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Civil Rights Activists Honored In Hall Of Fame

Florida State Archives

Three Floridians who fought for civil rights for African-Americans were inducted into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame Wednesday.   

Patricia Stephens Due, Dr. Arnett Girardeau, and Willie H. Williams will now be etched in Florida’s history at the State Capitol.

The three were honored for their service in gaining civil rights for African Americans in Florida.

Mayor Andrew Gillum referred to the honorees as ‘thermostats.’

“The difference between the thermostat and the thermometer… The thermometer can tell the temperature... But the thermostat are the folks, the instruments that set the temperature. And in a state and at a time where it was not easy at all to be champions, these individuals stood up and they stood in the gap for all of us.”

Williams, 85, of Orlando, was the first African American hired in the engineering department at the company now known as Lockheed Martin. He dedicated his life to promote the equality of rights for all persons and eliminating racial hatred and racial discrimination.

Williams believes he got his start in the Civil Rights Movement and the NAACP based off something his friend always said: “You could not run with the rabbits and bark with the dogs. You had to do one or the other.”

For Girardeau, it was about getting the right to get service.

He participated in many of the Jacksonville sit-ins during the 1960s, including Ax Handle Saturday, and was later elected to the Florida House of Representatives and State Senate. He became the first African-American Senate pro Tempore and was a founding member and chairman of the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators.

Girardeau, as the chairman of the senate subcommittee on Redistricting, created the congressional districts in Jacksonville and Miami that first enabled Corrine Brown, and now Al Lawson, to be in congress.

Due passed away in 2012, but her husband John Due accepted the honor for her. At the luncheon, a video played of her explaining her sit-in story.

In 1960, Due chose 49 days in jail -- the first “jail-in” of the Civil Rights Movement -- rather than pay a fine or bail for sitting at a “whites only” lunch counter at a Tallahassee Woolworth’s store. 

“I had already decided I’m not going to pay for segregation,” said Due.

During another march, she suffered damage to her eyes from tear gas used by police and had to wear dark glasses for the rest of her life.

“Someone asked a question about the freedom songs and how do you feel when people all over the world sing ‘We Shall Overcome,’” she said in the video. “And whenever I hear the songs, I’m hoping the people saying them really know what it means to us—those of us here in the United States—because we’re still singing ‘we shall overcome’.”

Jennifer Carroll sponsored the bill that created the Civil Rights Hall of Fame, along with State Representative Alan Williams and State Senator Tony Hill.

“Their shoulders served as steps for us to climb,” said Carroll. “[Their shoulders] enabled this little girl from the island of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to immigrate to America, and become the first black and Caribbean born female ever to be elected Lieutenant Governor in a state that once did not allow blacks to drink out of the same water fountain as a white person.”