MLK Hall of Fame inductee shares his story

Daniel Harmeling, Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission of Florida Hall of Fame Recipient 2010, talks to the crowd gathered at the Paramount Hotel for the 25th Annual Hall of Fame Banquet. Harmeling is relaying his story of being arrested in St. Augustine Florida during a march in 1964 with Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, in the background his son Daniel laughs about the story.

Brad McClenny / Special to the Sun
Published: Monday, January 11, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 10, 2010 at 11:55 p.m.

As Dan Harmeling was inducted into the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida's Hall of Fame on Sunday night, he stood in front of an elegantly framed, oil portrait of Dr. King himself. In his hand though, printed on loose-leaf paper was a tinier, less glamorous black-and-white photo of King. It was his mugshot.

The photo was printed in a small booklet kept confidential by Alabama police for decades. It was a wanted list of disruptors of civil disobedience, or more frankly, profiles of civil rights workers. Harmeling said police used the book to spot people they could arrest on bogus charges, and King's mugshot and description ran on Page 1.

Harmeling said he didn't present the booklet to highlight King's accomplishments - he was pretty sure the 285 guests who attended the banquet were familiar with King's resume - but rather, he used it to demonstrate his own.

Harmeling's now 45-year-old mugshot was in the book as well.

"I grew up aware of the walls of segregation, I just chose to ignore them," he said.

Harmeling, who currently teaches part-time at Santa Fe College and Bethune Cookman University's Gainesville campus, scanned the page to the bottom and read his charges.

"Now for my greatest accomplishment," he said to a hushed room, "my charge: failure to obey."

All in attendance rose to applaud a man who, in the early 1960s as a University of Florida student, traveled across the South to fight for equal rights. He was arrested in June 1964 in St. Augustine for demonstrating with King. He fought for equal rights at UF, which got him suspended, but also led to an integrated student government. Harmeling dedicated his speech and recognition to his late brother Jim, who picketed alongside him in many protests.

Before the crowd got enough time to warm their seats back up, they rose once more in ovation, this time to congratulate Benjamin Osoba, winner of the 2010 Edna M. Hart Keeper of the Dream Scholarship. Osoba, a senior at Eastside High School, carries a 4.67 weighted GPA in the International Baccalaureate program and volunteers at his church and in the community.

In 1989, the first year of the scholarship, the recipient received $500. In recent years, the commission has strived to give no less than $2,500. Osoba, a special student, got a special surprise from the commission, which announced it would be increasing his stipend to $7,500 to be distributed equally over his four years in college. The 17-year-old beamed as he stood with family and friends holding a big, cardboard check like those seen on TV.

Florida Sen. Tony Hill gave the evening's keynote speech, drawing laughs with jokes about Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, but he noted his overall message of service was serious business.

"What I'm saying to you tonight is that it's got to be about service. For some reason, we can't get past the concept of me," Hill said. "Can we take our eyes off of ourselves and put them on another? If we do, then we can live the dream."

The Hall of Fame Banquet marked the official kickoff of the city's 2010 King Celebration, which will run through Jan. 18.

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