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Celebrating Black History Month in Northwest Florida

American history devoid of the courage, culture, and contributions of Black Americans is not American history at all. The struggles, perseverance, creativity, talent, passion, and resiliency of Black Americans throughout our nation's both dark and triumphant times

deserves every ounce of ink in our textbooks, every moment of instruction in schools, and every celebration in our communities we give each February, and more.

While my opponents want to banish black history from our schools, society, and civil discourse, we celebrate and champion the need for our society to acknowledge, respect and honor the role Black Americans have played in making America what it is today.

Loving our country means knowing where we came from, and the atrocities and achievements alike in our shared past. There is no American history without Black history.

Artwork by local artist Carter J.

General Chappie James

Daniel “Chappie” James was born in 1920 in segregated Pensacola, Florida, near the Pensacola Naval Air Station. In his teens, he pointed to a plane flying above his home and said one day he was going to fly. His friends quickly reminded him of his one handicap: he was black. Not one to give up, Chappie knew that someday he would fly.

In 1937 he attended the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and quickly made a name for himself as an athlete and campus leader. When World War II broke out, Tuskegee sponsored a flight training program which gave Chappie the opportunity to fulfill his dream to fly. In July 1943, he earned his commission as a Second Lieutenant and became one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, the first black pilots of the U.S. Air Corps.

Read more about General Chappie James Jr. here.

Pastor Sylvia Tisdale

Pastor Sylvia Tisdale founded the Epps Christian Center Ministries in 2006 to serve the hungry, homeless and hurting. She has been part of feeding thousands of families in need. Her passion for her community has earned her recognition across the region.

Zubulon Elijah

Born into slavery in Santa Rosa County, Zebulon served in the Florida House of Representatives for Escambia County from 1871-1873, making him part of the first class of black Americans to serve in state and federal leadership from Florida.

Afterwards, he was the Pensacola postmaster from 1874-1878 and later the Pensacola tax assessor 1881-82. Zubulun continued a life of public service as a free man until his death in 1910.

Bud Johnson

[Warning: The below story is graphic and may be inappropriate for young readers]

On March 12, 1919, veteran Bud Johnson had traveled to Jay, Florida to bury his father. Johnson was told to sign over his father's 27-acres to pay outstanding debts, but Johnson refused, deciding to keep the land instead.

A group of white men accused him of raping a wealthy white woman in retaliation, and a mob caught Johnson as he was trying to flee to safety. The mob of nearly 1,000 people tortured and murdered him in Milton, Florida.

Mr. Johnson was the first African American in the United States lynched as part of the Red Summer of 1919 - an outbreak of white supremacist terrorism and race riots against black Americans across the country.

Chester Pruitt

When Chester Pruitt was hired as the first Black officer for the Fort Walton Beach Police Department in 1948, he broke barriers in the city and set a precedent for the Black community.

But much of his 15 years in service reflected the segregated times of the Jim Crow era.

While Pruitt had the authority to detain and question white suspects, he was forbidden to arrest them. He didn’t have a patrol car until the 1960s and walked his patrol shifts in the Black neighborhood of Hollywood Boulevard and Windham Avenue, which was known as “the Quarter,” according to literature that hangs in the Fort Walton Beach Police Department.

Despite the inequality, Pruitt’s legacy was one of strong character. He was known as a “gifted mediator” and “champion of youth” according to the Police Department. Pruitt was a towering presence. In photos, he stands out among his fellow officers, not just for the color of his skin, but for his height and muscular build.

Blue Waitman

Blue Waitman served in World War II before coming home to Milton, where he worked at Bagdad Elementary for 23 years. His efforts to keep families fed are celebrated annually as "Blue Waitman Day."

Caroline Baker Allen

As a teacher, activist, creative writing instructor, museum curator and 2001 inductee in the Okaloosa County Women’s Hall of Fame, Caroline Allen is remembered for her efforts to keep Crestview’s African-American community in the spotlight for more than 50 years. Mrs. Allen, who died in a car accident in August 2005, was born in Belton, Texas in 1925 and moved with her family to North Okaloosa County in 1949. She began her teaching career at Drew High School and was transferred in 1954 to Carver Hill School, where she taught English and business classes.

From 1968 to 1979, she was the head of the Business Department at Crestview High School. After retiring from the Okaloosa County School Board, she began her career as a civic leader. Mrs. Allen served in an official capacity with the Crestview Chamber of Commerce, the Arts Council, the NAACP, the Eglin Air Force Base African- American Committee, and the Okaloosa County Library Focus Group. In the 1970s Mrs. Allen worked to convince the school district that what had been the Carver Hill School’s lunchroom should be converted into the Carver Hill Museum.

She gathered school memorabilia and wrote grant applications for state and federal assistance. Later, she envisioned building a larger museum and shepherded its construction from fund raising to completion. Throughout the remainder of her retirement, Mrs. Allen contributed to her community by advising small businesses, writing letters and providing advice to citizens. She was a leading organizer of Crestview’s annual May Day celebration.

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