Today marked the 100 year anniversary of the NAACP. I shot portraits of some of the black community leaders in Naples and Fort Myers as they gave their reflections on the NAACP — it's past, future, as well as race in our community. To read their entire contribution to the Naples Daily News go HERE.
Veronica Shoemaker, 79, former Fort Myers City Councilwoman, stands in an area that used to be called "the bottoms." The area, just north of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard near the railroad tracks, was where the black community lived in "shanty homes." The tracks separated black and white communities. "There were laws against African Americans going west of the railroad tracks," she says.
"We have come this far in the first 100 years and the time has finally come for all the other good things that are happening right now. People are very, very appreciative as we celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the NAACP for the effort that was put forth for us. But we can’t sit back and take it for granted.
We must never forget voter registration and education. That is the key, believe you me. Voting is a master key to the continuation and the implementation of what has happened in the last 100 years. The NAACP has been the mother, the father, the sister, the brother that has kept this civil rights movement together."
Oliver Phipps, 46, the principal of Estates Elementary School in Golden Gate Estates, stands with students of every color who attend his school. Phipps is the son of teachers. His mother was a third-grade teacher in a school with all black students and his father taught in an all white elementary school.
"Today, four decades after many African-Americans lost their lives because of the color of their skin, I am able to be an elementary school principal in a desegregated society. I remember my father telling me the story of his first day on the job as a teacher of an all-white middle school. When he got to the school and looked in his classroom, there were no materials. He went to the principal and the principal told him that his materials along with all the other teachers’ were in the cafeteria. He could not use the custodial staff to assist him until they were finished assisting the white teachers. When he got to the cafeteria, he thought he was in teacher heaven."
Dr. Ann Knight, 76, a former Fort Myers City Councilwoman, sits in an old school desk in the classroom where she attended first grade at the WIlliams Academy Black History Museum. The Williams Academy was the first government-funded school for black students in Fort Myers.
"I returned to Southwest Florida after graduation from South Carolina State University and worked in the public schools for 40 years. I have witnessed many changes in our school system due to our desegregation.
In 1965, the local chapter of NAACP filed a suit in Lee County that mandated our public schools to become desegregated. As a result of desegregation of Lee County Public Schools other doors opened for people of color."
Wilson Bradshaw, 59, president of Florida Gulf Coast University, remembers growing up in segregated schools in West Palm Beach. He marvels at how times have changed and how the NAACP has helped in evolution of equality.
"With the recent election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States of America, our great country stands before the world as a glowing example of what can be achieved when the foundational principles of democracy are actualized. Still, we must not be complacent.
Since the inauguration, I have been asked many times, “Now that America has elected its first president of African descent, does race matter anymore?” Racism still exists and race still matters. However, we are living in a world where equal opportunity and education are beginning to matter more, and I am delighted to be a part of this evolving landscape."
Ralph Anthony, 42, a 16-year veteran of the Naples Police department, was the community policing officer for the River Park area in Naples for four years.
"I try to not focus on race. I try to just concentrate on doing the job. Again, the job is challenge. Once you start working on some of the problems, working with community leaders and they see that you’re dedicated to work on the problems, after awhile they see you as a part of their community and I don’t think race is a factor. After awhile everybody knows you.
Good people make good families. Which in turn makes for good schools, good recreational parks and good churches. That in turn influences the community. "
David Bankston, 46, is the chief technology officer and co-founder of Neighborhood America, a technology company based in Naples.
"Race is one of those things that is never far from your mind as African-American. Growing up, it seemed we could never be perceived as equal team members. I watched others get promoted with far less experience. I felt the instant reaction as you turn the corner to enter the room for an interview. Nothing was said aloud, but it was evident — you were not “what they were looking for” and the interview progressed to the inevitable conclusion. I overheard many “jokes” that were cut short. I drove behind the Confederate flag truck guys who were wishing for the days of separatism and inequality. I watched how it always seemed that the news highlighted the worst minority they could find for the “what happened quote.” I remember, as a child, walking into stores only to be followed, glared at.
Hmmm. I thought — what’s it going to take to change the world?
The answer, to my surprise, was there all along; the American spirit is still alive in all of us. The founding fathers’ dream still lives. “One nation...,” “Indivisible,” “Peace and justice for all.” It took us 100 years to overcome, and by no means has the issue of race in America been “solved,” but we as a nation have joined in one voice and said “Racism is old thinking, and it’s a new day. The majority of us agree.”"
LaVerne Franklin, 68, former Collier County NAACP president, sits inside the sanctuary Bethel AME Church, a historically black church, in Naples. Franklin, originally from Philadelphia, says that God's words have given her strength to persevere through the tough times of segregation and inequality.
"Raised and educated in the North, I encountered overt, covert and institutional racism. Stratification based on color and race in housing, academic course selection and employment was counteracted with social justice survival strategies that were taught by family members and the NAACP. God’s words gave me the strength to persevere — When you have fought the good fight, finished your course, and run the race set before you (2 Timothy 4:7) you won’t have to wonder what it would have been like if you had given up and failed to reach your goal. You will have no regrets as you hear our savior say, “Well done.”"