Homeless advocate Fitzpatrick to be inducted into MLK Hall of Fame

Pat Fitzpatrick, back center, is escorted out of the room after he expressed a lack of patience in discussing the opposition to the 130-meals-per-day limit during a session in which the Gainesville City Commission votes on a petition to end the 130-meals-per-day limit on soup kitchens on Aug. 18, 2011, at City Hall in Gainesville.

Erica Brough/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, January 4, 2012 at 8:42 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 4, 2012 at 8:42 p.m.

Pat Fitzpatrick thought there was a chance he wouldn't be able to attend the banquet where he will be honored as this year's Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida Hall of Fame inductee.

Fitzpatrick thought he might be behind bars, ironically where King found himself a number of times during his quest for social justice in the 1950s and 1960s.

The annual award, which honors locals who have followed in King's footsteps in a struggle for equality in some form or fashion, is to be given to Fitzpatrick on Jan. 15, six days after his trial on a trespassing charge was to start.

Fitzpatrick, an outspoken advocate for the homeless, thought there was a chance he would be in the Alachua County jail by then.

He was charged, along with three others, with trespassing on the city's Bo Diddley Community Plaza as part of an Occupy Gainesville protest in October 2011.

But, this week, after a death in his attorney's family, the trial was moved back to Jan. 19.

Former Alachua County Commissioner Rodney Long, who heads the King Commission and organizes the weeklong celebration that will begin Tuesday, said King would be proud of the work Fitzpatrick did to overturn a “very immoral law,” referring to the city's ordinance limiting soup kitchens to serving 130 meals a day.

For the past few years, Fitzpatrick has argued and pleaded with city commissioners to do away with the limit.

He brought signs to City Hall. He cursed at commissioners during meetings. He ran for office.

In October, the commission voted to lift the limit in favor of a three-hour window in which soup kitchens, namely St. Francis House, can serve as many as possible.

Fitzpatrick and others were arrested in Orlando in June for feeding people in defiance of that city's law barring the distribution of food to more than 25 people in a public park without a permit.

“It was one of his best tactics, going to jail,” Fitzpatrick said of King. “It's as American as apple pie to fight illegal laws such as he did.”

Last year, Long was on hand as the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was dedicated on the National Mall, making King the first civilian to be honored with a monument there.

He called the event “humbling,” even more so than the inauguration of the first black president, Barack Obama, in 2009.

“We've had some great Americans,” he said. “Unless they were a president, they didn't find a space on the National Mall.”

Still, Long said it is important to have a number of events locally, not just a single march or church service, to remember King because many people alive today were born well after the civil rights movement ended.

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