Florida Celebrates 50 Years of Civil Rights

The Museum of Florida History had an opening reception for their temporary exhibit, Civil Rights in the Sunshine State.  

On Thursday, November 6, the exhibit honors the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The exhibit contains historical images, artifacts, and videos to help visitors understand how African-Americans, in Florida, struggled for equality.

Former civil rights activist and FAMU alumnus, Dr. Robert Hayling, was a speaker at the event. Hayling led the civil rights movement of 1963-64 in St. Augustine, Fla. and he also worked with Dr. Martin Luther King.

“I was the first black dentist to be accepted into the Florida State Dental Association … those things got tangled up and buried in everything once I became an activist. The sheriff of St. John’s County, L.O. Davis, had been in my chair as a patient as well as many of the Klan members,” Hayling said.

Ken Detzner, Florida’s Secretary of State, spoke about Florida’s involvement in the civil rights movement and how the exhibit represents that history.

“While the involvement of other states may be referenced more often, Florida played a significant role in shaping the civil rights movement. This exhibit examines the history of Florida’s quest for civil rights from the end of the Reconstruction period through the 20th century,” Detzner expressed.

Brittany Lesser, director of communications for Florida Department of State, explained why she believes people in the community should visit and experience the exhibit.

“There are a lot of people in our generation, younger and older, that don’t really understand what happened and that’s something that this exhibit speaks to. We’re trying to educate, make aware, and start the conversation again,” Lesser said.

Gary Pettit, public relations coordinator, also expressed why people need to visit the exhibit.

“It offers a really good learning opportunity for people of a generation that didn’t experience this while we still have members of the generation that did,” Pettit said.

Summer Hill Akbar, a guest who attended the reception with his son voiced his reason for attending the civil rights exhibit and why he brought his son along.

“I personally wanted to acknowledge the sacrifice of the people that made everything that’s happened in my life possible,” Akbar expressed. “My son, at seven years old, will only know of civil rights through reading about it and hearing about it. I wanted him to have some direct contact with it.”  

The Civil Rights in the Sunshine State exhibit will be on display until April 5, 2015. Both admission and parking are free. For more information, contact 850-245-6522.