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Stebbins helped black teachers get parity

This is Black History Month. More than one person over the years has wished for a time when we don’t need a special day to single out one ethnic group’s accomplishments. Until then, this column will endeavor to point out the long struggle of all minority groups — and to honor that struggle’s many heroes.

One of our most unsung heroes might well be Charles H. Stebbins, Jr. Here’s more from columns in 2004 and 2007:

His legacy was continued partly through the accomplishments of his niece, Freddie Lee Stebbins Jefferson, an educator, community leader and Palm Beach Post columnist who died at 71 in October 2007. And through Freddie’s husband, retired educator and activist James Julius “Jeff ” Jefferson, who died at 80 in 2011.

Charles Stebbins wanted to be paid the same as white teachers. But he never benefited from the victory he helped achieve. Long since fired from his teaching job, he was waiting tables in New York the day in 1941 when a federal judge’s ruling set a stunning precedent. It was a step toward the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.

White teachers with five years of experience had received a $25 raise. Furious black counterparts, who got no raise, founded the Palm Beach County Teachers Association and about 85 percent of the county’s 115 black teachers joined.

The group brought in Thurgood Marshall, later the Supreme Court’s first black justice. They needed a name to put on the lawsuit against the county school board. Charles Stebbins volunteered.

The Arcadia native taught social studies at West Palm Beach’s Industrial High School until he was fired. A school board official offered him $500 and his job back to drop the case. His wife was ill — she would die in a year and a half — but he declined.

“He was blackballed throughout the state,” Freddie Jefferson said in 1999. “He was the troublemaker.” Also, the black union failed to honor a promise to pay him a year’s salary if he was fired.

Stebbins moved to New York, then served in the Navy, where he filed two discrimination suits. He worked 32 years for the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, where he sued for promotions, but failed. He never returned to education, and died in 1991.

Charles Stebbins, Jr. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

Freddie Lee Stebbins Jefferson (Palm Beach Post file photo)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg February 7, 2013 at 3:14 pm.

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Celebrating Black History 365

Lawson State Community College in Alabama has an excellent black history page on its website that’s chock full of information on historical and present day figures.

Click here to check out this comprehensive site.


Posted in Black Palm Beach Blog February 26, 2010 at 1:38 pm.

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West Palm Beach Northwest Neighborhood trolley tour

By Michelle Quigley

The Northwest Community Consortium, Inc. is hosting a Black History Month trolley tour of historic sites in the northwest neighborhood.

Tour-goers will see Payne Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church and Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church, both founded in January 1893; Pine Ridge Hospital, which opened as a hospital for African-Americans in 1916; the Sunset Cocktail Lounge, a showplace for black entertainers in the 1940s and 50s; and the home of Haley and Alice Mickens, where Dr. Alice Moore still resides.

The tour is Saturday, February 27, 2010, beginning with a program at 8:30 a.m. at the Salvation Army Community Center at 600 N. Rosemary Avenue, followed by the tour at 10:00 a.m. The program, including a display of Ineria Hudnell’s photo collections, and tour are free and open to the public. Registration is required. Please call 561-820-4872 to register. Click here to see a map of the tour route.

The Sunset Cocktail Lounge in West Palm Beach was the “Cotton Club of the South” in the 1950s. Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Duke Ellington were among the performers at the Sunset, owned by Dennis and Thelma Starks. Mrs. Starks, who died in 2008 at 91, recalled, “We had music on those days.” (Palm Beach Post file photo)

The Sunset Cocktail Lounge and Ballroom in 1930s. (Palm Beach Post file photo/Courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)

The Sunset Cocktail Lounge in 1973. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

The Sunset Cocktail Lounge in 2003. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

The Payne Chapel at the corner Ninth and Division streets. The church’s origins lie in old Palm Beach, when blacks worshiped at Bethel AME Church in the shanty town called the Styx. When it moved to Banyan Street in West Palm Beach in 1902, it was known as Payne Chapel, named after one of the bishops. In the ’20s, it
moved to Ninth and Division streets, meeting in the basement. In 1937, the church was completed and services were held upstairs for the first time. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

Retired teacher Alice Moore stands in front of her 1917 historic home on Fourth Street. Moore is the adopted daughter of Dr. Alice Frederick Mickens, a West Palm Beach civil-rights leader. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

This photo from the Collie family shows John Collie’s son, Warren (in black suit) and one unidentified gentleman standing in front of the new Pine Ridge Hospital shortly after it opened. The hospital served black patients in five counties until 1956, when St. Mary’s Medical Center integrated. In 2008, the property was sold to the Charmettes Inc., an international service organization. Charmettes was founded locally by Frankie Drayton Thomas and Gwendolyn Rodgers, whose husband, Edward Rodgers, was Palm Beach County’s first black judge. (Palm Beach Post file photo/Courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)

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Posted in Black Palm Beach Blog and Flashback blog February 25, 2010 at 3:48 pm.


FlashBlack: Riviera Beach


Riviera Beach’s majority black population makes it a rarity among South Florida’s waterfront municipalities. But the city’s complexion was quite different in its early days.

White settlers in the area voted to incorporate the city as the Town of Riviera in September 1922. It was re-incorporated in June 1923, and a volunteer fire department began in 1926, according to the book “A History of Riviera Beach, Florida,” edited by former Library Director Lynn Brink.

The 1928 hurricane destroyed Kelsey City, Riviera’s northern neighbor, and caused widespread damage to homes and businesses. During the next two decades, the sleepy town relied mainly on the commercial fishing industry and tourism, earning the nickname “Conch Town.”

During the 1940s, the town expanded, at one point buying 1,000 feet of beach on Singer Island (named for developer Paris Singer) for $40,000. The town, which changed its name to Riviera Beach in 1941, later acquired much of the south end of the island.

The civil rights era brought major changes to the city, which saw its black population more than double between 1950 and 1970. In 1962, attorney F. Malcolm Cunningham became the city’s first black councilman.

The Rev. Herman McCray moved to Riviera Beach in 1966. The area’s affordable homes attracted a large number of black professionals, McCray said.

He and his neighbors in the Imperial Point neighborhood founded the Imperial Men’s Club to fight for services like trash collection and street lights. The club grew to more than 100 members at one time, he said, and the group’s goals expanded citywide.

 “It’s just something that needed to be done,” said McCray, who later became the city’s sanitation superintendent, served on the city council, owned a successful business and sat on the county school district’s biracial committee. He and the club earned a mention in the book “Blacks and Social Change” by James W. Button.

Many of the city’s newer residents aren’t aware that before integration, Riviera Beach, like many municipalities, had separate facilities for blacks and whites, he said.

“We’ve had a used car lot, black drive-in theater, pool, gymnasium,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t have that.”

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Posted in Black Palm Beach Blog February 19, 2010 at 2:19 pm.

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FlashBlack: Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church

The pews were full at the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in this October 2005 photo taken as congregation members celebrated the reopening of the church a year after Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne caused more than $1 million in damages. Staff photo by Carolyn Drake/The Palm Beach Post.


Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church was home to the first school for African Americans in Palm Beach County. Then located on what is now Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach, the school was overcrowded with 74 students on Oct. 1, 1894. So, the Superintendent of Schools arranged for two school terms of four months each.

That was one year after Tabernacle was organized in the Styx in Palm Beach, Fla., in October 1893. Now, 116 years later, under the leadership of the Rev. Gerald D. Kisner, Tabernacle continues to offer boys and girls and others in our community support, encouragement, education and tools to help them reach their God-given potential. The church is committed to building a two-story, 11,000-square-foot multi-purpose center in honor of the late Mr. Ulysses B. Kinsey, a dedicated member of Tabernacle and longtime principal and community leader for whom a nearby elementary school is named.

The church building has been destroyed by storms, displacing the congregation temporarily in 1902, 1928 and 2004, when Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne caused more than $1 million in damage to the church. But the congregation is resilient and committed to the Northwest Community in West Palm Beach and to empowering people throughout Palm Beach County.

Often called “God’s House on the Hill,” Tabernacle is a red brick church that sits at the intersection of 8th Street and Division Avenue, visible from many points in and near downtown West Palm Beach. The church offers a variety of services, including free hot breakfasts on Sunday mornings, educational forums throughout the year, youth festivals and resource fairs on topics from health to voting. Church school is every Sunday at 8:30 a.m. Worship services are Sundays at 10 a.m. Adult Bible Study is Tuesday at 7 p.m. Prayer and Praise Service is Wednesday at 7 p.m. Children’s Bible Study is offered some Saturdays each month, and Morning Bible Study is at 11 a.m. on the second and last Wednesdays of each month.

Everyone is welcome at Tabernacle (801 Eighth Street, West Palm Beach, FL 33401). Check out the church’s Web site or call (561) 832-8338 for more information.

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Posted in Black Palm Beach Blog February 17, 2010 at 3:33 pm.

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