Community

'Fame' recipient fought for equal rights


Daniel Harmeling's involvement in the civil rights movement led to arrests and serving time in jail in the cities of Tallahassee, St. Augustine and Jacksonville.

Courtesy of Daniel Harmeling
Published: Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 3:42 p.m.

Daniel Harmeling has been chosen the 2010 Martin Luther King Jr. Hall of Fame honoree, a recognition annually bestowed on those who made a mark during the civil rights movement.

Rodney J. Long, president of the Dr. Martin Luther King Commission of Florida Inc., said Harmeling, and his twin brother, the late James Harmeling, came to Gainesville in 1963 at the height of the civil rights movement and paved the way for the integration of the University of Florida.

Long said Harmeling and his brother went knocking on doors in voter registration campaigns, demonstrated in restaurants, and were involved with Gainesville residents Joel Buchanan, Charles Chestnut III, the Rev. T.A. Wright and other leaders of the civil rights movement in Gainesville.

"Dan was a trailblazer," said Long.

"It's only fitting we recognize him for his contributions during those turbulent times."

Long said the Hall of Fame was created to recognize local citizens who have demonstrated and espoused those principles and deeds of King.

Since its inception in 1986, Long said 30 citizens have been enshrined.

Harmeling said he is sharing the Hall of Fame award with his (late) twin brother and the students and faculty at UF who suffered retaliation for their actions during the civil rights struggle.

"I want to share this honor with people who go unrecognized as my (late) twin brother and the students and faculty who faced retaliation at the UF," he said.

Originally from Sheboygan, Wis., Harmeling, 68, is a retired teacher who currently teaches part time at Santa Fe College and the Bethune-Cookman University Gainesville campus.

He has four sons with his first wife, Mary Lou Walker, and for the last 15 years, he has been married to Kathie Sarachild, who Harmeling describes as an early and continuing activist in the women's liberation movement.

Harmeling said his involvement in the civil rights movement began in Gainesville in 1963 while he and his twin brother were entering their senior year at UF.

"I felt a moral mandate to be part of this struggle for human dignity and the end of racial segregation," said Harmeling.

"I was inspired by the members of the Gainesville African-American community who were putting their own personal safety on the line in their attempts to integrate various restaurants and a movie theater in our city."

"I felt a moral obligation to join them," said Harmeling, adding that he and his brother joined the Alachua County branch of the NAACP.

They marched in the Selma, Ala., to Montgomery, Ala., march for voting rights in 1965 and participated in other marches and demonstrations with King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

He and his brother also formed the Freedom Party on the UF campus for a platform calling for the end to all forms of racial discrimination and to begin educational tutoring in the community.

"I considered segregation a wall that separated black people from white people, and I chose to ignore that wall," said Harmeling.

"Because of the laws existing in Florida at that time, ignoring the wall led to arrests and serving time in jail in the cities of Tallahassee, St. Augustine and Jacksonville."

Harmeling said the UF administration (during the civil rights movement) didn't like students and faculty working for racial justice. Thus, Harmeling said they faced retaliation, and he was suspended from UF after an arrest for picketing at a segregated movie theater in Tallahassee. His twin brother was arrested after his Freedom Party run for student government president.

Harmeling said help from sympathetic UF faculty assisted in getting them reinstated. Harmeling was placed on probation with "Conduct Unbecoming of a Florida Student" stamped on his official transcript.

"I'm very proud my family is interracial," said Harmeling. "We come from a legacy honoring the best people should be."

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