Jacksonville, John T. Alsop, Jr.,
For a great many years she has worked diligently
and unselfishly in behalf of our Negroes. While much
of her work has been among the poverty-striken
and underprivileged, she has not confined her ef-
forts to charitable work alone, but has been most
active in the promoting of the advancement of her
race as a whole I consider her one of the out-
standing leaders of her race in the state.
He might have added that she is known nationally, too, in
many fields. Eartha White is known far beyond her native
city as "the Jane Addams of her race" and "Jacksonville's
Angel of Mercy." She once summed up the purpose of her
E. M. WHITE
life in five words, "To serve God and humanity," and rarely
has a philosophy of life been carried out so devotedly and so
For a woman of lesser energy, the dedication of the
ultra modern E. M. M. White Nursing Home would have
been the culminating effort in a long career. But not so
with E.. M. .White. As she sat and listened to a U. S. Con-
gressman, other elected officers and scores of leading citi-
zens heap accolades upon her, one could tell that she had
other dreams. When she responded, this remarkable lady
of ninety-one years spoke glowingly of her future plans to
.. author and folklorist
EATONVILLE, Florida, was the first all-Negro com-
munity incorporated in America. It lies at the edge of Lake
Lily, not far from Orlando, quiet and happy and steeped in
Negro folk tradition and history. Zora Neale Hurston was
born here on January 7, 1901, one of John and Lucy Hurs-
ton's eight children. One of their neighbors, Mrs. Neale,
helped deliver the baby, and the parents named their little
girl after her; for a first name, so the story goes, Mrs. Neale
chose the name of a popular brand of Turkish cigarettes.
"Zora" had an exotic sound to it.
Mrs. Hurston was the town seamstress; her husband
was a tenant farmer, a semi-literate Baptist "jackleg" preach-
er, and, at one time, mayor of Eatonville. Zora described
her home as being, at the turn of the century, a "city of
five lakes, three croquet courts, 300 brown skins, 300 good
swimmers, plenty guavas, two schools, and no jailhouse."
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
She received her early education at the village school, but
life in Eatonville and in her large family was an education in
itself. Her father's colorful sermons were a great influence
on her later literary style. But he could be fierce, too; when
she announced that she wanted to become a poetess, he turned
on her, saying that poets were "low-living creatures with no
Bible in their hands and no God in their hearts."
"Be yourself," her mother said. "Follow your own heart,
and jump for the sun." Zora never forgot those words, al-
though she heard them when she was very young; her moth-
er died when she was nine. After that, Zora's education
was irregular. She had to stay at home most of the time
to care for an older brother's children. But she was strong,
and rebellious, and vowed to make her own life; at sixteen
she defiantly left home and started working as a lady's maid,
determined to get away, see the world, and save enough
money to finish her education. Various people helped her, im-
pressed with her strength of purpose and her very great
She graduated from Morgan College's high school de-
partment in 1919 and started her college work at Howard
University in Washington. Here her literary career was
started-with a short story in Stylus, the campus literary
magazine, and two stories, "Drenched in Light" and "Spunk"
published in Opportunity. "She does have talent," people said,
and waited, attentive, for her next work. But the next thing
that happened was that Zora ran out of money. She left
Howard after her sophomore year and went to New York.
Luck was with her; she received an award for one of her
stories in Opportunity and obtained a position as assistant
to the sensationalist novelist Fannie Hurst. Miss Hurst took
her to all sorts of places which had been segregated before,
introducing her as "the princess Zora;" and Zora carried off
Z. N. HURSTON
the charade with dignity and bearing and love for new ad -
ventures and people. Soon she was awarded a scholarship
to Barnard College, the women's division of Columbia Uni-
versity. She graduated with an A.B. degree in anthropology
in 1928-the first Negro woman graduate, the second of her
race. While she was there she studied with Franz Boas, an
eminent anthropologist, who helped her get two fellowships
for special research work.
Anthropology is the study of people-how different groups
of people live, how they react to the world around t ., .,r
their cultures grow and develop. One aspect of anthropology
is folklore, the study of the culture, art and music and beliefs
and traditions, developed by the common people themselves.
It is not always easy to collect folklore material, but Zora
Hurston had a built-in advantage. She explains her reasons
for selecting Florida and her advantages over white folklorist
in this manner.
Florida is a place that draws people from all over
the world, and Negroes from every Southern state
surely, and some from the North and West. So I
knew that it was possible for me to get a cross-sec-
tion of Negro life in that one state. The first place
I aimed to collect material was Eatonville. Why?
Because I knew the town was full of it, and that I
could get it without hurt, harm or danger.
Folklore material is not as easy to collect as it sounds.
The best source: where there are the least outside
influences, and there people being usually under-
privileged, are shyest. They are most reluctant at
times to reveal that which the soul lives by. And
the Negro, in spite of his open-faced laughter, his
seeming acquiescence, is particularly evasive. You
see we are a polite people and we do not say to our
questioner, "Git out of here." We smile and tell him
or her something that satisfies the white person be-
cause, knowing so little about us, he doesn't know
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
what he is missing. The Indian resists curiosity by
a stony silence. The Negro offers a featherbed resist-
ance. That is, we let the probe enter, but it never
comes out. It gets smothered under a lot of laughter
The theory behind our tactics: The white man is
always trying to know somebody else's business.
All right. I'll put something outside the door of my
mind for him to play with and handle. He can read
my writing but he can't read my mind. I'll put this
play toy into his hands, and he will seize it and gb
away. Then I'll say my say and sing my song.
The prestigious Journal of American Folklore published
the results of her research which started in Eatonville and
extended to the West Indies. She was accepted now, a part
of the Harlem Reniassance literati of the late 20's and 30's
-the "Niggerati," like Countee Cullen and Lansgton Hughes,
who revived Negro arts and ,letters. They were all a little
crazy, as befits artists, and Zora Hurston was the most im-
pulsive, scatter-brained of them all. She could stop a total
stranger on the street and say, "I am an anthropologist, and
you have an interesting head. May I measure it?" She went
on sporadic folklore hunts, vanished into the wilds of Hon-
duras with no explanation, lived in a luxury apartment fur-
nished by her friends but forgot to get forks for her guests
to use at dinner. She and her friends even tried publishing
a magazine, a Negro quarterly of the arts which they hoped
would "burn up a lot of the old, dead conventional Negro.
white ideas of the past," to be called Fire. But the only part
of that project that really came to life was the title, when
all of the copies of the magazine were burned, bringing the
endeavor to an abrupt halt.
In 1933 Story magazine published her story "The Gilded
Sixbits," and she began to be nationally known. Various pub-
lishing companies became interested in her work; she chose
Z. N. HURSTON
Lippincott, and they brought out her first novel, Jonah's
Gourd Vine, in 1934.
This is a story of Negro life in the South, rich in dialect
and folklore. The main character, John Buddy Pearson, is a
yellow Negro preacher with a great talent for emotionalism
and a powerful fascination for women. He has ambition and
the desire to live a worthwhile life but weak character and
hostile environment overpower him and he descends from one
degree of degradation to another, carrying down those who are
close to him as well. Her next book, Mules and Men (1935),
is divided into two parts: the first, a collection of Florida Ne-
groes' folk tales; the second, a description of voodoo practices
carried on in the South.
Some of her best character creations appear in her
next novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. "It was dammed
up inside me, and I wrote it under internal pressure in seven
weeks," Miss Hurston said. Many of her early experiences
in Eatonville provided raw material for this story of the
handsome quadroon Janie, her defiance of social convention,
her courage, and her struggle through trouble to eventual
happiness and love. The novel abounds in fascinating charac-
ters-Logan Killicks, a prosperous farmer; Joe Starks, a
go-getter who makes Janie Mrs. Mayor Starks of Eatonville;
and Tea Cake Woods, who finally brings happiness to Janie.
Around this time Miss Hurston received another Gug-
genheim Fellowship which enabled her to make an extended
visit to the West Indies, especially Jamaica and Haiti. She
studied the Negro folklore of the islands, and particularly
the voodoo cult, that mysterious native religion of magic
and sorcery which was brought from Africa to the West
Indies, then to America, and is still practiced by thousands.
She wrote a popular account of her studies there, Tell My
Horse, which is filled with keen social comment, humor, sto-
ries, songs, descriptions of strange places and rites. She
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
was allowed to watch an initiation into the voodoo priest-
hood and the instruction of young women in the arts of love.
She saw the famous zombie Felicia Delix-Mentor, photograph-
ed it, listened to the strange broken noises in its throat, and
apparently believed that it was authentic. "So I know that
there are Zombies in Haiti," she wrote. "People have been
called back from the dead."
In 1939 came Moses, Man of the Mountain, a re-telling
of the story of Moses in modern idiom and as seen through
the eyes of the American Negro. The story of Moses as the
man who freed his people has always appealed to those who
have lived in slavery or oppression, and Zora Hurston adds
to this appeal those other aspects which have fascinated
the Negro mind-Moses as a great magician and voodoo priest.
The might and power of his rod, the crossing of the Red Sea,
and the worship and fear of his people, who saw him as a
great magician who could control the elements and talk with
God face to face, appear in, a startling new light. She tells
about the emotional power of the legend in her Introduction:
So all across Africa, America, and the West Indies,
there are tales of the power of Moses and great
worship of him and his powers. But it does not flow
from the Ten Commandments. It is his rod of po-
wer, the terror that he showed before Isreal and to
Pharaoh and that Mighty Hand.
By this time she thought the moment had come to tell
the story of her own life. "When I pitched headforemost into
the world I landed in the crib of Negroism. .. So you will
have to know something about the time and place where I
come from, in order that you may interpret the incidents
and directions of my life." Dust Tracks On a Road, her auto-
biography, won for her the Ainsfield Award for the best book
of that year on racial problems. She had lived in so many
different places and seen so many ways of life, Negro and
Z. N. HURSTON
white, that she could write about the smallest details of
Negro life with zest and fidelity.
In the early 1940's she was in Hollywood for awhile,
working as a consultant for Paramount Pictures, and then
moved back to Florida and lived on a houseboat. She wrote
a number o f magazine articles o n race relations, Negro
speech patterns, Negro education and institutions, and was
guest lecturer at Bethune-Cookman College. During this time
she started work on her last novel, Seraph on the Suwanee,
a story of the "Cracker" region of western Florida. This
picturesque tale of Jim and Arvay Meserve, their children,
and their wanderings from the Suwanee to the citrus belt
to the shrimping boats on the coast of Florida, is a tale of
poor whites instead of poor Negroes, but the details of set.
ting and language and the characterizations are every bit
as authentic and skillful as in her other fictional works.
In 1950 she was back on land again, still producing
short stories and magazine articles, and working in Miami
Beach as a maid. Her employer-a Rivi Alto Island matron,
aristocratic and somewhat old-fashioned-had thought o f
Zora simply as the new Negro maid, obviously intelligent,
but modest and unpretentious. Then one day she picked up
a copy of the Saturday Evening Post and found a short story
written by her maid. "It was a difficult few hours we spent
after that," the lady admitted. "But I must say without
reservation that Zora is one of the most cultured and amaz-
ing women I have ever met and surely one of the finest.
You just have to like her."
Successful as Miss Hurston was in her writing, she was
often very unhappy and unsuccessful in her personal life.
Her marriage to Herbert Sheen in 1927 ended four years
later in divorce, and she never did have the happiness of a
husband and a real home. She had a so-called permanent
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
home in Eau Gallie, but for a person like her, no home could
really be called "permanent." She really lived in her old
Chevrolet, jaunting here and there, discovering new things,
giving lectures, telling her tales and bringing down the house
with roars of laughter as she capered about demonstrating
the "folks" of her stories. She still loved people; they loved
her. And she still wrote, but she was not the popular writer
in the 1950's that she had been ten or twenty years before.
Zora Hurston spent the last years of her life in Fort
Pierce, doing a little substitute teaching, writing for the
local Negro paper, The Chronicle, and trying to work on
another novel. Only one man in the community knew that
she was in reality a famous author and scholar, and did not
tell anyone. He helped her out as much as he could, prac-
tically supporting her for almost a year. With only a few
changes of clothing, her mind worn out and succumbing
to approaching senility, living almost the life of a derelict,
she struggled along until she suffered a stroke in 1959 and
died early the next year.
At first, the local mortician admitted, they were going
to bury her as a pauper. Then her real identity was discovered,
her publishers were contacted, and from their contributions
and money donated by the citizens of Fort Pierce her funeral
was a fitting tribute. There was only one incongruity, the
fact that she was laid out wearing a short, pink dressing
gown-incongruous garb for one so real and earthy. Ted Pratt,
writing in the Florida Historical Quarterly, described it, and
added that Zora might have said-had she been in a posi-
tion to-that she wouldn't be caught dead in such an outfit.
Zora Hurston was a strange person, brilliant, unsettled,
impulsive, in later years physically neglected and bordering
on dereliction. She despised pessimists, grouches, weak peo-
ple who preyed on others; her own courage and strength
Z. N. HURSTON
had taken her from an Eatonville shanty to fame and suc-
cess, and these were the qualities she admired. She loved
people and she lived a full life, one that left others also en-
riched by her brilliant folklore studies and creative works.
Her intimate knowledge of Southern whites and Negroes
convinced her of the essential oneness of mankind, and she
could say, "I see the man first, and his race as just another
detail of his description."
I learned that skins were no measure of what was
inside people I began to laugh at both white and
black who claimed special blessings on the basis
of race. Therefore, I saw no curse in being black,
no extra favor in being white.
I have no race prejudice of any kind .. I give you
all my right hand of fellowship and love. In my eye-
sight, you lose nothing by not looking just like me.
... You who play the zig-zag lighting of power over
the world, with the grumbling thunder in your wake,
think kindly of those who walk in the dust. And
you who walk in humble places, think kindly, too, of
others.. Consider that with tolerance and patience,
we godly demons may breed a noble world in a few
hundred generations or so.
Although Miss Hurston's colorful life ended in an in-
glorious death, her writings remain today as an enduring gift
to American literature.
SAbrams L. Lewis
founder of the
Abram Lincoln Lewis was the new waterboy at the lum-
ber mill in East Jacksonville. He had tried to attend the Oak-
land Public School, but there was no money now; he had to
go to work. And looking at the meager wages he had just
received, he groaned and wondered how long this poverty
would last. Would he ever be anything but poor?
Poverty was all he had known since his birth in Madison,
Florida, in 1865. His parents, fine Christians, had instilled in
him a love and respect for the African Methodist Episcopal
Church and laid the foundation for his religious heritage. But
they were grindingly poor. Moving to Jacksonville hadn't
helped. With almost no education, waterboy at the lumber
mill was the best job he could get.
"Little as it is," he thought, "I'll just have to save part of
this money. I'm never going to get out of this rut unless I
have some savings."
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
Lewis turned out to be a bright, reliable, faithful worker.
He did not remain a waterboy for long; his employer ad-
vanced him steadily until he was finally made a foreman, re-
ceiving the highest wages paid to any black man at the mill.
For twenty-two years Lewis was a trusted and highly re-
spected employee of the company. He was out of the rut.
In 1888, when he was only 23, he took some of his savings
and purchased an interest in the first shoe store owned and
operated by Negroes in Jacksonville. It was quite a successful
venture. Lewis was becoming one of those men who, although
they may not have too much formal education, have a natural
ability for leadership, for business, and for managing money
He was also very interested in fraternal affairs; he enjoyed
them himself and felt that they gave the Negroes who be-
longed to them a very important feeling of solidarity, of
joining together to help each other. With considerable effec-
tiveness, he directed the Sons and Daughters of Jacob for years
and served as treasurer of the insurance department of the
Masonic Order. He became more and more skillful in the man-
agement of money and was learning the insurance business
as well. It was through his business ability that the imposing
Masonic Temple in Jacksonville was built-at that time one
of the most valuable structures owned by Negroes in the
State of Florida.
The venture which was to bring Lewis his greatest fame
began on a cold night in January, 1901. It was the formation
of an insurance company specifically for Negroes, and it was
started with only $100 from each of the seven founders in ad-
dition to an abiding faith in God. In March, the Afro-American
Industrial and Benefit Association was chartered by the State
of Florida and commenced operation in the intricate field of
insurance with Lewis as its Treasurer.
A. L. LEWIS
Insurance may sound like a dull and difficult subject, but
it isn't. It is about people-what happens to them and how
they deal with the things, good and bad, that occur.
Health and life insurance are probably the best-known
kinds of insurance.
The phrase that best describes insurance is sharing of
risks. In health insurance, for example, the risk you are shar-
ing is that you might get sick and have to pay doctor and
hospital bills. Some people get very sick and have a great
many medical expenses; some people have very small expenses,
or none at all. But everyone pays the insurance company the
same amount each month-let's say $5.00. Some people may
never get any money back at all, because they never get sick.
Other people, who have paid the same $5.00 a month, may have
hundreds of dollars' worth of bills for the insurance company
to pay for them. Everyone shares in the risks. Specially trained
men figure out as carefully as they can what people should
pay so that the money which people pay in-the "premiums"-
will be as low as possible and yet the company will have
enough money to pay all the claims and to stay in business.
Life insurance is another well-known type of risk-sharing,
Suppose you are a man with a wife and children. You are mak-
ing a good salary now, but you still haven't been able to save
too much money. What would happen to your wife and chil-
dren if you died? Would they have any money? Who would
take care of the children if your wife had to go out to work?
If you had life insurance, you would pay the insurance
company a premium every month or every year, then, if you
died before the rest of your family, there would be money
for your wife to live on and take care of the children if the
amount of the policy were large enough. Some people would
make only a few payments before they died, and their wives
would get a large payment. Other people would make payments
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
for fifty years and hardly get any return above their invest-
ments. All the people together have "shared the risks" through
the insurance company. So even if you never get very much
money from all the premiums you have paid, you have the
security of knowing that if anything happens, the insurance
company will help take care of things.
The Afro-Industrial and Benefit Association started out
with two kinds of insurance, health and burial. Burial insurance
is closely related to life insurance; it does not take care of
your wife and children for years, but it does provide enough
money to pay your funeral expenses. (And funerals cost more
than you might think.) It had always been difficult for Negroes
to get insurance, and the directors of the Afro-American felt
that, if they could provide low-cost policies which many
Negroes could afford, the company would make money and
they would also be doing something really helpful for their
people. For insurance is business; insurance is complicated
economics and statistics; but insurance is also people.
The company had been in business less than a year, and
had begun to make an income of just over $50 per week,
when the Jacksonville fire of 1901 devastated the town.
Eartha White, who was serving as clerk of the company,
risked her life to save the supplies and the all-important
records, upon which the continuation of the entire venture
depended. As it was, most of the physical assets of the com-
pany did get lost in the fire. The company moved to Lewis'
home, one of the few houses that had escaped destruction,
and continued its operations.
During the next eighteen years the company's capital
stock increased to $10,000, the present building at Ocean and
Union Streets was built, and the Miami Mutual Insurance
Company was purchased. This was another small insurance
company, which had run into financial trouble. There are a
A. L. LEWIS
great many laws now, both state and national, controlling the
operations of insurance companies; but there was less govern-
ment control then, and more chances of failure.
When Abram Lincoln Lewis became President of the
Afro-American in 1919, he continued to expand the company.
By the acquisition of the Chathorn Mutual Life Insurance
Company, Afro-American expanded its operations into Georgia.
Later the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company
sold its entire business in Florida to the growing Afro-Ameri-
can Industrial and Benefit Association, as it was then called.
Unfortunately, Negro insurance companies were prone
to financial trouble. They were insuring poorer people who
were greater risks, and the men who ran them often had
limited training. About the time that Lewis became president
of the Afro-American, three of the most widely known Negro
insurance companies in Florida were starting to crumble:
Citizens Life Insurance Company, Peoples Life Insurance
Company, and Keystone Life Insurance Company, all were
in deep financial trouble. This would mean not only disaster for
them, but a serious loss of prestige to the whole world of
Negro business. Thanks to Lewis' genius, the Afro-American
was in a position secure enough to absorb these failing com-
panies, without loss to anyone and with great gain to itself.
Soon the company was offering a full range of insurance
policies, and its name was changed to that which it is now,
the Afro-American Life Insurance Company.
Obviously, Lewis believed in Negro businesses. He in-
vested in them and helped to found two important organiza-
tions, the Negro Business League and the National Negro In-
surance Association. His personal wealth made it possible for
him to travel extensively, both for business and for business
combined with pleasure. In 1935, he and other prominent
business and professional men made a tour of the Republic of
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
Haiti to see if that country really presented outstanding op-
portunities for the development of large Negro businesses.
They came back convinced that conditions in the United States
were much more favorable. The subsequent chaotic history of
Haiti has more than proved their correctness.
Abrams Lincoln Lewis never lost the common touch, even
though he was considered one of the wealthiest Negroes in
his section of the country. All his life he kept up his interest
in fraternal organizations, attaining the highest possible de-
grees in the Odd Fellows and the Masons. From 1884 until
his death in 1947, he was active in the Mount Olive AME
Church where he served as Sunday School Superintendent for
a record-breaking fifty-four years, and represented the church
often at the General Conference. In an effort to improve
recreational conditions in Jacksonville, Lewis became a guiding
force in the founding of the Lincoln Golf and Country Club
with a modernistic club house and facilities. He made gener-
ous financial contributions to all Florida's Negro colleges,
served as trustee and treasurer of Edward Waters College, and
helped to finance the education of many young men and
"I managed to get where I am without education," he said.
"But mine was the unusual case. Prayer, hard work, and a
strong determination to excel are indispensable keys for un-
locking the doors to great opportunity, and with a good edu-
cation added to these qualities, more and more Negro young
people will enter business, be successful, and improve race
relations by their industrial competence and economic suffi-
ciency." In recognition of his outstanding accomplishments in
the business world, Wilberforce University in Ohio conferred
upon Abram L. Lewis in 1936 the degree of Doctor of Laws
and Letters. He continued to prove to the world that he truly
deserved this honor.
A. L. LEWIS 59
At the time of his death in 1947, the Afro-American was
worth a million and a half dollars. Under the presidency of
his son, James Lewis, it has continued to expand and in 1965
was worth six million dollars. A. L. Lewis' personal success
included the knowledge that he had taken a giant step forward
for his people. His life had proved that his formula of thrift,
industry, righteous living, and faith in God can truly help
groups lift themselves up despite oppression.
SGeorge Henry Starke
physician with a mission
Dr. Montgomery snipped off the extra pieces of bandage
and said, "There you are, George. You'll be as good as new in
a few days. And you stay out of trees for a while."
George Starke, who had suffered one of the innumerable
small accidents of boys who grow up in the country, looked
up at the doctor in awe. "How did you do that so fast?"
"Practice, George, a good education and plenty of exper-
ience. I think every boy in Alachua County falls out of a tree
once in a while."'
"It doesn't even hurt, very much. Dr. Montgomery, when
I grow up, I want to be a doctor and do the things you do."
And George did become a doctor. He attended Florida A.
and M. College, and received his M.D. degree from Meharry
Medical college in 1927. Proudly bearing his newly-earned de-
gree, he started off to investigate Lakeland, Florida, as a place
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
to begin his medical practice. On the way he stopped off to see
a physician friend in Orlando.
"Have you ever thought of settling down in Sanford?"
asked his friend.
"Sanford's a small town, and it already has three Negro
physicians," said Starke.
"Ah, there you are wrong. One of them died about six
weeks ago. There are over a thousand potential patients in
Sanford, George, and you should look into it. Let me drive you
Little did George Starke know what his friend had in
mind. They went to Sanford and drove around for awhile
looking the town over; then the friend stopped his car and
said, "Well, George, this is it."
"Now wait a minute! I don't want to stay here, Aren't you
kidnapping me ?"
"Sanford needs you. I am not taking you away, and if you
get away from here it will be on your own."
There was nothing he could do! He had no money, and
when he examined the situation a little more closely, there
were indeed many, many people in Sanford who needed a doc-
tor's services. So there he stayed. His first office (which he
continued to use for twenty-four years) was two small rooms
about nine feet square. In order to reach the people who could
not come into town to his office, he decided to buy a second-
hand car. He found a family which owned an old car, and asked
"Well," they said, "it runs. It's got a motor in it. But that's
about all you can say for it."
"I'll take it," said Starke. "And, by the way, could I board
with you while I'm getting established here in Sanford? I'm
afraid it would have to be on credit at first--"
G. H. STARKE
"Anything we can do to help you stay here, doctor," they
The new doctor soon found he had all the business he
could handle, but money continued to be a problem. Many of
his patients paid in goods, rather than in cash, and often the
value of the goods was not very near the size of the bill. (Some
people would send fruits and vegetables, or pay only a few
cents a week on their account, meeting their obligations as
well as they possibly could. Some people didn't pay at all. But
Dr. Starke said, "No one was ever refused treatment nor
asked before being seen whether he was able to pay his bill."
The coming of the Great Depression in the 1930's did not
help the financial picture. Dr. Starke and the public health
nurse of Seminole County, Mrs. Frances McDougal, toured the
county giving inoculations and treating hookworms. Later,
Mrs. McDougal estimated that out of $27,000 worth of business
one year the doctor got about $2,000-plus quite a lot of
There was a hospital in Sanford, but it was very definitely
a "whites-only" place so far as the doctors were concerned.
Dr. Starke could not operate there; he could not even see his
patients if they had to be hospitalized; instead he had to turn
them over to white physicians for hospital care. Eventually,
things changed, and Dr. Starke was permitted to treat his
own patients in the hospital. The first time he took a patient
to the hospital, he informed the white nurse that his patient
was suffering from a "ruptured ectopic pregnancy"-a case
where pregnancy occurs outside the womb. Reportedly, it is
not difficult for a doctor to recognize this when it happens.
The nurse looked at him and said, with a snort, "Who told
you that you could make a diagnosis?"
The white surgeon, somewhat more perceptive and tact-
ful, agreed with the diagnosis and let Dr. Starke watch the
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
operation. "You are the first Negro I ever saw who could
make a diagnosis," the nurse said afterwards. Dr. Starke
accepted this rather backhanded commendation as gracefully
as he could, realizing that it would be a long time before any
Negro was accepted as a competent physician in Seminole
In 1937, Dr. Starke did some post-graduate work at Har-
vard Medical School and learned about the recent discovery
of sulfa drugs. They seemed to do wonders in helping to cure
infection, but they were very new and doctors didn't know
whether to trust them or not. Some time later, back in Florida,
Dr. Starke was trying to help a patient who was seriously ill
with pneumonia. The patient was in the hospital, and thus
officially under the care of a white doctor.
"We could try this new drug, sulfa," Starke suggested,
knowing that probably nothing else could save the patient.
The white doctor looked ominous and said nothing. Dr.
Starke administered the sulfa. "If the sulfa hadn't worked,
the ax would have fallen," he said afterwards, and admitted
he had been frightened! But the sulfa worked and the patient
recovered. A few weeks later the county medical society broke
precedent and allowed Dr. Starke to become the first Negro
to practice in the hospital. Dr. Starke knew that prejudice
was still very much alive, and the emotional relationship
between a patient and doctor would certainly complicate and
inflame that prejudice. He never sought white persons as
patients, for example, because he knew that such an action
on his part would create all sorts of trouble. But he never
refused anyone, white or black, who came to seek his profess-
In 1951 he finally decided that something would have to
be done about office space. Many of his patients were re-
luctant to go to the hospital even for tests or X-rays; they
G. H. STARKE
would be less upset, and his work would be more effective, if
he had his own clinic with plenty of space and-equipment. So he
got a bank loan to finance the construction of Starke's Pro-
fessional Building, where he set up his Memorial Clinic. Today
most of his work is carried on there, and the building is con-
servatively valued at $125,000.
Under ordinary circumstances, Dr. Starke would have been
known only throughout the county and state, and to a few
people outside his own region for his fine work as a medical
examiner during World War II. But he was catapulted to na-
tional and international fame in 1951, when, on Christmas
night, a bomb planted by white racists exploded under the
home of Harry T. Moore, head of Florida's NAACP. Moore
and his wife were rushed to the hospital in Sanford, thirty
miles from their home in Mims; Moore was dead on arrival
and Mrs. Moore was critically injured. She died on January
3rd. But the skill and courage which Dr. Starke displayed
during those ten days when he fought to save Mrs. Moore's
life brought his professional worth to the attention of the
world. The January 19, 1952 issue of Time magazine carried
an article on the "Courageous Physician."
Medickie was Dr. Starke's life, and it brought great
satisfaction and real rewards to him and to his family-his
wife and three children. He could always count on consulta-
tion with his brother, Dr. Lancaster C. Starke, a physician in
DeLand, Florida. But it has had its sadness and frustrations
too; for a doctor, called upon to help a relative or a friend
for whom there really is no help, suffers in his personal re-
lationship as well as in his professional. He tells of one such
The most unforgettable thing and most painful thing
during the years of my practice was to live within a
few miles of my mother and father, and to see my
mother develop a disease which thickened the skin
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
on her arms and caused it to resemble that of an
elephant, to see her fingers become drawn, this di-
sease to spread over her entire body, her hair to drop
from her head, her skin on her face to become so
thick and nonelastic that she was unable to open her
mouth and eat. Even though she was treated in Chi-
cago for more than a year and at Mayo Brothers, she
failed to respond and finally we stood helplessly by
and saw her pass, realizing that at that time no
one in the medical profession knew enough about the
disease to assist her in warding it off. Thus, she ex-
pired and our hearts were sad and heavy because we
felt that possibly something else might have been
done that we did not know about.
Such setbacks only made him more determined to bring
the healing arts to the people of Sanford and the nearby com-
munities. Many, many people are alive and well today be-
cause Dr. George Henry Starke, the "Physician with a
Mission," watching old Dr. Montgomery, said "I want to do
the things you do," and followed up his resolve with dedica-
tion and determination.
A. S. "Jake" Gaither
a legend in athletics
i r f
In 1965, the sports editor of the Nashville Tennessean
had this to say:
Jake Gaither is in his 28th year as football coach at
Florida A. and M., already a living legend in a pro-
fession that has produced more than its share of
Many famous sports personalities have grown up with
the idea that they would make their life's work in coaching
or some other branch of athletics. But Jake Gaither had
different ideas when he was young. He was born into the
family of Jefferson Davis Gaither, an A. M. E. Zion minister
in the hill country of eastern Tennessee.
"This son," his father said, "will follow in my steps and
become a minister." His wife agreed. So Alonzo-for that is
Jake's real name-grew up with the feeling he would some-
day become a clergyman. While much of Jake's concern for
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
the ministry was due to his father's persistence, he now admits
that secretly he was more interested in becoming a lawyer.
Yet, the ministry was the life he knew-traveling from
one town to another in eastern Tennessee and Kentucky as his
father was assigned to different churches. Finally his father
became a presiding elder and they settled down in Middles-
boro, Kentucky, a small, rough mining town which Alonzo
learned to call home. There was little money in the Appala-
chian Mountains to pay clergymen, so everyone in the family
had to work. Alonzo and his brother, Alexander, shined shoes
after school, sitting in the little hole-in-the-wall which their
father had rented on the main street in town.
When Alonzo finished eighth grade, his parents considered
the problem of continuing his education. "We are sending you
to the demonstration high school at Knoxville College," his
mother said. "It's a good school, and we don't think you
should stay in Middlesboro any longer. A mining town is hardly
the place to get the type of education that you need."
"Definitely not," his father said. "Especially not for a
future clargyman. You understand that, don't you ?"
"Yes, father," said Alonzo.
He was in Knoxville, Tennessee, for eight years, attending
high school and then college. One of the first things he did was
to acquire the nickname "Jake"-no healthy, all-around boy
would want to be called Alonzo, even if he were going to be a
minister! At that time juniors and seniors in demonstration
schools were permitted to play football in the Southern Inter-
collegiate Athletic Conference, and Jake was good enough to
make the team in his junior year. In the six years that he
played he made only one touchdown, but he also missed only
one game, and was a good, steady left end.
On campus he was better known as a debater. He made
the debating team in his freshman year; the team won
A. S. GATHER
intercollegiate debates for three years. He was doing good
work, not outstanding but competent, in his major field of
social and political sciences. After college, he expected to at-
tend the seminary, and eventually be ordained. Everything
seemed to be going according to plan.
But only a few months before graduation, he received a
phone call from his father, who was attending the Annual
Church Conference in Johnson City, Tennessee. "Come at
once, his father said. "I need you." Jake rushed to Johnson
City, where he found his father seriously ill. "I want you to
read my report to the Conference," his father said, speaking
with difficulty, "your first report-and perhaps my last." It
was his last. Rev. Gaither died before the meeting was over.
Jake went back to college, very upset as anyone would be
by the sudden death of his father, but still determined to
preach. An article by him called "Why I Want to Become a
Minister" was published in The United Presbyterian that
spring. Soon Jake graduated from college. He was to have
gone to seminary that fall, he thought bitterly, but how could
he leave his widowed mother and three younger children with
no support? His older brother was at sea and could not help
out; the three children had to be educated. He would have to
find a job, but where?
The first position which turned up was that of coach at
Henderson Institute, a high school in Henderson, North Caro-
lina, directed by the United Presbyterian Church. Jake ac-
cepted it. He was hardly any older than most of his players,
and he knew nothing about coaching; the first year was a
rocky one for everyone concerned! But soon Jake Gaither
learned how to coach, and he learned to like it very much. In
the eight years he stayed at Henderson, he led his teams to
several state championships in football, basketball, baseball,
and track; he married his college sweetheart, Sadie Robinson;
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
and he started summer-school work at Ohio State University
for his master's degree in Physical Education.
"But Alonzo," his mother said tearfully, "what about
seminary ? Are you going to go like this ? Your father anointed
you to be a minister of the gospel !"
"I feel terrible, letting my family down like this," Jake
confided to his wife.
"You shouldn't," she said firmly. "You have your own
convictions; you know what you can do best and what is right
for you. Your mother and the promises that were made for you
years ago can't run your life any longer, Jake."
"I love coaching. I think I can become really good at it."
"Then do it!"
Coach Gaither's next position was at St. Paul's Normal
and Industrial Institute, a junior college in Lawrenceville,
Virginia, where in only two years that school's football team
was out of the cellar and Gaither was established as a "promis-
ing young coach in college circles." But Jake, knowing that
junior colleges had little chance of becoming real athletic
powers, began looking around for another job with more of
One of his classmates at Ohio State, also working for his
master's degree, was "Big Bill" Bell, the head coach and ath-
letic director at Florida A. and M. College in Tallahassee. "I
need an assistant football coach and basketball coach," Bell
said to Gaither, "and I think I can get you the job if you earn
your Master's degree this summer."
Jake Gaither got his master's and the job; thus began
the famous Bell-Gaither coaching combination at Florida A.
and M. Bell and Gaither concentrated on producing winning
teams in football. While football had always been the most
important sport at the college, Gaither worked as a basket-
A. S. GATHER
ball coach day and night to build up the team. In 1942 his
efforts paid off. When the annual conference tournament was
held at Tuskegee Institute, Gaither's team emerged victorious.
The fans went wild! Shouting crowds milled around the court,
where Jake was hoisted to the shoulders of his triumphant
men. But instead of sharing in the victory, Jake sat limply,
"Jake," his wife said afterwards, "you're sick."
"I'm just very, very tired," her husband replied.
"Don't you think you should see a doctor? Please?"
"Sadie, I'm just tired. It's a strain, coaching a team
through a tournament like that. I'll be all right."
But Jake didn't get better. Six months later, when he
collapsed, Dr. Earl Odom-his old friend, former schoolmate,
and teammate at Knoxville-was rushed to see him. "It's a
brain tumor," Dr. Odom said. 'I'm afraid there isn't much
time left. But we'll do everything we can."
They took Gaither to Nashville, Tennessee, where the
noted surgeon Cobb Pilcher removed two large tumors from
his brain. "We got all the tumors, I hope," said Dr. Pilcher.
"But it's doubtful that he will recover."
For days Gaither's life hung in the balance. Slowly, with
many setbacks and delays, he began to recover, and in January
of 1943 he returned to Florida. His weight was down to 137
pounds. The operation had seriously affected his equilibrim
and he leaned heavily on a cane as he tried to walk. Periods of
deep depression and confusion still came over him from time
to time. But with the help of his devoted wife and his many
friends, he gradually returned to normal. In the fall of 1944,
he was teaching a regular load of physical education classes.
But President J. R. E. Lee told Gaither that he was not to
"Why not?" asked Gaither. "I'm much better now."
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
"You know what coaching involves," the President said.
"Coaches don't just supervise the team's playing; they take
care of the boys, help them out with personal problems, suffer
with them, become emotionally involved with the team and the
players. You just barely escaped death, Jake. The strain of
coaching would be too much for you."
President Lee ran the college with an iron hand in those
days, and there was no appealing his decision to a higher
court. But Gaither still felt that he could coach, that some-
where he would find a college where he would be allowed to
do so-as much as it hurt to ever think of leaving Florida.
Then changes began to occur at Florida A. and M. Bill Bell
volunteered for service in the Army, and the next spring, in
1944, President Lee died. Gaither was appointed Acting Di-
rector of Athletics and Physical Education and assumed more
and more coaching duties as acting head coach. When Bell
returned to civilian life a year later, instead of returning to
Florida, he went to North Carolina A. and T. to become head
of the athletic program there. Gaither was left "holding the
bag"-with the coaching position he had wanted so badly!
Bell had made a good start in Florida; Gaither built on
that start. The new president, J. B. Bragg, allowed him to
select a staff of coaches comprised of former "Rattlers,"
the name of A & M players. From the beginning Jake, relied
heavily on Pete Griffin, former all-American, who had joined
the staff as line coach. Gradually, the combination of Gaither,
Tookes, Oglesby, Kittles, and Williams was assembled. Soon
they became a winning group that has remained almost in-
tact for twenty-four years. From 1945 through 1969 FAMU's
football record is 203 wins, 34 losses, and 4 ties. The team has
won the Southern Inter-Collegiate Athletic Conference title
twenty-three out of those twenty-four years, the National
Negro Collegiate Football Championship six times, and re-
A. S. GATHER
mained undefeated in 1957, 1959, and 1961. Rattler fans expect
their team to win. It seems like a major disaster when some-
one else wins!
Before 1945, Florida A. and M. had had excellent teams,
but those teams had included few Florida boys. This disturbed
Gaither. "This is a state college," he said. "Shouldn't we
have boys from our own state on our championship teams?
We need more high school coaches-I'll see if we can't per-
suade more students to major in Physical Education and
learn to coach." He remembered all the mistakes he had made
in his first year of coaching. What an experience that had
been! "And if we had a coaching clinic here at the University,
that would be a real help. I'll have to convince the Administra-
tion of that."
The new President, Dr. William H. Gray, was delighted
to initiate any programs that would improve quality. The
clinic was a great success. Not only were fine coaches and
players produced, but some very famous people helped to pro-
duce them-Daugherty of Michigan, Bryant of Alabama, Hurt
of Morgan, Broyles of Arkansas, Gayles of Langston, and
many others. On the other hand, nobody had quite thought
through the consequences! Athletes from other states had
been coming to Florida to play on the winning Rattler teams.
Now the high schools were producing such good athletes that
the boys were being tempted away by colleges with even better
football teams than Florida A. and M. Gaither discovered he
had to fight to keep the athletes which his fine system pro-
duced. "This whole state is a hunting ground for college re-
cruiters-black and white," he lamented. "I created a mon-
strosity which may destroy me."
But certainly nobody was destroyed yet. Gaither was pro-
ducing winning teams, and he felt it was time for the scouts
to make Florida A. and M. one of their places for recruiting
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
professional athletes. At that time, no one had thought much
about Negro athletes in pro football. Gaither tried and tried to
persuade the professional teams to send a scoilt to the Rattler
campus. Finally, at an American Football Coaches' Association
meeting in Washington, Gaither buttonholed Clark Shaugh-
nessey, coach and scout for the Chicago Bears.
"I know how you feel about small Negro college teams,"
Gaither said, "but I have one player who's different, and you
are missing a tremendous opportunity if you don't come have
a look at him. His name's Willie Galimore, and, believe me,
Clark, you won't be wasting your time."
Shaughnessey hesitated, then said, "All right, it can't
hurt to look."
So Willie Galimore, "Gallopin' Gal," became a trailblazer
for Florida A. and M. athletes in professional football. After
Gal's untimely death in 1964, Head Coach George Halas of the
Bears called him "one of the greatest athletes I have ever
coached." More and more men from Florida A. and M. have
entered professional ball-Lee of the Chicago Bears; Childs
with the New York Giants and Chicago Bears; Felts with the
Detroit Lions; Bob Hayes, Olympic Champion, with the Dallas
Cowboys; Hazelton with the Chicago Bears; James with the
Cleveland Browns; Dixon, Denson, Oates, and Eason in the
American Football League. "It means," said Gaither, "that a
new avenue for making a decent living has been opened to the
The flair for public speaking which Jake Gaither developed
in college makes him a popular speaker at banquets and meet-
ings of many organizations. Two highlights of his career have
been as speaker at the Look Magazine All-American Banquet
in 1964 and the American Football Coaches Association meet-
ing in 1962. At this meeting he declared that in recruiting he
looks for the boy who is "a-gile, mo-bile, and hos-tile," and
A. S. GATHER
this humorous statement has so much truth in it that it has
become popular in coaching circles. More seriously, Jake Gai-
ther sums up his philosophy:
I believe the Negro must try to excel. If he is a ditch
digger, I want him to be the best in town. If he is a
doctor, I want him to be the best in the community ...
I want him to be endowed with the burning desire to
succeed .. If he is a tackle, I want him to be the
best in the conference. But he must work harder to
win. The spirit of excellence must dominate every-
thing we do.
Gaither has received many, many awards on both the
state and national level for his career in college coaching. The
new million-dollar gymnasium at Florida A. and M. University
is named in his honor. But his most lasting reward, he feels,
is in the lives of the players whom he guides while at college
and who are making their places in the world.
As he puts it: "My boys are everywhere now. They are
doctors, lawyers, coaches, teachers, a Ph.D. or two, ministers,
businessmen, Army career officers, and professional football
players. I thank God that most of them are solid, independent
citizens. I only hope I have helped to make them what they are
today. The gridiron can become a laboratory for developing
within a player the desire to excel, not only as an athlete but
as a student who uses his God-given potential to succeed."
SRobert Lee "Bob"
"world's fastest human"
J li I
ii 'I 'Iii
Robert Lee Hayes was born to John and Mary Hayes on
December 20, 1942, in Jacksonville, Florida. His mother re-
calls that "he was a lazy baby who took a long time to walk
and was the slowest dishwasher in the family."
Away from home, even at an early age, Robert was Bob,
the speedster. He liked to run with Ernest, his older brother,
who wanted to be a boxer. Likewise, on the playgrounds of
the elementary school in Jacksonville he was the winner of
one "foot-race" after another. After Bob entered Matthew
Gilbert High School, his unusual speed was noticed by Bob
Canon, track coach, who urged the young man to join the
track team. Before Hayes graduated from high school he was
able to run the 100-yard dash in 9.6, a somewhat disappointing
record from the young sprinter's point of view.
On the other hand, Bob proclaimed football as his favorite
sport. His football coach, Earl Kitchins, utilized the sprinter's
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
speed at Gilbert High School, and Bob's reputation as a "sprint-
ing back" came to the attention of college coaches throughout
the South. Among others, Jake Gaither rushed to Jacksonville
in May, 1960 for "a talk with the young man." On September
I of the same year, Bob entered Florida A. and M. University
in Tallahassee, on a football scholarship.
Hayes' first year in college football was uneventful: he
was a slow starter! However, he labored hard in the "Rattler's
Pit," a part of the practice field reserved for freshmen only.
Early in the season Pete Griffin, line coach and then coach of
track, noticed Bob's unusual speed. Day after day, the young-
ster won the sprints on the practice field. Naturally Coach Pete
invited Bob to come out for a trial in track. Soon after the
beginning of track season, Bob's national acclaim as a "Speed-
ster to be reckoned with" began. From May, 1961 to the Olym-
pics in Tokyo in 1964, he became more and more prominent
among the track stars of the world. Hayes broke old records
to establish new ones. He traveled to track meets at home and
abroad, yet turned down almost as many as he accepted. At
the National AAU Championship Meet in St. Louis, Missouri
(1963), he established the world record of 9.1 in the 100-yard
dash. He has equaled this record five times. Because of this
feat, he was dubbed "The World's Fastest Human," an honor
he has held since 1963.
In the meantime, Bob also traveled to France, Switzer-
land, the Scandanavian countries, and Russia with various
AAU athletes that represented the United States abroad. His
most unforgettable stop, of course, was in 1964 at the Olym-
pics in Tokyo, Japan. At the Olympics, he won the 100-meter
race in 10.0 seconds, thereby tying world and Olympic records.
In a still greater feat, Bob anchored the United States 400
meter relay team to victory, making possible a new world and
Olympic record of 39 seconds. As the race ended, the thousands
R. L. HAYES
of Olympic spectators gave the young athlete a standing ova-
tion. What a glorious way to end a brilliant amateur track
It is interesting to note that Hayes' style of running
during his track career was often criticized by sports writers
here and there. In an article published in Sports Illustrated
(May 19, 1964), John Underwood gave a detailed description
of the sprinter's style:
Churning along, his pigeon toes making divots
and arms effecting great uppercuts, Hayes does not
run a race so much as he appears to beat it to death.
.. And the wonder then is not the completion of the
trip as much as the speed of it.
The young athlete's fame as the "World's Fastest Hu-
man" had no effect at all on his burning desire to be a great
football player. His college coach referred to him often as "A
football player dressed in a track uniform during track season."
He enjoyed carrying the ball! As a player at Florida A. and
M., he could be depended upon to score. Always against Texas
Southern University, he starred; for this game was played in
the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Hayes' hometown. In 1962,
Bob led his team in rushing.
Possibly his most unforgettable college game was played
in Miami's Orange Bowl, where the University Rattlers an-
nually meet a formidable foe in its own "Orange Blossom Clas-
sic." Bob had returned to the campus after the Olympics,
only a few weeks before the Classic game with Grambling
College-his last college game. He trained hard, and by Classic
time he was ready to live up to the expectations of Rattler
fans. He thrilled 40,000 wailing spectators as he caught a
45-yard pass for a touchdown. Before the game ended, he
scored two more times on short runs. FAMU won the game.
There were tears in the young man's eyes as he left the field
and the announcer exclaimed, "Here comes Florida's Olympic
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
Champion, the 'World's Fastest Human.' He sings his swan
song here tonight! Well done, Bob Hayes!"
After the Classic, Bob wanted very much to devote all
of his time to his studies. However, he found himself in de-
mand for banquets, awards, and trophies galore. He was
grateful to the many who wanted to honor him, but he was
forced to decline many invitations. He did accept a few, and he
also played in several bowl games. Hayes was the first Negro
to play in the Senior Bowl Game in Mobile, Alabama, where
he scored for the South on a long pass from Joe Namath. He
was also named the "South's Most Valuable Player" in that
In December 1964, Bob signed a two-years' contract with
the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League. His
signing was heralded with joy by his former coaches and
fans everywhere. On the other hand, the "Doubting Thomases"
vehemently shook their heads. They reasoned that a track star
could not be a credit to professional football. Jake Gaither,
Bob's college coach, protested vigorously. "He's a football
player first and a track man second," Jake barked in an inter-
view with Tom Brody, who wrote an article on Hayes for
Sports Illustrated (December 14, 1964).
So Hayes faced new challenges as he entered professional
football. His appearance in the All-Star Game in Chicago,
August, 1964, was not a brilliant one. His hands were sore and
he could not hold the ball. In fact, one All-Star coach is re-
puted to have referred to Bob as "the man with 9.1 feet and
10 flat hands." Bob took even sorer hands to Thousand Oaks,
California, the training camp site for the Dallas Cowboys.
He was called to practice the day after arrival, and immediately
he was pounced upon by some sportswriters as a "doubtful,
inept prospect." At times, Bob was discouraged and even de-
spondent as "Red" Hickey (Dallas End Coach) criticized almost
every move he made. But the young recruit was bolstered by
R. L. HAYES
the presence of his college coach on the sidelines. Jake Gaither
insisted-almost alone-that Bob could and would make the
Dallas team. In time, Bob did! According to Lynn A. Town-
send in Current Biography (September 1966, Vol. 27 no. 8):
He made so much progress that two weeks before
the start of the NFL season Tom Landry built an
offense around Hayes.
In the opening game against the New York Giants,
Hayes caught a 45 yard touchdown pass from Don
Meredith. In fourteen games Hayes caught 46
passes for 1,003 yards and 12 touchdowns.
In addition, the Cowboys were runners-up in the NFL
Eastern Division Championship Game. Hayes was elected to
the NFL All-Rookie Professional Team and played in the All-
Pro Bowl in Los Angeles, California. Even more pleasing to
Hayes was a statement given to the press by his friend and
end coach, "Red" Hickey: "The boy is coming along fine! He
has great hands, and he is coachable. He has great concen-
tration. He'll be one of the all-time greats."
Hayes' second season with Dallas was equally, or more
impressive than his first. Even Tom Landry, Coach of the
Dallas Cowboys, expressed that the fleet-footed end was able
to escape the "inevitable sophomore jinx." Bob continued to
perfect his moves, and he was able, in most of the 1966 Cow-
boys games to elude two and three defenders. Recently, Coach
Iandry referred to Hayes' explosiveness and speed as terrific
advantages in the Dallas offense. Bob had gained poise. His
ability to catch the "bomb" hurled to him by Quarterback
Don Meredith and to make the "big play" was at last estab-
lished in professional football ranks. In recognition of his
stellar performance throughout the season, Hayes was voted
Offensive Flanker End on the 1966 NFL All-Pro Team, and
again he played in the All-Pro Game in Los Angeles.
In 1967, Bob ventured into the world of business. After
purchasing a beautiful home in Dallas, he became interested
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
in the National Graphics Company, a printing enterprise in
the same city. Bob purchased a share of the business and be-
came one of its vice presidents. He reported recently that he
has obtained several printing contracts from large firms in
various parts of the country and the business is growing
For the record, some of Hayes' accomplishments in track
and football are listed as compiled by the Athletic Department
of Florida A. and M. University. He holds several meet records
and has tied several records that were later broken.
70-yard dash indoors-6.9-set at the Mason-Dixon Games in Louis-
ville, Kentucky, 1963.
60-yard dash indoors-5.9-set at National AAU Indoor Champion-
ship Meet in New York City, 1964.
100-yard dash-9.1-set at the National AAU Championship Meet
in St. Louis, Missouri, June 22, 1963.
Anchored the American 400-meter relay at the 1964 Olympics
Time: 39 seconds flat.
220-yard dash (curve)-tied the American record of 20,5 in Miami,
100-meters--0.0-set when he tied the world and Olympic record
in 1964 Olympics.
As previously mentioned, Hayes h as received many
honors during his brief athletic career. A few are listed below
as compiled by D. C. Collington, former Director of Public
Relations, Florida A. and M. University.
1962 Inducted into the Florida Hall of Fame.
1963 "Outstanding Achievement in Athletics"--awarded by South-
ern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
1964 "Most Outstanding Performer in the SIAC."
Florida's "Amateur Athlete of the Year."
Nominee for the 1964 Sullivan Award.
"Bob Hayes Day" in Jacksonville, his hometown. Presented
plaque by Mayor Haydon Burns, later Governor of Florida.
Honored by the City of Tallahassee, Florida A. and M. Uni-
R. L. HAYES 83
versity, the City of Miami, the Florida Development Com-
mission, The Florida Sentine) Bulletin, The Florida AAU, and
numerous touchdown and quarterback clubs throughout the
United states (1964-1965).
1965 "Most Valuable Player for the South" in the North-South
Shrine Football Game, Mobile, Alabama.
Presented the "Key to the City" by Tampa's Mayor Nuccio.
"Male Athlete of the Year" by the "100% Wrong Club," At-
Guest of President Lyndon B. Johnson, along with other Olym-
Played in All-Star Game in Chicago (August).
Selected on "Rookie All-Pro Team" in the NFL.
Played in "All-Pro Game."
1966 Selected "NFL OffenSive Player of the week."
Selected Flanker End on "NFL All-Pro Team,"
Played in "All-Pro Bowl."
On the football field, Hayes has continued to improve his
game. In 1968, he set a punt-return record in the NFL, and
he was elected to the 1968 NFL Coaches' Team. Coach Land-
ers recently referred to him as "a man who is constantly
trying to improve."
Some readers probably recall that Hayes, like many other
famous men, once fell into serious trouble. During his fresh-
man year in college he had a "brush with the law." As a result,
Hayes was put on ten year's probation, provided someone
acceptable to the probation authorities stepped forward as his
guardian. Jake Gaither, his college coach, assumed that re-
sponsibility. Gaither has since confided to friends that he has
never regretted his decision to be responsible for Bob during
his long probation period. But Gaither quickly adds that there
have been many, many other boosters in Bob's corer. Recently
in his hotel room in Dallas, the proud coach talked about a few
of these well-wishers:
Bob's Number One fan is his mother. She is a
wonderful little woman who has stuck by her boy
through "thick and thin." We were both mighty glad
when Governor Burns and his Pardon Commission re-
84 TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
turned the kid to full citizenship. Then, Bob has a
good wife. Altamese is an understanding, reassuring
person, the kind of wife that a man needs.
The Hayes family has recently acquired a "new
addition," Adrienne, a beautiful little baby girl.
Already she is wearing a Dallas Cowboy warm-up
outfit and promises to be her daddy's lustiest fan!
Then, there are his coaches, present and past. Bob
is the type of athlete that gets under their skins.
And there are his loyal fans from Jacksonville,
Dallas, Florida A. and M., the State of Florida, and
yes, the world. Presently, C. J. Smith (of the Market-
ing Field is sponsoring Bob in track meets for
youngsters all over the country. "Chuck tells me
that Bob is tremendous in this off-season role. Oh!
My wife and I think the boy is great-just great!
That is all I can say."
Thus, Bob, a great athlete, is now well on his way. Speed
and explosiveness have taken him from the sandy playgrounds
of Jacksonville to the Olympics in Tokyo, from athletic prowess
in high school and college to stardom as a Dallas Cowboy. The
slow starter is arriving fast.
Bob summed up his slow starts in a conversation which
followed a victorious return to FAMU after a California meet
"Congratulations, Bob," said his track coach. "But I see
the papers are still writing about your slow starts."
"Coach," replied the speedster, "I don't call my starts too
slow. I am just being cautious. You see, the start is important.
If you don't start right, you might not run. So I start slow
and cautious-like. Once I get started right, I can pass the other
So, after a slow start, Bob Hayes is on his way. Fame
and fortune have not changed him. He is still a very grateful
young man to all who encourage him as he moves speedily on
Harry Tyson Moore
martyr for freedom
I I j
I I .
Mims, Florida is a quiet town, and a small one, with a
population of only about a thousand. But on Christmas night,
1951, it was flung into national and international notoriety
when a bomb planted by white racists snuffed out the lives
of Harry T. Moore, head of Florida's NAACP, and his wife.
Little did the racists know that they were setting off a bomb
that would truly be "heard around the world." The destruction
of the Moore's small six-room cottage also helped to destroy
the foundation of a segregated society that the racists wanted
desperately to preserve. At the same time it created for Florida
Negroes the one thing which would unite them in a common
cause: an invincible martyr for freedom.
Some people have said that most civil rights trouble has
been caused by persons from outside the area. Moore was no
such outside agitator; he was not only born in the South but
in Florida, in Houston (Suwannee County), and spent all his
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
life in and around Central Florida. His parents, Stephen John
and Rosalea Alberta Moore, were uneducated, but they instilled
in young Harry a strong desire to get an education. "Fight as
hard as you can in this world for your rights," his mother
told him, "and get the best education you can. And always,
no matter what else happens, respect the rights of other
When Harry finished grammar school, he attended the
high school department of Florida Baptist Institute and
graduated in 1924. Then he started teaching. Without attend-
ing college? Yes, it was possible then. Still, Moore wanted
to receive a college degree, and by the long "one-course-at-
a-time" system of summer school studies, in 1951, he finally
received his Bachelor of Science degree at Bethune-Cookman
Meanwhile, he had married Harriette Vyda Simms and
started raising a family, and all seemed to be well. He was
an excellent teacher and administrator, and could look for-
ward to a successful career. But Moore had not forgotten his
parents' lessons: "Fight as hard as you can in this world for
your rights-respect the rights of other people." He was a
quiet, soft-spoken, self-effacing man, not the fighting sort at
all. But his determination to make a better life for himself and
for all of Florida's Negroes involved him in a real struggle that
became open warfare.
For seventeen years, Moore traveled through Florida, orga-
nizing NAACP branches, investigating lynchings, protesting
acts of police brutality, organizing voter registration cam-
paigns, and in general encouraging Negroes to "unite and
help themselves." He was president of the Brevard County
Branch of the NAACP and later president, then state coordi-
nator, of the Florida Conference of the NAACP.
H. T. MOORE
In 1945, Moore and Edward D. Davis of Howard Academy
in Ocala joined together to institute teacher pay equalization
suits. Negro teachers in Florida worked as hard or harder than
white teachers, but their salaries were lower. Demanding
"equal pay for equal work," Moore and Davis provided the
leadership to get funds for court trials. Both men lost their
jobs because of their militancy-so did Moore's wife, who had
also been teaching at the Mims Negro Elementary School.
Moore and Davis also organized the Progressive Voters'
League of Florida, which opened the Democratic primary to
Negroes after the white primary was declared illegal in April
1944. They angered more people in 1949, when they tried to
get eight qualified Negroes enrolled in the University of Flori-
da for graduate work.
What was Central Florida like in the late 1940's and early
1950's? It was ready to explode with the racial tension that
was building up. In 1949, four Negroes were arrested and
charged with raping a white woman on a lonely road near
Groveland. One of the accused men was killed by a posse; the
others allegedly confessed and were tried for the crime of rape.
The youngest was sentenced to life imprisonment; Samuel
Shepherd and Walter Lee Irvin, both 23, were given the death
Moore immediately called together the other Florida
NAACP leaders and the lawyers who handled the Association's
"We have got to do something about this case," Moore in-
sisted. "These men simply did not get a fair trial. Men hunt-
ed down by posses, dubious confessions, improper courtroom
procedure--what sort of justice is that ?"
"People become emotional over crimes such as rape."
"Of course they do; but shouldn't people also become emo-
tional about miscarriage of justice ?"
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
"Do you think the men are innocent?" one of the lawyers
"That is for a jury to decide," said Moore, "But a jury
legally and constitutionally chosen-as this one was not!
Negroes have had to endure false justice for years. Now we
have a test case, and I think we can win."
The State Supreme Court upheld the convictions of the
three men, but the United States Supreme Court, in the spring
of 1951, ordered a new trial because the jury had not been
chosen legally. How stirred up people were! The militant white
people were thinking that "the United States Government is
meddling in our affairs that are none of its business." Their
wives and daughters lived in fear of rapists, and here were all
sorts of people coming to the defense of such criminals!
Negroes, on the other hand, were asking, "Have we no defense
against people who take the law into their own hands?" Mob
violence had erupted when a group of Negro homes in Grove-
land was set on fire. The riot was quickly put down, but no ac-
tion was taken against known leaders of the mob.
Death struck again in the Groveland case when the sheriff
allegedly shot and killed Shepherd and seriously wounded
Irvin. The sheriff claimed that the men had tried to escape
while en route to a hearing at Tavares, Florida; but Irvin
claimed that the sheriff had shot Shepherd deliberately and
had tried to kill him, too. Evidence seemed to favor Irvin, but
a coroner's jury ruled that the sheriff had acted properly to
prevent the escape.
Violence exploded time and time again during 1951. Across
the state, Melvin Womack, an Oakland Negro was lynched by
a white mob in May. Earlier in the year, Willie Vincent had
been beaten by three white men and thrown, with a fractured
skull, from a speeding car. Luther Coleman, a school janitor,
was beaten up, and a teen-aged shoe shine boy, Jimmy Wood-
H. T. MOORE
yards, was shot five times. James Gallon and his son were
severely beaten by a mob.
Finally Negro groups and white liberals managed to bring
enough pressure on the state government so that Repre-
sentative Akridge of Brevard County sponsored House Bill
358, known as the "Florida Anti-Mob and Lynching Act." A
similar bill was introduced into the Senate, and Akridge also
sponsored a bill to pay teachers "equal salaries on the basis
of training and experience with no rating system." Moore also
wanted a bill to stop police brutality, but nobody would sponsor
it. The bills to curb lynching and create equal pay scales were,
however, a start, and Moore plunged into the task of trying
to get them passed.
Moore's life had been threatened many times by white
racists. Family and friends had tried to make him aware of
the danger, but he replied, "If I sacrifice my life or health, I
still think it is my duty to my race." A strong Christian
commitment underlay this passion for human rights and dig-
nity. The violent events of 1951 had inflamed the opposition
too far; Moore did make the supreme sacrifice when the bomb
exploded under their little yellow cottage in an orange grove.
Who murdered Mr. and Mrs. Moore? Nobody knows; at
least, the case is still officially listed as "unsolved." George
Sharpe, who lived near the Moores, heard the explosion and
saw a car speed past his house from the direction of the
Moores' home. He could not give chase, though, because he
had to get the Moores to the hospital in Sanford, thirty miles
away. Moore was dead on arrival; his wife died nine days
Reaction to the brutal murder was immediate. FBI, state,
and county officials combed the debris for clues. Bloodhounds
tracked the killers as far as they could. A reward of $5,000
was offered by the Governor for information leading to the
TWELVE BLACK FLORIDIANS
arrest and conviction of the guilty men, but it was never paid.
The rest of the world, too, reacted to the murders. Russia's
Foreign Minister, Andrei Vishinsky, flung the incident in the
face of the American United Nations delegation-including one
Negro delegate. Nearly every major foreign newspaper fea-
tured the story in a prominent position, and the United States
was condemned by people all over the world.
Can the actions of a few fanatics-condemned by an over-
whelming number of their fellow citizens-be held against a
country? Do other people judge a country by a single incident ?
Without thinking, some people would condemn a whole nation
for crimes committed by a few. Others realized that there
were only a few Americans who would attempt to settle their
disagreements with dynamite or TNT. But, they still asked,
what sort of society is this, where blacks are denied their civil
rights and due process of law; where such tension and hatred
can fester for so long; where men will kill to preserve a way of
life which is in direct opposition to the ideals that country
stands for? Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt declared, "That kind of
violent incident will be spread all over every country in the
world and the harm it will do us among the people of the
world is untold." Ebony magazine proclaimed, "The bomb and
its repercussions symbolized dramatically a new era in U.S.
race relations.... The bomb demonstrated conclusively that
U.S. racists must answer to a new judge and jury-world
After Moore's death, one die-hard segregationist, who had
come to see the remains of the shattered house, was overheard
saying, "That's one coon who will keep his mouth shut." But
most Americans were becoming increasingly angry at racial
bigots and extremists. More people protested Moore's death
than had reacted to any other racial event for decades. Even
an Assistant Attorney General of Florida, Hubert Griggs,
H. T. MOORE 91
said: "Although I did not agree with Moore in many things, I
respected him as a citizen. Brevard County has lost a valuable
citizen." Many white people were determined that they would
not be classified with the few people who would commit such
cowardly and dastardly acts. Furthermore, Moore's death
cemented the efforts of black Floridians in their struggle for
greater dignity and equality by providing them with an in-
vincible martyr for freedom.