Banquet honors Civil War, county residents


Published: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at 7:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at 7:36 p.m.

The Civil War, recognition of residents for their good works and awards for middle school students took center stage at the sixth annual Claronelle Smith-Griffin Distinguished Banquet Speaker Series Banquet.

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Claronelle Smith-Griffin Distinguished Speaker Marvin-Alonzo Greer addresses the Pleasant Street Historic Society 30th Year Celebration.

Amy L. Stuart/Special to the Guardian

Melanie Barr, banquet chairperson and corresponding secretary of the Pleasant Street Historic Society, said the banquet served a dual purpose of celebrating the historic society's 30th anniversary and the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gainesville during the Civil War (1861-1865). Attended by 120 men, women and children, the banquet was held last Sunday at the D.R. Williams Fellowship Hall at 618 NW 6th St.

Four Alachua County residents were honored for their contributions to the community and five middle school students received cash awards for their essays.

Proceeds from the banquet 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.

The keynote speaker was Marvin-Alonzo Greer, a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta, a historical interpreter at the Atlanta History Center and battle re-enactor, who spoke about the Civil War and the role of the U.S. Colored Troops in the Civil War, with an emphasis on the 55th Massachusetts United States Colored Infantry.

Greer said 200,000 black soldiers fought for the Union during the Civil War. He said they volunteered to fight for the Union but were not treated right. They didn't receive equal treatment or equal pay to their white counterparts. "They fought the confederates in the South and discrimination in the North," said Greer. "Prejudice was the curse of the North and slavery the curse of the South."

Three middle school students were top winners in the "Standing on the Shoulders: Because You Did, I Can" essay contest. They were: Terry John Robinson II, an eighth-grader at PASSAGE Christian

Academy; Brianna Hayward, a sixth-grader at Caring and Sharing Learning School; and Elmer Rollins, a sixth-grader at PASSAGE Christian Academy. They each received a $75 cash award, a "Lamp of Knowledge" trophy, a framed certificate and a ticket to the banquet.

The next tier of winners included: Ashante' Burney, a sixth-grader at Caring and Sharing Learning School; and Shalyn Williams, a seventh-grader at Westwood Middle School. They received a $35 cash award, a "Lamp of Knowledge" trophy, a framed certificate and a ticket to the banquet.

Five finalists received a framed certificate. They were Bridget Filer, a sixth-grader at Caring and Sharing Learning School; Julian Mayberry, a seventh-grader at Howard Bishop Middle School; Marlik Rouse, a seventh-grader at PASSAGE Christian Academy; Danielle Williams, a sixth-grader at Lincoln Middle School; and Jaelyn Young, a seventh-grader at PASSAGE Christian Academy.

Terry, who memorized his essay, was inspired to be the best he can be by his grandfather, Corporal John Robinson, who fought in World War II. He said his grandfather, whom he never met, was a man of loyalty, honor and duty.

"He had loyalty to fight for a country that treated us as second-class citizens," Terry said. "He was a man of strength and honor, a good father and a good husband. His legacy has had an impact and because of him I know I can do great things."

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 Alachua, sang a powerful rendition of "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory." The invocation was offered by the Reverend Dr. Freddie L. Hickmon, founder and pastor of Miracle Temple Church in High Springs and the benediction was delivered by the Rev. Gregory Pelham, pastor of Greater New Hope.

In her occasion, Barr spoke briefly about Smith-Griffin's love for her house and the Pleasant Street neighborhood.

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

Barr introduced Gussie Lee, a children's advocate who serves as chairwoman of the Alachua County Foster Grandparent Program, who was recognized for her contribution to community service.

Catherine Mickle, a retired educator, introduced Gladys Alexander, also a retired educator, who was recognized for her contribution to education. "Teaching is my profession, and gladly do I teach," Alexander said.

Mildred Hill-Lubin, a retired UF professor, introduced Melodee Williams, who accepted the honor on behalf of her mother, Janie Williams Hayes, an educator and Porters neighborhood historian, who was recognized for her contribution to history. Williams was out of town and unable to attend the banquet.

Robinson introduced Hickmon, who was recognized for his contribution to religion. Hickmon said he was humbled by the honor. "This gives me a boost of energy," Hickmon said. "Everyone needs an ‘atta-boy.'?"

Robinson was very pleased with the event.

"It was a little longer than we planned," Robinson said. "But I think everything went very well."

Barr was pleased with the turnout.

"I am very pleased that so many people chose to attend the Pleasant Street Historic Society's banquet when there were several other worthwhile activities today," Barr said. "I didn't expect such a wonderful turnout, but it shows how much the community supports the essay contest winners and the people who won awards for their contributions to community service, education, history and religion."

"Our speaker from Atlanta, Civil War re-enactor Marvin-Alonzo Greer, was also a big draw," Barr said.

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