Members of the Miami-Dade Alumnae Chapter, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. celebrated the 98th anniversary of the founding of the national service organization on Jan. 30 and took time to recognize local and national pioneer trailblazing political leaders, community and civil rights activists and jurists.
Retired Judge John D. Johnson was one of the honorees. He served on the then city of Miami Negro Municipal Court during the 1950s and at 98 he is the oldest living black judge in Florida. His portrait hangs in the Miami-Dade County Courthouse where segregation had prevented him from serving in 1955.
The late Gwendolyn Sawyer Cherry was also honored. An attorney, Miami-Dade public school teacher, politician and civil rights champion, Cherry was the first African-American woman to serve as a legislator in the state. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 1970.
“We are bringing people forward that were important to Miami’s beginnings,” said Eoline Watson, the chapter’s director of economic development.
The sorority was founded at Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1913 and incorporated in 1930. The 22 students who founded the sorority wanted to use their collective strength to promote academic excellence and to provide assistance to persons in need.
The Miami-Dade chapter has existed for 70 years, making it one of the oldest in South Florida, according to Gay Outler, chairperson and organizer of the program attended by 349 and held at the Hilton Miami Downtown.
One of Delta’s goals is political awareness, Outler said. “Oftentimes in the minority community we are not aware of what is happening politically. We [Deltas] have to fight to get them out to vote and educate them about the issues.”
Many Deltas, Outler said, are politicians on local, state and national levels. They have been “working in the vineyards for so many years to get the people up and about, doing things in terms of political awareness. It’s time for us to step up and let people know who they are, especially the youth.”
Delta’s national president Cynthia Butler McIntyre, who flew in for the local observance, said some people regard politicians as bad, adding, “But we have to take a chance if we are going to make a difference. We need to get on the phone and find out who in our families are not registered to vote, to educate them, do what we can to help them stay connected. We need to change our attitudes about getting involved in politics.”
McIntyre, a New Orleans resident, pledged Delta at Dillard University at age 17 and was elected national president in 2008.
The real message, she said, is celebrating “how Delta got here, where it is now and where it needs to be.”
Outler shared McIntyre’s views on the importance of political awareness, saying it is “extremely important to know what is happening, what the effects upon us are and how to react.”
“We demonstrate by going to the ballot box and casting our vote, by becoming aware of those issues and how they affect us directly and indirectly and making the entire community aware of what we can begin to do to make viable changes so we can transform our lives,” Outler said.
Delta member Pamela Thaggard of Miami said that she attended the observance to show appreciation for the founders of the sorority and those who were being honored.
“It’s nice to hear a name called that you can identify with and recognize them as a real personality,” Thaggard said.
Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net.
Pictured: Cynthia Butler McIntyre
Pioneer judges in Miami-Dade County: John Johnson, Lawson E. Thomas, R.E.S. Toomey
Trailblazers at the circuit and state judicial levels: Wilkie D. Ferguson, Leah Aleice Simms
Outstanding political leaders and community activists: Herbert Ammons, Gwendolyn Cherry, John E. Culmer, Edwin Lamar Davis, Ira P. Davis, Olivia Love Edwards, Theodore R. Gibson, G.E. Graves, Frank Jones, Carrie P. Meek