Panel to give first hand accounts of Gainesville Civil Rights struggle
February 1997

The Civic Media Center will hold another in its series of First Hand Histories on Wednesday, February 19, at 8pm, when it welcomes four veterans of the struggle for civil rights in Gainesville who will tell of their experiences as progressive Gainesvillians who fought to overturn segregation here in Alachua County. Guest speakers will include two members of the organization GWER, Gainesville Women for Equal Rights, who have both maintained a high level of civic involvement beyond the life of that organization: Rosa B. Williams and Jean Chalmers.

Other speakers are Dr. Edgar Cosby, an African American dentist who was very active with the NAACP during that period, and Dan Harmeling, who was a then a student activist at the University of Florida and is now a high school teacher.

In one night it will be hard to do more than scratch the surface, but consider the following: Did you know that the sidewalks outside of the Florida Theater and what is now called the Purple Porpoise (then the College Inn) were scenes of conflict over segregation? Did you know that UF President Stephen C. O'Connell, namesake of the O'Dome, was an obstructionist whose refusal to meet with black students in 1971 sparked major protests with mass arrests and tear gassing of students outside Tigert Hall? Did you know that as a result of the stonewalling of black student demands (first and foremost for an Institute of Black Culture) a couple hundred newly admitted black students staged a dramatic mass withdrawal from UF which forced UF below the federal governments quota for an integrated institution and brought a national investigatory spotlight onto UF?

Did you know that in this same year, 1971, the mayor of Gainesville was a young black nursing student named Neil Butler? Which shows how far Gainesville was ahead of UF, and how the power of UF students and community activists together brought about a lot of change in the Jim Crow laws of the time. Come to the Civic Media Center Wednesday, February 19 at 8pm.

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