Pleasant Street honors residents, essay winners


Published: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 2:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 2:28 p.m.

Four Alachua County residents were honored for their contributions to the community and three middle school students were recognized for their essays at the 5th annual Claronelle Smith Griffin Distinguished Speaker Series Banquet.

Hosted by the Pleasant Street Historic Society, the banquet was held Sunday afternoon in a new venue at the D.R. Williams Fellowship Hall at 618 NW 6th St. Nearly 100 residents attended the banquet, which also featured a silent auction. Funds raised will be used to transform the Smith Griffin house into an Alachua County black history museum.

The late Claronelle Smith Griffin, a retired educator who passed away in 2003, left the house at 321 NW 8th Ave. to the historic society, which was founded in 1984 to preserve, promote and protect the Pleasant Street Historic District.

This year, the keynote speaker was Courtney Taylor, an assistant professor at Santa Fe College, who spoke about the enslaved female experience, with an emphasis on adolescence.

All of the middle school students participating in the essay contest were winners. The topic of the essay was “Standing on the Shoulders: Because You Did, I Can.”

Winners were: Sarai Collier, a seventh-grader at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School; Jordan McNeill, an eighth-grader at Lincoln Middle School, and Tahirah Moore, a seventh-grader at Westwood Middle School. They each received a $75 cash award, a “Lamp of Knowledge” trophy, a framed certificate and a ticket to the banquet.

Verdell Robinson, president of the Pleasant Street Historic Society, served as the mistress of ceremonies. Gussie Lee, a member of the Greater New Hope Baptist Church in the Bland community in Alachua, sang a powerful rendition of Sam Cooke’s “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” The invocation was offered by the Rev. Byran Williams, pastor of Mount Carmel United Methodist Church in High Springs, and the benediction was delivered by the Rev. Gregory Pelham, pastor of Greater New Hope.

In her occasion, Melanie Barr, recording secretary of the society and banquet chairwoman, spoke briefly about Smith-Griffin’s love for her house and the Pleasant Street neighborhood. She said the historic society is waiting to hear news of a potential $25,000 matching grant from the Bureau of Historical Preservation to fund needed repairs to bring the house up to code. “We’re here to celebrate the volunteers, the people who took time to be here, and to celebrate history,” Barr said.

A brief bio of each honoree was read by individual presenters.

Glenda Warren, a retired University of Florida professor, introduced Rosa B. Williams, a community activist and co-founder of the Reichert House Youth Academy, who was recognized for her contributions to community service. “I wish I could do more than I have,” Williams said. “Thank you.”

Mildred Hill-Lubin, also a retired UF professor, introduced Oliver H. Jones, a retired educator, who was recognized for his contributions to education.

Hill-Lubin said Jones’ career in education has spanned 40 years and although he is retired, Hill-Lubin said Jones, son of A. Quinn Jones, first principal of historic Lincoln High School, continues to tutor students in math. “He does it because he wants students to prosper,” Hill-Lubin said.

Barr introduced Vivian Filer, a retired nurse, storyteller and chairwoman of the Board of Directors of the Cotton Club Museum, who was recognized for her contributions to history.

“Vivian has received many awards, but I want to focus on what she does to preserve history,” Barr said. “She’s a phenomenal storyteller. She really helps you learn, and when you hear her, you’re hearing from the master.”

Robinson introduced the Rev. Milford Lewis Griner, pastor of Pleasant Plain United Methodist Church in Jonesville and Hall Chapel United Methodist Church in Rochelle, who was recognized for his contributions to religion.

“Everything I’ve done ... has been my calling to God,” Griner said. “Where God leads me, I will follow.”

Robinson also introduced Taylor, whose topic reflected the title of her dissertation, “Free in Thought, Fettered in Action,” which explored the experience of enslaved women, especially adolescents, during the years before the Civil War.

Taylor used documents and letters written by women who endured slavery, including Elizabeth Kleckley, who purchased her freedom to become a dressmaker and friend to Mary Ann Lincoln, wife of President Abraham Lincoln.

Taylor said Kleckley was born in Virginia, and although her parents lived on different farms, she was close to both her parents. As a child, Kleckley cared for the infant daughter of the plantation owner, and at 14 years of age, was sold to a Presbyterian minister and relocated to North Carolina.

Taylor said enslaved children often cared for white children or acted as their playmates and adolescents and women usually worked in the big house and in the fields. She said those working in the big house were exposed to sexual harassment and rape.

“If you want to truly know who you are,” Taylor said. “History will open your eyes.”

Barr was pleased with the banquet. She said the venue was fitting because of its location in the Pleasant Street neighborhood.

“We had a good turnout considering the conflicts because of all the events taking place,” Barr said. “We had good essays and a great speaker.”

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