Honors go to civil rights leaders and Jacksonville Progressive Coalition for battling KKK

By staff |
April 28, 2014
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Jacksonville Progressive Coalition at SCLC annual “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A
Jacksonville Progressive Coalition at SCLC annual “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Dinner." (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Jacksonville, FL – 150 people attended the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's (SCLC) annual “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Dinner” on April 26. Hosted at the Sheraton in Deerwood, the dinner drew clergy, politicians and activists from across the Jacksonville community.

Reverend Dr. C.T. Vivian was the keynote speaker. Vivian, a close associate of King and a Freedom Rider, worked to integrate the South during the Civil Rights movement. In 1964, Vivian fought 'whites only' beach segregation with 'wade-ins' at Saint Augustine Beach. Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members physically attacked the brave waders in the water. The sheriff's office arrested the civil rights waders. Dr. Vivian's efforts contributed to passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Dr. Vivian delivered an impassioned speech at the dinner calling for activists to recognize the class struggle taking place in the U.S. and to renew the mission of Dr. King for a new generation. He also called on older activists to create a space for young activists to get involved and lead the modern struggle against racism.

During his speech, Vivian criticized politicians who promise the African-American community change but do not deliver when they are elected, “It's important that any time we have a gathering like this with politicians in the room, we talk openly about these issues.” He continued by directly addressing Jacksonville's Mayor Alvin Brown, who was present at the dinner, by saying, “We should support the mayor and the city council when they are on the right side, and we should throw them out when they don't follow through.” His comments drew huge applause from the audience.

At the dinner, the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition (JPC) received the “Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award for Legends, Pioneers and Trailblazers.” The JPC, founded in 2012, worked closely with the SCLC to successfully change the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School. In 1959, white segregationists named Forrest High after the first Grand Wizard of the KKK.

Reverend Opio Sokoni, the President of the Jacksonville chapter of the SCLC, wrote of the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition, “Your organization helped to lead the fight which changed the name of Westside High School from the KKK's first Honorary Grand Wizard, Nathan B. Forrest. You also stood vigilant for justice against the killing of Jordan Davis, among other causes.” Sokoni continued, “This award is in response to the JPC's activist fight against racism in the City of Jacksonville, Florida. The SCLC of Jacksonville is proud to serve beside you.”

The SCLC and the JPC led the protests outside the trial of Michael Dunn, the racist vigilante who murdered 17-year-old African-American youth Jordan Davis in Jacksonville. Dunn was convicted on several attempted murder charges but received a mistrial for murdering Davis. Protesters led a night march demanding the resignation of State Attorney Angela Corey after the verdict.

Additionally, the JPC is working on a citywide campaign to pass a Human Rights Ordinance through the city council which extends civil rights protections to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

In addition to Vivian and the JPC, other important civil rights leaders and activists in the community were honored, including Pastor R.L. Gundy and J.T. Johnson, both with the SCLC, and Pastor Landon Williams, who distinguished himself with his staunch pro-worker activism.

The Jacksonville Progressive Coalition is planning protests in solidarity with Marissa Alexander, who is being retried by State Attorney Angela Corey in July 2014. Alexander is the 33-year-old African American mother originally convicted for firing a warning shot to fend off her abusive husband. There are growing calls nationwide for the resignation of State Attorney Angela Corey and freedom for Marissa Alexander.