Tallahassee, Fla. – As a part of this month’s Black History Month celebration, Governor Rick Scott announced the selection of Mary McLeod Bethune, Claude Denson Pepper and Charles Kenzie Steele as the first inductees into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame.
Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955), formerly of Daytona Beach, dedicated her life to ensuring the rights of individuals in Florida, especially African?Americans. In 1904, she established the Daytona Educational and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls, which merged with the Cookman Institute for Men and later became Bethune?Cookman University. An advocate for desegregation in the United States Armed Forces, she also registered 400 black women to vote and established the National Council of Negro Women. Bethune served as president of the NAACP and of the National Association of Colored Women. She has received many awards and honors, including the NAACP Spingarn Medal, the Frances Drexel Award for Distinguished Service, the Thomas Jefferson Award, the Robert S. Abbott Memorial Award, and the Haitian Medal of Honor and Merit. She received an honorary doctorate degree from Rollins College.
Claude Denson Pepper (1900-1989); formerly of Perry, Tallahassee and Miami; served in the United States Senate from 1936 to 1951 and in the United States House of Representatives from 1963 to 1989 after first being elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1928. A strong advocate for the rights of elder persons, he served as chair of the United States House Subcommittee on Health and Long?term Care and became known as a “Spokesman for the Elderly.” He authored federal legislation establishing minimum wage and maximum hours known as the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and sponsored legislation establishing equal pay for women, later known as Equal Rights Amendment. He led the passage of the 1986 law barring age discrimination and mandatory retirement based on age. Among his many awards, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Florida Council on Aging Hall of Fame Award, the University of Alabama Hugo Black Award and the John F. Kennedy Lodge B’nai B’rith Profiles in Courage Award. He has also been named among the Top 50 Most Important Floridians of the 20th Century.
Charles Kenzie Steele (1914-1980), formerly of Tallahassee, served as a civil rights activist and preacher. As president of the Inter?Civil Council, he protested the segregation of city buses and was one of the main organizers of the Tallahassee bus boycott. To honor his efforts, the Star Metro bus transfer facility in Tallahassee bears his name. Throughout the 1960s, Steele was involved in eliminating racial discrimination in public facilities throughout the South and marched with national leaders to promote civil rights. He served as state and local president of the NAACP and worked with the Congress of Racial Equality, the Urban League and the Student Non?Violent Coordinating Committee. As a co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he participated in freedom rides, voter registration campaigns and efforts to eliminate poverty such as the Poor People’s Campaign, Resurrection City and Operation Breadbasket. Steele was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Florida State University, the first awarded in 50 years to an African?American.
About the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame In 2010, The Florida Legislature established the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame to recognize and honor individuals who have made significant contributions as leaders for equality and justice for all persons. Under the law, the Florida Commission on Human Relations recommends 10 persons to the Governor, who selects up to three inductees. To be considered, nominees must have been born in Florida or have adopted Florida as their home state or base of operation. The names of inductees will be permanently displayed in the First Floor Rotunda of the Florida State Capitol Building.