They're pioneers

Ebony Appreciation Awards Committee recognizes “true heroes,” centenarians, Safety Cab Co. building


Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., delivers the keynote speech during the 30th annual Ebony Appreciation Awards Banquet held at the Best Western Gateway Grand in Gainesville.

BRAD McCLENNY/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 2:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 2:43 p.m.

Harry and Eliza Briggs are little known pioneers in black history whose bravery and determination helped pave the way for local black pioneers who were honored at the 30th annual Ebony Appreciation Awards Banquet.

Hosted by the Ebony Appreciation Awards Committee, whose goal is to honor "true heroes" in the black community, the banquet was held last Sunday at the Best Western Gateway Grand Hotel in northwest Gainesville, and featured U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., as the keynote speaker.

Clyburn's family attended the same high school in Camden, S.C., as did Bernadette Woody, president of the committee, and members of her family.

Clyburn told the nearly 300 people attending the banquet that the Briggs are important pioneers in black history because their names were the first listed in a 1948 lawsuit challenging separate but equal laws in Summerton, S.C., schools that eventually led to the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which declared "separate but equal" unconstitutional.

"Harry Briggs was a gentleman of almost no means," Clyburn said. "He was a filling station attendant, and his wife, Eliza, worked at a hotel cleaning rooms on Highway 301 right outside of Summerton."

Clyburn said the Briggs "had a dream that their children could do better."

He also said the commitment the Briggs had to seeing their dream become reality opened the doors for people like the ones the Ebony committee honored Sunday and over the years.

The pioneers honored this year were:

Kim Barton: The first and only outreach coordinator with the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office.

Ann Bowens: The first black woman in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Office to deliver a live, nationwide, televised training course.

Trávis (pronounced TRAY-vis) King: The first black male judicial assistant in the state of Florida.

Dominique McBroom: The first black goalie on the lacrosse team at Buchholz High School.

Kalen "JoJo" McGill: The first black fast-pitch starting pitcher on the softball team at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School.

Dr. Carolyn Tucker: The first black University of Florida professor to be honored as a UF Distinguished Alumni Professor. In 2012, she became the first black to be named the Florida Blue Endowed Chair in Health Disparities Research at the University of Florida, the highest academic rank attainable at a university.

Also, the committee recognized four centenarians. They are Theodore R. Dallas Sr., 104, of Levy County; Martha Louise Days Franklin, 101; Essie Mae Reynolds Rones, 104, and Ethel Mae David Weaver, 101, all of Gainesville.

Rhonda Wilson, founder of the The Actors' Warehouse and the Star Center Children's Theatre, was recognized for her community service, and the Safety Cab Co. building at 820 NW 5th Ave. was acknowledged as a landmark for its presence on NW 5th Avenue for many decades.

Woody said it was extremely important to acknowledge Safety Cab.

"If you go down 5th Avenue now, it is one of the oldest businesses that still remain on 5th Avenue," she said, before presenting a plaque to Nathaniel "Nat" Turner II, vice president of Safety Cab. "We tried to use the Internet to do some research on Safety Cab, and there was nothing about Safety Cab on the Internet. That is why it is good for us to record the history ourselves."

Before presenting Wilson with her award, the committee summoned the help of two Star Center students — Antione Turner, 11, and Lamont Wallace, 14 — to introduce her. They said Wilson's car is filled with props, sets, costumes and a list of other things used in plays.

"Never ask her for a ride," Antione said. "Because there is no room," said Lamont, completing the sentence for Antione.

They also said working with Wilson has helped them increase their self-confidence and self-esteem. "Most of all, she has helped us take giant steps toward becoming successful and productive citizens," Antione said.

Another highlight of the banquet occured when Gainesville postmaster Bill Logeson informed the crowd that the 36th stamp featured in the Black Heritage Series will honor Althea Gibson, the first black woman tennis player to win the coveted Wimbledon title. He said the stamp will be released this summer.

Stamps honoring the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 100th birthday of Rosa Parks, mother of the civil rights movement, were issued in January and February, respectively. A stamp honoring the historic 1963 March on Washington will be released in August.

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