Beyond Integration: The Black Freedom Struggle in Escambia County, Florida, 1960-1980

Beyond Integration: The Black Freedom Struggle in Escambia County, Florida, 1960-1980

Beyond Integration: The Black Freedom Struggle in Escambia County, Florida, 1960-1980

Beyond Integration: The Black Freedom Struggle in Escambia County, Florida, 1960-1980

Synopsis

In 1975, Florida's Escambia County and the city of Pensacola experienced a pernicious chain of events. A sheriff's deputy killed a young black man at point-blank range. Months of protests against police brutality followed, culminating in the arrest and conviction of the Reverend H. K. Matthews, the leading civil rights organizer in the county. Viewing the events of Escambia County within the context of the broader civil rights movement, J. Michael Butler demonstrates that while activism of the previous decade destroyed most visible and dramatic signs of racial segregation, institutionalized forms of cultural racism still persisted. In Florida, white leaders insisted that because blacks obtained legislative victories in the 1960s, African Americans could no longer claim that racism existed, even while public schools displayed Confederate imagery and allegations of police brutality against black citizens multiplied.

Offering a new perspective on the literature of the black freedom struggle, Beyond Integration reveals how with each legal step taken toward racial equality, notions of black inferiority became more entrenched, reminding us just how deeply racism remained--and still remains--in our society.

Excerpt

A good many observers have remarked that if equality could
come at once the Negro would not be ready for it. I submit that
the white American is even more unprepared … The reality of
substantial investment to assist Negroes into the twentieth
century, adjusting to Negro neighbors and genuine school
integration, is still a nightmare for all too many white
Americans.

—MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., Where Do We Go From Here:
Chaos or Community?

On February 24, 1975, approximately five hundred African Americans gathered at the Escambia County, Florida, sheriff’s department in Pensacola to demonstrate against what they considered a grave injustice. Two months earlier, Deputy Douglas Raines shot and killed a young black named Wendel Blackwell from a three-foot distance. Despite the existence of significant evidence that suggested foul play, a local grand jury quickly declared the incident to be “justifiable homicide” and the local sheriff, Royal Untreiner, refused to take disciplinary action against Raines. The incident represented the latest in a series of conflicts between the local white power structure and black residents, who had grown increasingly frustrated with their social, cultural, and economic marginalization in Northwest Florida. Rev. H. K. Matthews, president of the county Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the person that area blacks recognized as their primary leader and spokesperson, organized a series of nonviolent demonstrations that reminded many of the previous decade’s civil rights campaigns. Blacks routinely gathered at the county sheriff’s department headquarters, carried protest signs, sang familiar spirituals, chanted popular slogans, and prayed. The demonstrations that Matthews coordinated had occurred nearly every evening for the previous two months, and the February 24 protest did not deviate from earlier patterns. Matthews knew that the sheriff’s . . .

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