Journalists and educators reflect on movement, power of the Black press 50 years ago
BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
The 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has been the topic of several events this year at the Daytona Beach Regional Library, including a panel discussion held Saturday, March 22.
Bill Maxwell, an opinion columnist for the Tampa Bay Times and former editor of the Westside Rapper, joined Leonard Lempel, James Daniels, Elaine Moore Smith, Lois Frey Sessoms and Charles W. Cherry II for a talk on civil rights in Daytona Beach as portrayed by the press.
“I really wanted to be part of this movement,” Sessoms, a former dean and professor at Bethune-Cookman University and author of “I Leave You Love: The Legacy of Mary McLeod Bethune,’’ explained. I was one of the soldiers. I wasn’t a leader, but I was one of the soldiers.”
Daniels recounted a time when he, another Bethune-Cookman College student, and Charles W. Cherry, Sr. participated in a sit-in at a local Woolworth’s lunch counter, but said that when the group looked around they were the only ones in the dining room.
He laughed when speaking of how bad Woolworth’s business must already have been. The purpose of the sit-in was to have as many Black people as possible taking up the seats of any other patrons, but there were no other patrons.
From Rapper to Times
A college student and English major at the time, Maxwell had been chosen to be the editor of the Westside Rapper during the civil rights movement. The newspaper was launched in 1969 by Cherry, Sr.,who was a Bethune-Cookman professor, entrepreneur and civil rights activist at the time. In 1978, the Westside Rapper was succeeded by the Daytona Times.
“We would ride around town and throw them into the yards,” Maxwell said about the paper.
“The stories that we wrote, the (Daytona Beach) News-Journal didn’t cover.”
Cherry II, publisher of the Daytona Times and sister paper, the Florida Courier, gave insight to the man so many of the other panelists brought up while speaking – his father Charles Cherry, Sr.
The senior Cherry also was a longtime president of the Florida NAACP and served as a Daytona Beach City Commissioner from 1995 until his died in 2004.
“The family believed in education,” Cherry II explained. “I think he is one of the most underrated, unrecognized historical Black figures in the city. I want you to understand something about my dad. We came from a big family and our history starts about 150 years ago, right after the Civil War with my great-great grandfather, Steve Barlow, who had 19 kids and amassed about 100 acres of land.”
College a must
“Over a period of time, the family began to lose that land and, according to family lore, the family decided that they had to send one of those 19 kids to school. They sent my great-great Aunt Leila to high school, to Spelman College, then to the University of Wisconsin, and then to Alabama State University, where she taught for 40 years.
“For every generation, they would select someone to go to college. The next person was my great Aunt Mabel. She went to Alabama State and graduated from Columbia University with a master’s degree. By the time Dad was selected, almost anyone could go,’’ Cherry II continued.
Cherry Sr. attended Morehouse College, the alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“The same thing that Dr. King was listening to, Dad was listening to as well. King graduated in 1948 and my dad in 1949,” Cherry Jr. noted. Decades later, Cherry II and brother, Dr. Glenn Cherry, followed in their father’s footsteps and matriculated at the Atlanta institution.
Elaine Moore Smith, a retired Alabama State University professor, also reflected on life in Daytona Beach during the civil rights movement. Smith is a daughter of former Bethune-Cookman President Dr. Richard V. Moore.
James, an entrepreneur, and Lempel a professor of history at Daytona State College, also reflected on the impact of the press in Daytona Beach decades ago.
The library will continue its commemoration of the signing of the Civil Rights Act with Author Michael Pyle discussing his book, “White Sugar, Brown Sugar’’ on April 5 at 2 p.m., and a Community Read Program featuring “Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America,” the 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner for non-fiction. It will be led by the author, Gilbert King.
More information on the series can be found at www.daytonabeachfol.org or 386-257-6037.