African American History Month
In honor of African American History Month, the Historical Society of Palm Beach County celebrates some of the county’s notable African American residents.
African American History Month dates to the first Negro History Week celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. This was the idea of Carter G. Woodson, known as the “Father of Black history.” Woodson had received his Ph.D. in history from Harvard University in 1912. The reaction to the holiday in 1926 from African Americans and progressive whites was overwhelming.
During the nation’s bicentennial celebration, President Gerald Ford officially established Black History Month (also known as African American History Month). President Ford stated, “We can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history. I urge my fellow citizens to join me in tribute to Black History Month and the message of courage and perseverance it brings to all of us.”
CourtseyThe Palm Beach Post.
Ottis Jerome Anderson (1957-)
Ottis Jerome Anderson was born in West Palm Beach, where he dominated the football team at Forest Hill High School in the early 1970s. Anderson has attributed his passion for the game to his late brother, Marvin “Smoke” Anderson, a star athlete at all-black Roosevelt High who died in college.
At the University of Miami from 1975-79, Anderson earned a degree in physical education on a full athletic scholarship. He was the first Miami player to rush for more than 1,000 yards in one season, a record he held for 24 years. The Sporting News and the American Football Coaches named him First Team All-American.
The St. Louis Cardinals chose Anderson in the first round of the 1979 NFL Draft. He became the first rookie running back to average 100 yards per game and was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, NFL Rookie of the Year, and All-Pro; he earned All-Pro again in 1980 and 1981.
The New York Giants traded for Anderson in October of 1986. Later that season, he scored the final touchdown in the Giants’ Super Bowl XXI victory. Anderson became the Giants’ starting running back the following season, scoring three rushing touchdowns in a single game. In 1989 Pro Football Weekly and Football Digest named him NFL Comeback Player of the Year. A year later, at age 34, Anderson became the oldest Super Bowl MVP in history in Super Bowl XXV. He earned a place in the NFL’s 10,000 Yard Club, and was named to the All-Madden Team.
Anderson retired after the 1992 season. He runs the NFL alumni chapter for the New York-New Jersey area, but has returned to appear at NFL Skills Camp for youths in Riviera Beach. Anderson was inducted into the Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame in 1982.
Clarence Anthony (1959-)
Prior to settling in South Bay, Clarence E. Anthony’s family moved up and down the east coast of the United States as migrant workers. In 1984, the City of South Bay elected the 24-year-old as mayor, a position Anthony held until 2008. He holds a bachelors degree in Social Science and an M.P.A., in public administration, both from Florida Atlantic University. The 4,000-square-foot Palm Beach County South Bay Library Branch was renamed the Clarence E. Anthony Branch in his honor. Anthony has served on the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, the Federal Judicial Nominating Committee, Leadership Florida’s board of directors, Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Foundation board, the Florida Environmental Land Management Study Commission, and the Federal Government Everglades Ecosystem Task Force. He is president and CEO of West Palm Beach-based Anthony Government Solutions, Inc.
L.E. Buie (1914-2003)
Originally from Georgia, community activist and leader Louise Elizabeth Buie moved to West Palm Beach in 1925 with her family. Throughout her life she championed equality, leading the charge on many fronts to integrate public and private facilities and jobs. While working as an insurance agent, Buie held board positions with several local organizations, including the local chapter of the NAACP, where she served many years as president. In 2004, the Florida Legislature designated the Skypass Bridge in Riviera Beach as the “L.E. Buie Bridge” in her honor.
Courtesy The Palm Beach Post.
Robert Calvin “Bobby” Butler (1959- )
Robert Calvin “Bobby” Butler was born in Boynton Beach to Emma J. Butler and the Reverend Richard W. Butler. Bobby graduated from Atlantic Community High School, Delray Beach (1977). Butler led the War Eagles to the state championship games in 1976 and 1977 and was the second alumnus from Atlantic High School to go on to the National Football League (NFL).
At Florida State University (FSU), Butler made contributions in both football and track and field. From 1977-1980, he was a defensive back. He ranks seventh on FSU’s career list with eleven interceptions. During Butler’s years as a Seminole, the team was 39-8. They played in three bowl games: the Tangerine Bowl against Texas Tech in 1977, and the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma State in 1980 and 1981. The Associated Press chose Butler as an Honorable Mention for its annual All-American squad in 1979, and for third-team All-American in 1980. The Newspaper Enterprises Association chose him in 1980 as first-team All-American.
Butler’s track and field career at FSU lasted two years. During the 1979-80 season, he participated in the sprint and long jump. The following season he added the relay and helped his team finish third in the NCAA Championship 4 x100-meter relay. In 1987 Bobby Butler was elected into the FSU Hall of Fame.
The Atlanta Falcons selected Butler in the first round (25th overall) of the 1981 NFL Draft, and he played for them his entire career (1981-92). His rookie season was his best, when he intercepted five passes for 86 yards.
One of Butler’s sons, Brenton, played basketball for Fordham University in New York. Another son, Brice, was rated the third best high school wide receiver in the United States in his senior year and was recruited by the University of Southern California.
Warren Hale Collie (1894-1969)
Warren Hale Collie was born in St. Augustine and arrived in West Palm Beach sometime before 1910, when his family’s name appeared in the census. His father, John M. Collie, was born in Nassau, the Bahamas, and in 1910 worked as a bartender and saloonkeeper. He also owned a cigar store, pool hall, and apartment building in the area of Rosemary Avenue and Banyan Street, West Palm Beach.
Collie finished dental school in 1917 and served as a dentist in France a year later with the 808th Pioneer Infantry. Warren Collie opened a dental office near his father’s property until Hazel A. Augustus, the town’s first black architect, built the Collie Building. Augustus, born in Orlando in 1887, also built the Payne Chapel AME Church and Tabernacle Baptist Church before he was killed in a traffic accident in 1926.
Collie was one of the county’s first two black dentists. Honored for his many decades of professional service, he was also a prominent leader in the local African American community, working to improve community services and race relations.
Courtesy The Palm Beach Post.
Frank Malcolm Cunningham Sr. (1927-1978)
Frank Malcolm Cunningham Sr. was born in Plant City, Florida, one of eight children in a farming family. He attended Florida A&M University, where he met and married Nealia Brookins (1925-2001) of West Palm Beach. Because no Florida law school would admit blacks at the time, Cunningham received his legal education at Howard University. He opened the first black law practice in West Palm Beach in 1953 on Rosemary Avenue, where his brother, T. J. Cunningham, joined him in 1960.
Malcolm Cunningham became the first black since Reconstruction to be voted into public office in Florida when he was elected to the Riviera Beach Town Council in 1962. He left in 1968, as chairman, and returned to his law practice, which is one of Florida’s oldest black law firms.
Cunningham was the first black to serve as city attorney for Riviera Beach and made two unsuccessful runs for the Florida Legislature. Cunningham worked with attorney William F. Holland to force school desegregation and helped to form a Progressive Citizens group in Belle Glade and to integrate the Florida Turnpike’s facilities and West Palm Beach's golf courses. Malcolm and T. J. Cunningham co-founded First Prudential Bank in 1973, the first minority-owned commercial bank in Florida, which became Southcoast Bank Corp.
Cunningham’s many awards and honors include the naming of the F. Malcolm Cunningham, Sr. Bar Association, representing primarily black lawyers, and Cunningham Park in Riviera Beach. The Palm Beach Post wrote, “Whatever is ‘open’ about Palm Beach County politics, schools, housing and jobs is due in large part to F. Malcolm Cunningham, Sr.’s leadership.”
Derek Ricardo Harper (1961- )
Courtesy The Palm Beach Post.
Derek Ricardo Harper, from Elberton, Georgia, graduated in 1980 from North Shore High School, West Palm Beach, where he led the basketball team as point guard to the 1980 state championship. As a junior, Harper was chosen MVP in the annual Palm Beach Times Holiday Invitational. In 1987 Harper became a sponsor of the tournament, renamed the Derek Harper Holiday Basketball Classic, and then the D-Hop Classic.
At the University of Illinois, Harper set a school record for field goals and led the Big Ten in steals in 1982 and 1983. He declared himself eligible for the 1983 NBA Draft after his junior year, when he averaged 15.4 points per game. The Dallas Mavericks chose him in the first round.
After eleven seasons with Dallas (1984-94), Harper was their all-time leader in assists, steals, and three-pointers. He ranked third in points and seventh in rebounds. Harper was also the first Dallas player ever to be named to the NBA All-Defensive Team (1986-87 and 1989-90).
In 1994 Harper was traded to the New York Knicks, who he helped reach the NBA Finals. Dallas brought him back as a free agent 1996-97 to mentor their younger players, then traded him to the Orlando Magic. After one year, Harper signed with the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent, providing leadership for younger teammates Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. The next season Harper retired.
Harper was only the second player in NBA history with 15,000 career points, 6,000 assists and 1,800 steals. He appeared in 90 playoff games.
Harper moved into broadcasting in Dallas, co-hosting Mavericks pre- and post-game shows. He has a ticket section in Dallas called "Harper's House," which donates Mavericks tickets to non-profit groups.
Mildred “Millie” Gildersleeve (1858–1950)
Millie Gildersleeve was a freed slave from Georgia who came to the area about 1876 with the Dimick family. In June 1889 she was married, on the lawn of E. N. “Cap” Dimick’s Palm Beach home, to M. Jacob “Jake” Gildersleeve (1857-1931), who had come from Gainesville four years earlier. Millie and Jake owned a vegetable farm west of the Oak Lawn Hotel on land purchased from the Dimicks for $225 in 1890. About 1886 Millie became midwife to Dr. Potter, who would call for her in a naphtha launch at her dock with a toot of his whistle. She later worked for Russell Hopkins. Millie had five children; her daughter Katy was probably the first black girl born on Lake Worth. Her descendants still live in Palm Beach County.
Alcee Hastings (1936-)
Courtesy US Congress.
Born in Altamonte Springs, Alcee Hastings attended Florida's public schools, and graduated from Fisk University in 1958. He earned his law degree from Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. President Jimmy Carter appointed Hastings in 1979 as the first African American federal judge in the State of Florida. Hastings served in the position for 10 years. In 1992 he was elected to the U.S. Congress, representing District 23, which was changed to Distinct 20 because of redistricting in 2012. With his election, Hastings became the first African American from Florida to serve in Congress since the Civil War’s Reconstruction period.
William Holland Sr. (1922-2002)
William “Bill” Meredith Holland was born in Live Oak, Florida. After earning a B.A. from Florida A & M, he was refused entrance to the University of Florida law school because of his race. When he challenged the system he was given a free education at a university of his choice, and he chose Boston University Law School, where he received his Juris Doctorate and met Martin Luther King. The Honorable Thurgood Marshall also served as a mentor to Holland while charting his strategic plans for civil rights that would become his life work. Holland was the first African American attorney and the first African American municipal judge in Palm Beach County. He joined the NAACP Legal Defense League where they worked to fight racial injustice. Holland helped to integrate county transportation, municipal recreation facilities, libraries, and cemeteries.
Holland was one of Palm Beach County's major civil rights champion. In 1956 his 6-year-old son was refused entry to an all-white school in West Palm Beach (Northboro Elementary). Holland filed a federal lawsuit. Token integration took place in 1961, but, despite death threats, Holland returned to the courts again and again seeking equal educational opportunity. Finally, in 1973, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the county’s school system was fully integrated.
In 1996 Holland was the first black in Palm Beach County to have a public building named for him when the School District of Palm Beach County renamed its administrative site the Fulton Holland Educational Service Center.
Alex Hughes (1867-1977)
Alex Hughes, one of Boca Raton’s early African American pioneers, had come to Deerfield from Monticello, Florida with his wife Florence to seek their fortune in the newly developing South Florida. He found work on the Chesebro family’s farm located south of Palmetto Park Road and between Dixie Highway and the Intracoastal Waterway. Hughes bought one of the first lots in the new Pearl City for $25, with $10 down. He recalled, “All that was here when I first came was a lot of palmettos, spruce pines and mosquitoes.” In Pearl City he built a small wooden house with his own hands. Widowed in 1917, he later met and married a widow with six children—Annie Dolphus Spain. Despite the small income he earned as a farm laborer, his strong faith helped him shelter, feed, and raise the six boys as if they were his own. Annie also worked, cleaning peoples’ homes. They had a garden to supplement their income. There they raised greens, sweet potatoes, and other vegetables. They also kept hogs, chickens, and a cow for milk. Huckleberries and grapes, picked on family outings, were used to make pies and preserves. Squirrels, rabbits, and all sorts of fish provided additional sources of protein.
Alex quickly became a leader in his community, putting his construction and leadership skills to good use. As soon as Pearl City had enough residents, he started a Sunday School at his home. When local residents wanted to build their own church, Alex convinced pioneer George Long to give them a lot and helped build the structure that in 1920 became the Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal Church. He continued to serve an active role in this church throughout his life. He also helped acquire the land for the Ebenezer Baptist Church. These churches served as the center for social as well as religious activities in Pearl City.
As Pearl City grew, Alex Hughes recognized the need for a school for the community’s children. He knew the value of a good education. Alex only completed the first seven grades in school. After the seventh grade, he dropped out of school to work to help send his siblings to school in Tallahassee when he was a teenager in Monticello. During the days of segregation, black students were not allowed to attend the nearby school for white students. Alex recalled, “I went to the Board of Public Instruction in West Palm Beach. They told me that if I could find eight children, they would provide a teacher. I came right on back and mustered up eight children and they sent a teacher down, Miss Robinson…” For a building, the School Board provided the former school for white children. The two-room wooden building was moved from its original site, just west of the FEC Railway tracks on Palmetto Park Road, to a new site on Dixie Highway and Eleventh Street in 1923.
Long after most of Mr. Chesebro’s original farmland had been sold off and developed, Alex Hughes continued to work as caretaker on the last surviving acre, located south of Palmetto Park Road near Dixie Highway. There he tended the tropical fruit trees, banyans, and a large patch of Amaryllis lilies, grown from seeds planted in 1932. An avid gardener, Alex maintained the site, selling blooms and bouquets for the property owners for over sixty years.
In 1972, the City of Boca Raton named a playground in Pearl City after Alex Hughes, of which he was quite proud. He continued to work until two months before his death at age 92 in 1977. His son George recalled that his father was a hard man to keep up with—his work “kept him going.” Alex Hughes was also well known and respected throughout the city of Boca Raton. His neighbor Mrs. Fannie Mae Albury, also a long time resident of Pearl City, remembered Alex as “kind and soft-spoken. Everybody loved Mr. Hughes, white and black.” By Susan Gillis, Boca Raton Historical Society and Museum.
Thomas Leroy Jefferson (1867-1939)
Courtesy The Palm Beach Post.
Thomas Leroy Jefferson was born in Hazelhurst, Mississippi. His light-skinned father, Thomas Jefferson, was a leading citizen in Hazelhurst after the Civil War. According to family legend, he was related to President Thomas Jefferson through Sally Hemmings, one of Jefferson’s slaves.
Jefferson taught school in New Iberia, Louisiana, while he ran a drugstore. He attended Meharry Medical School in Nashville, Tennessee, and first practiced medicine in Orange, Texas, and New Orleans, Louisiana. About 1900, he moved his family to Palm Beach, where he opened a medical office in the black community known as the “Styx.”
By 1912, after the residents of the Styx moved to West Palm Beach, Jefferson opened a medical office on North Olive Avenue and a drugstore at Clematis Street and Rosemary Avenue. He was the first black physician in West Palm Beach, nicknamed the “bicycle doctor” because he was frequently seen cycling around town, elegant and upright, with his black medical bag.
Jefferson retired when he was 60, but two years later the stock market crash of 1929 left him broke. He returned to providing medical care to the black community until a few years before he died.
Courtesy The Palm Beach Post.
Dr. Joseph Wiley Jenkins (1901-1950)
Joseph Wiley Jenkins was born in Summerville, South Carolina. He met and married Roberta Robinson (1907-2002) in Tampa, where she was studying, in 1929. Jenkins came to West Palm Beach to work with Edward Priestly at the Palm Garden drugstore, and in 1937 opened the Economical Drug Store at Rosemary Avenue and Fourth Street. Located in the center of the black entertainment district near the Grand Theater, the store became a popular gathering place. Jenkins ran the pharmacy until his death; Roberta operated the store for two more years. She had taught elementary school for forty years and was instrumental in establishing a local chapter of a sorority for black educators.
In 1946 the Jenkins built a two-story house at 1117 Division Avenue, West Palm Beach, with columns and a balcony in the plantation style of Roberta’s native North Carolina. Building materials came from Winter Haven, Florida, and all the construction was done by black contractors. The Jenkins home became a meeting place for West Palm Beach’s black society. The City of West Palm Beach bought the house to save it from demolition and relocated it to a vacant lot at 815 Palm Beach Lakes Blvd. After renovations, it opened in 2001 as headquarters for the Artists Showcase of the Palm Beaches, exhibition space for culturally diverse artists. "We're going to teach kids about their heritage through art," said Willie James, the museum's executive director.
Ulysses Bradshaw “U.B.” Kinsey (1914-2005)
Courtesy The Palm Beach Post.
Ulysses Bradshaw “U.B.” Kinsey was born the third of ten children in Fort White, in northern Florida. His father sold the family farm and bought a grocery store in West Palm Beach about 1930. Kinsey graduated from all-black Industrial High School, where Principal Clarence Walker inspired him to reach high in life. Although Kinsey hoped to become a lawyer, the University of Florida accepted only whites at that time; Kinsey graduated in 1941 from Florida A&M University.
Kinsey’s first teaching position was at his alma mater, Industrial High School. During his first year, the Palm Beach County School Board raised the pay of the white teachers. Kinsey joined the newly established Palm Beach County Teachers Association for black teachers, which challenged school officials. When they were denied, they organized and won a class-action lawsuit with the help of future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Industrial High School was renamed Palmview Elementary in 1950, with Kinsey appointed principal. In response to the segregation of his youth, Kinsey was a stickler for respect and insisted on being called “Mr. Kinsey.” He arrived at the county warehouse early each year to secure new books and supplies for Palmview, instead of just accepting the leftovers the all-black schools usually received.
When Kinsey retired, the Palm Beach County Commission designated the week of September 16-22, 1989, as “Ulysses B. Kinsey Week.” Soon after, Palmview Elementary was renamed U. B. Kinsey Elementary School.
Eva Williams Mack (1915-1998)
Eva Williams Mack was born in Alabama. She earned a nursing degree at Simmons College, Boston, trained in Atlanta, and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Columbia University. After completing her education, Mack moved to West Palm Beach in 1948 and worked as a public health nurse with Dr. Carl Brumback, Palm Beach County’s first public health director.
Mack was the first health specialist for the Palm Beach County School Board, and founded the Sickle Cell Disease Foundation of Palm Beach County in 1979. She and Ruby Bullock became the first African American city commissioners of West Palm Beach in 1978. Mack was elected mayor of West Palm Beach in 1982 and served two one-year terms.
C. Spencer Pompey (1915-2001)
Courtesy Ruth Pompey.
C. Spencer Pompey was a local Civil rights activist, author, teacher, and principal who founded the Palm Beach County Teachers’ Association for black teachers.
Pompey was one of three black teachers behind a class-action lawsuit in 1942 against the Palm Beach County School Board and its superintendent protesting a $25-per-month difference in the salaries of white and black teachers. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who was then an NAACP lawyer, won the case for the black teachers.
Pompey also protested Delray Beach's whites-only beach in the 1950s and pushed for the first organized recreation programs for the city's black children. He was a coach and social studies teacher at the formerly all-black Carver High School in Delray Beach before becoming principal there. Hattie Ruth Pompey, his wife of fifty-two years, was a respected educator as well. After her husband’s death, she published his manuscript for the book, More Rivers To Cross.
Edward Rodgers (1927-)
After serving in the Navy Hospital Corps during World War II, Edward Rodgers attended Howard University on the GI Bill. There he was able to observe civil rights activists such as Thurgood Marshall, and met and married Gwendolyn Baker of West Palm Beach. They settled here in 1950.
As a teacher at Roosevelt High School, Rodgers protested unequal pay for black teachers, which led him to enroll in law school to do more for equal rights. He was accepted by University of Miami until they learned he was black, and instead he headed for Florida A&M in Tallahassee.
At FAMU Rodgers started achieving “firsts” as first in his class of six (including future federal judge and Congressman Alcee Hastings). He practiced briefly with F. Malcolm Cunningham, Sr. before starting his own practice on Rosemary Avenue as the fifth black lawyer in the county. In 1964 State Attorney Marvin Mounts appointed Rodgers the first African American county prosecutor. Then he quickly moved to the county’s first black assistant state attorney and first African American judge, then Florida’s first black circuit court judge, where he was chief judge for a time. Between appointments, from his private practice, Rodgers forced desegregation by suing the Children’s Home of Juvenile Court and the West Palm Beach Police Department.
In 1991 Judge Rodgers achieved his greatest personal achievement: the first Drug Court in Riviera Beach, which was then replicated in Delray Beach and West Palm Beach. Instead of watching drug and alcohol abusers going to jail, their concerned family and friends could initiate a hearing to consider treatment instead. A year later the prestigious Jefferson Award at the U.S. Supreme Court recognized this effort by Rodgers.
Since retiring from the law in 1995, Judge Rodgers has received other awards and served on special commissions. In Riviera Beach, where he lives and served as city councilman and mayor, the Post Office was renamed for Edward Rodgers in 2004.
Soloman D. Spady (1887-1967)
Courtesy EPOCH/Spady Cultural
Soloman D. Spady came to Delray in 1922. He was the third African American public school principal/teacher assigned to Delray Beach. He came here upon the recommendation of Booker T. Washington, the founder and president of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Mr. Spady’s tenure lasted thirty-five years during which he became one of the most influential African Americans in Delray Beach.
Mr. Spady was born January 17, 1887, in Cape Charles, Virginia. He completed his education in the public schools there and graduated from Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in 1912. He stayed on to teach at the Institute for one year and the following year, taught physics at Virginia Union University. In 1914, he received a teaching certificate from the State of Virginia and began his career in public education in Cape Charles. Spady became affiliated with the New Farmers of America, the largest black youth farm organization in the world. During this time, he formed a lasting acquaintance with the renowned agricultural chemist Dr. George Washington Carver.
In 1922, Spady came to Delray Beach the recommendation of Booker T. Washington, the founder and president of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. In 1926, Spady married Jessie B. Green, the daughter of a prominent local family. They had no children. Spady was the third African American public school principal/teacher assigned to Delray Beach. Delray County Training School, established in 1895, had originally been named Delray Colored Number 4. The school had an enrollment of a hundred children in grades one through eight. By 1934, under his tutelage, the student body had grown to 336 in grades one through ten. In 1937, the school was renamed George Washington Carver High School; the first twelfth-grade class graduated two years later.
“Prof,” as Spady was affectionately called, also taught agriculture and woodshop classes. His students competed at the local, state, and national levels. His instruction included working with his “boys” to cultivate ten acres of land and to prepare crops for sale. There were trips to Tallahassee for agricultural contests, which his students often won. In 1936, Lester C. Albert even received the Superior Farmer Award from the National Organization.
His woodshop class painted the school building, erected steps, and repaired furniture and farm tools. They also made Spady’s office desk. Spady attended summer school to keep abreast of higher education.
As expected of principals at that time, Spady planned a functional course of study. His plan trained students so that they were able to excel in outstanding institutions of higher learning such as Tuskegee Institute, Hampton Institute, Atlanta University, South Carolina State, Morris Brown University, and Florida A and M. He also organized extra-curricular activities: drama club, two literary societies, a glee club, sports teams, a parent-teacher association, and at least three entertainments that brought the community together through the school. Spady always encouraged students to strive to be the best at anything they did.
Spady became one of the most influential African Americans in Delray Beach. He was an active member of Mt. Olive Baptist Church, where he served as church clerk, Sunday School teacher, Baptist youth teacher, and group leader of church rallies. Spady was Grand Master of Lodge N. 275, head of the Order of Good Samaritan and other service organizations, and chairman of the local Red Cross drive.
Spady served as principal for twenty-eight years; after which he served seven years as a classroom teacher retiring from the county’s public school system on May 28, 1957. Shortly afterwards he returned to his hometown in Cape Charles, Virginia.
When asked about his philosophy, Spady said, “My philosophy is simple – God, country and the people first; self last. Face your daily problems prayerfully; keeping in mind that the highest service to God and to yourself is to serve your fellow man.”
The Spady home at 170 Blackmer Street, renamed NW 5th Avenue, was constructed in about 1925-1926. It is a two-story, single-family, rectangular residence, in stucco over frame construction on a stone foundation. It was considered a step above other Delray homes, which were primarily wooden structures. It is in the very distinguishing Mission Revival style, with a rough stucco finish. It has eight rooms, four upstairs and four downstairs. The porch roof is flat, outlined with copper trim. The openings of the original screen porch were later enclosed with aluminum awning windows. A chimney projects from the south facade wall and is capped with a bell tower. The Spady home was the first in the area to have indoor plumbing, a telephone, and electricity. Spady also had an unattached garage for his automobile. This is the building EPOCH chose for the S. D. Spady Cultural Arts Museum in honor of Professor Spady.
In 1958, a new high school building was erected on S.W. 12th Avenue in Delray Beach. Carver High School moved to that site and the old school building became S. D. Spady Elementary School in his honor.
Spady departed this life in Cape Charles, Virginia, November 25, 1967 at age 82. His legacy lives on in the lives he touched.
In 1998, the City of Delray Beach nominated Spady for the GREAT FLORIDIANS 2000 award. He was selected as an Unsung Hero posthumously. His family accepted the award Sunday, February 28, 1999 at the Trinity United Methodist Church in West Palm Beach, Florida. A replica is displayed in the museum that was once his home. By Vera Farrington.
Alfred “Zack” Straghn (1928-)
Alfred “Zack” Straghn, one of four “village elders” of the West Atlantic Community of Delray Beach, was born in this city. Intrigued by George Coleman, another African American who owned a funeral home, Straghn decided to enter the field at a young age. He was the child who always buried the dead farm animals, creating a funeral service and enlisting other children as participants. Straghn who runs the family business with his three sons had provided services for almost 10,000 people since being in the funeral business. The business has grown tremendously as one son serves as embalmer, one is the public relations manager, and the other son is the business manager.
He attended Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida where he earned a bachelor’s degree. When he returned to Delray, he managed Coleman’s business from 1951-1979. He then founded Straghn and Sons Tri-City Funeral Home, where joined by his three sons. Alfred Straghn is a native of Palm Beach County and was born in Delray Beach. Straghn has been a very active member of several strong community organizations, including the NAACP. Many adults in the community remember him as their Sunday school teacher, a position he has held for many, many years. Though not one to tout his generosity, he is a philanthropist and has provided assistance to many when needed for professional services, clothing, tuition, food, utilities, etc. While he received many honors, trophies, and plaques, a singular honor was when he was recognized as a Distinguished Man of Excellence by the Delta Heritage Foundation. Written by staff at the School District of Palm Beach County.
Clarence Walker (1880-)
Principal Clarence Walker came to Delray’s School #4 the 1913-14 school year. This was in the time of school segregation. It is believed that African Americans settled in what later became Delray Beach before pioneers of European descent. The small community on the west side of town had petitioned the Dade County School Board for a school (before 1911 Delray was in Dade County) and had established churches and civic clubs in the late 19th century. However, the school started with such high hopes, had become disorganized and dispirited because of the hard life of pioneer days and because School #4 was only in session 6 months each year so that African American students could work in agriculture. Dade County Board of Public Instruction minutes of February 12, 1907, reveal that the superintendent reported that he had suspended School No. 4 in Delray on account of attendance having fallen below the requirements.
A brief review of Principal Walker’s life before coming to Delray, according to a pamphlet in the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society archives, reveals that Clarence Walker, born in 1880 in Ohio, graduated from Wilberforce College and taught a year in Georgetown, Delaware. In 1906 he was appointed an instructor of English at a Teachers’ College (then called a “Normal School”) in Alabama. In Alabama he observed the problems of the rural South. At this time the United States Cooperative Demonstration Agents were beginning to extend the work of Tuskegee Institute to black farmers so that they might be prepared to withstand the ravages of the boll weevil. Walker took a very active part in this project because it gave him opportunity to study the rural education problem at first hand and to know just what should be the type of teacher needed in the rural districts. Walker trained teachers and sent them into neglected districts to establish schools. Dr. Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee Institute visited the college where Clarence Walker was teaching and observed that the activity there seemed too circumscribed for this creative teacher. Dr. Washington thought Walker should have more outlets to develop his own ideas and decided to find another job for him.
About the same time these thoughts were occurring to Dr. Washington, William Robinson, a leader of the Delray African American community, was thinking about how the languishing Delray school could be revived. He decided to write to Booker T. Washington and ask for his advice.
When Dr. Washington received the letter, he thought of the work of Clarence Walker. In February 1914, he wrote to Walker stating that the people at Delray, Florida, desired to have their school improved and that he, Clarence Walker, had been recommended for the position. Delray was so small then (about 1,000 people) that the new principal had a hard time finding it on a map. He consulted the railroad agent and learned that it was three hundred sixteen miles south of Jacksonville on the lower east coast.
Upon arriving he found a dilapidated old school house, surrounded by a campus that was grown up in palmetto scrubs, the schoolhouse unpainted and unsealed. (Unsealed means that there were only exterior walls and bare framing with no interior walls.) Some citizens had been using the schoolhouse as a place for gambling. Here, he thought, was an opportunity to do a day’s work in education. With a large grubbing hoe he led the crew to clear the campus, threw away litter, cleaned and painted the school- house inside and out. He secured locks for the doors and fastened the windows so the schoolhouse could no longer be used for anything but education.
In Delray Walker built the first county training school in Florida called Smith Hughes Vocational School (the schools were named for the Federal law which established the program.) The field agent of the General Education Board appropriated the first money they had given to the rural schools of Florida. Principal Walker realized that he must sell the school to the people and that the students must be the salespeople. He introduced Manual Training. The students began by making rolling pins and breadboards to give to their mothers for bread making. His students also built furniture for their homes. Female students were taught home canning and Domestic Science by Mrs. Walker, using a wash tub for a canner. In those days, before super- markets and refrigerators, this kind of knowledge was important to parents so that they could provide food for their families. Although some families in Delray had electricity after 1914, the electricity was available only three hours each evening; therefore, refrigerators were not practical for anyone until the mid to late 1920s.
A collection of 1919 newspaper clipping from the Palm Beach Post about the Delray County Vocational Training School show that C.C. Walker did not hesitate to write to the Palm Beach County School Board to advocate for additional funding, teachers and an extended school term. Principal Walker also worked to raise funds from local people and foundations for the improvement of the school.
Walker encouraged the people of the community to grow year-round crops and to save their dry lima beans and onions and to dry their okra, etc. In addition he instructed the community in better ways of raising cattle. It is said that when Principal Walker left Delray that the people cried. He left behind an enlarged and remodeled schoolhouse and a community that believed in the education of its children. Another outstanding principal, S.D. Spady, replaced him. The Delray school continued to grow, attract excellent teachers, and offer a good education to its students.
Clarence Walker spent the rest of his life teaching in other Florida towns. He established the state’s first accredited black high school in Palatka. In Palatka and later West Palm Beach he fought against opposition for spending more money on the segregated black schools. In 1937 he moved to Ft. Lauderdale. In 1941 he organized a successful boycott to protest the practice of closing the black schools so students could work in the fields and hotels during the winter.
Clarence Walker, the man who greatly improved School # 4 in Delray and motivated the people of the community was fond of saying, “It’s not when or where you were born, but who you prove to be. The measure of a man is what he thinks of himself.” By Dorothy W. Patterson, Delray Beach Historical Society
Courtesy The Palm Beach Post.
Thomas Rudolph Vickers (1879-1965)
Thomas Rudolph Vickers was born in Key West and graduated from Howard University’s medical school. About 1912 he started a medical practice on Rosemary Avenue, one of seven black pioneer physicians in West Palm Beach. Vickers married Sadie (1887-1941) from Washington, DC, about 1913-1914, with whom he had two sons, Carl R. and Thomas Rudolph, Jr. The Vickers owned a home mortgage-free at 911 First Avenue in the 1920s and 1930s, and moved to Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard in 1939.
During segregation, Dr. Vickers provided affordable medical care to the black community.
Vickers’ second wife, Alice (1914-1996), was an opera singer, and together they were considered role models for their personal achievements and their contributions to the community in service and leadership. He was an ardent Yankees fan until Jackie Robinson started playing for the Dodgers and he went to the World Series every year. Dr. Vickers was named a Great Floridian 2000 by the Florida Department of State and the Florida League of Cities.
The Vickers house was restored and operates as a community resource center.