Editor’s note: During Black History Month, the Daytona Times shares the stories of some area residents who have made great strides locally and nationally.
BY JAMES HARPER
Many in Daytona Beach know the Rev. Carl Brinkley as the longtime executive director of the Daytona Beach Housing Authority.
Brinkley was born in 1925 and grew up in Newark, N.J., where he was one of few Black students attending the integrated Central Avenue Elementary and Junior High schools.
In 1942, shortly after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, a 16-year-old Brinkley lied about his age and enlisted in the United States Marines.
“I believed our enemy was Japan, and I was only another American that wanted to serve my country,” Brinkley said about why he enlisted.
“Their (Whites) problems were my problems. My (White) friends were going,” added Brinkley about enlisting.
From Marines to ministry
In 1948, he arrived in Daytona Beach at age 23 to help his ailing grandparents.
After his arrival, he got his “call” to be a preacher. “It was 3 o’clock in the morning,” Brinkley said in an interview with the Daytona Times. “The spirit said ‘Go preach my gospel.’”
Brinkley’s grandparents were well off compared to most Blacks and many White residents in Daytona Beach.
His grandmother, Liza Brinkley-Williams, according to Brinkley, was the only Black woman in town, other than her friend, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman University, who owned her own car.
Brinkley’s first wife was Willie Lee Gant, the owner of the Gypsy Tea Room, a popular restaurant patronized by many well-to-do Black residents as well as celebrities like boxing great Joe Louis.
She died during the marriage and Brinkley married Emma Jones in October 1987.
Brinkley also has been a professional boxer.
He said he was on the card for the last boxing exhibition featuring Louis that took place in Daytona Beach at Memorial Stadium.
Brinkley would eventually become good friends with Albert Bethune, the grandson and adopted son of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune.
“She (Dr. Bethune) asked me, ‘How would you like to be a deputy? I am tired of the harassment my girls are getting going downtown,’” Brinkley recalled.
Pioneer Volusia deputy
In 1952, Brinkley would become the first full-time Black deputy sheriff in Volusia County under Sheriff James Tucker.
Brinkley said Tucker was not re-elected to a second four-year term because he hired Brinkley and other Black deputies.
Brinkley recalled an editorial in the local daily newspaper when he was a deputy that said “if he arrested White people, he would be fired.”
This upset Bethune who called for a meeting with Tucker. He assured her it was not true.
Brinkley said Bethune was told by Tucker he could arrest anyone who violates the law.
Being a pallbearer at Bethune’s funeral in 1955 was an honor he will always cherish. Brinkley also says he is the only one still living who was a pallbearer at her service.
Longtime CEO, pastor
After quitting the sheriff’s department, having reached the rank of sergeant, Brinkley would start his career with the Daytona Beach Housing Authority in the maintenance department. That was in 1958.
He would retire 40 years later as the agency’s CEO and executive director.
Since being ordained a minister in 1948, Brinkley has pastored at several African Methodist Episcopal churches in Port Orange, Bunnell, Sanford, Merritt Island and Altamonte Springs.
His longest stint as a pastor would be at New Bethel AME Church in Ormond Beach from 1982 until he retired from preaching in 1995.
Brinkley was called out of retirement in February 1999 to preach at Mt. Zion AME in DeLand for a few years.
He says the reason he was called to so many churches is because he was known as a rebuilder and left all his churches in good standing.
“I don’t feel one would not have me back,” Brinkley remarked.
His home is filled with more than 200 certificates, plaques and other honors.
Although he has been recognized by many groups and organizations – both locally and nationally – Brinkley said he is most proud of the work he does as a minister.
“This is my most gratifying position,” he added. “I am still able to help my people by spreading the Word.’’