CIVIL RIGHTS LEGENDS: John Due, left, is being inducted into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame with Marvin Davies, center, and Rev. Willie Oliver Wells Sr.
By K. BARRETT BILALI
MIAMI – Three civil rights leaders will be inducted into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame. Marvin Davies, Reverend Willie Oliver Wells Sr., and John Dorsey Due Jr. will be honored with the prestigious designation on June 7 at a formal ceremony in Tallahassee. Governor Rick Scott announced their names earlier this month.
Florida’s State Commission of Human Relations provided the governor with a list of ten possible nominees from which the three men were chosen.
John D. Due, Jr.
Attorney and longtime activist John D. Due arrived in Florida after growing up in Indiana to attend FAMU law school. He had already been active in civil rights in his birth state of Indiana as a member of the NAACP College Chapter at Indiana University in the late-1950s.
While still in law school, he participated in the Freedom Rides to desegregate buses by helping local lawyers to do research in defense of students arrested during protests.
In 1960, Due was one of the five FAMU students jailed in Tallahassee for 49 days after refusing to pay a fine for sitting-in at a Woolworth lunch counter.
Patricia Stephens, who was also jailed at the sit-in, would become Due’s wife three years later. The couple would attend the March on Washington in August 1963 together. Both remained stalwart activists in the civil rights struggle.
After acceptance into the Florida Bar Due became legal counsel to CORE, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and gave legal advice to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
He was one of the first attorneys to use a legal tactic called Petitions of Removal to move cases against civil rights activists out of biased state courts and into federal courts. Due’s participation in the civil rights era was so effective that the FBI monitored his activities and maintained a 400-page file.
Marvin Davies also attended Florida AM University. While still a student he participated in major civil rights protests in Tallahassee and St. Augustine. Davies was on the frontlines of righting the wrongs of the Jim Crow society as executive director and spokesman for the Florida State Conference of the N.A.A.C.P.
Davies was a native Floridian, born in Bradford County, who had experienced discrimination and racism throughout his youth. He served his country in the U.S. Army before attending college. He graduated from FAMU in 1959 and was the salutatorian of his class.
Davies served as state coordinator for the Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation and was a special assistant to Governor Bob Graham and later served on Graham’s Senate staff.
Davies passed away in 2003. Two months later, Florida passed the Marvin Davies Civil Rights Act of 2003. Because of this law, the Attorney General of Florida is now able to initiate a civil rights action when clear evidence of discrimination is uncovered or for issues of public concern.
Davies name is enshrined in the laws of the State of Florida. Now it will also be seen for generations to come in the Civil Rights Hall of Fame.
Reverend William Oliver Wells Sr.
Rev. William O. Wells Sr. was born in the “brown subdivision” of Miami in 1931. He attended Dillard High School in 1949 before attending Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona on a football scholarship.
He then joined the U.S. Army where he served in Germany. Upon returning to the United States, he entered the ministry. For fifty years, Wells pastored the Greater St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Cocoa, which was the local center for civil rights activities. From this base, he would participate in Freedom Rides deep into Alabama and Mississippi.
“At that time, blacks were barred from public beaches, parks, restrooms and restaurants, in Brevard County and elsewhere. Rev. Wells worked to change the oppressive “Jim Crow” laws. During the early 1960s, Rev. Wells was a Freedom Rider who led non-violent civil protests,” according to an article entitled the Roots of Rev. W. O. Wells.
“He was an original member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference -–along with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.–- and during his lifetime Rev. Wells spearheaded many projects to combat racism, poverty, drug abuse and crime. He was instrumental in bringing about desegregation in Brevard County, where he led anti-segregation campaigns and held various civic leadership positions.”
Wells passed away in 2015 at the age of 84.