Volusia County Bar Association knows history is important today.
Twenty-five attorneys were selected to give firsthand accounts of living and working in Volusia County during the glory days of the beach races, world wars, Southern politics, Jim Crow laws, segregation, the Ku Klux Klan, and advances in technology.
"As the calendar changed from 1999 to the new millennium, like most people, our minds turned to history," said Belle Schumann, president of the VCBA. She explained that many great stories about the legal and social aspects of Volusia County were lost when several prominent attorneys passed away.
"These men participated in the most turbulent events of the 20th century. We were saddened at the loss of these fine individuals, but also sorry that their great stories were lost."
Five years ago, the association decided to preserve its rich history by interviewing and recording profound moments in history. Twenty-four oral accounts have been recorded with financial assistance from the Florida Humanities Council, a nonprofit cultural and educational organization.
VCBA received three minigrants, totaling $5,500, to complete the project. As a condition of the grants, the association held two public forums at Bethune Cookman College and Stetson University. Copies of the CDs are available at the Volusia County Law Library. Historian and journalist Bill Schumann conducted and recorded the interviews.
"(These attorneys) were first-hand observers of social change during turbulent times," said Kathie Selover, VCBA's executive director. "The project allowed us to record an important part of our local history."
Among those interviewed for the project were Horace Hill, Sr., and Dan Warren, two consummate storytellers and prominent attorneys who recall how the tide of justice rolled in Volusia County.
An ordained minister, civil rights activist, and attorney, Horace Hill, Sr., was lead counsel in one of the most significant cases regarding the desegregation of Florida law schools. Hill represented Virgil Hawkins, a public relations instructor at Bethune Cookman College, who wanted to attend a Florida law school. At the time, blacks had to go out of state to attend law school. Hill was one of 18 black lawyers practicing in the state and in the business of prox6ng that justice doesn't prevail under the separate but equal doctrines of that time.
"Everything was segregated. You have to have certain beliefs in freedom to challenge any system," Hill said. "Hawkins had a right to admission to the University of Florida; segregation itself was discrimination and should be outlawed."
Hill vividly recalls how several Florida Supreme Court justices turned their backs to him while he argued the case. The state court upheld segregation, saying that there was a natural segregation among animals, so the same holds true for man. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Hawkins' favor.
Hill credits Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman College, with easing some of the racial tension and violence that engulfed certain Florida cities.
State attorney Dan Warren tried to calm racial tensions that escalated during the civil rights movement of the 60s. He recalls intimately knowing, working with, and admiring Mary McLeod Bethune, a woman with a magnetic personality.
"She used to call me 'young Dan Warren.' We sometimes forget we had one of the 10 most influential women in the world living in Daytona Beach," said Warren, who worked with Bethune on programs to educate blacks about the political process. He taught some blacks how to use voting machines at Bethune's home.
"She was a tremendous source of inspiration and guidance for so many young black people during the depression when times were hard ... struggling to live in a segregated society."
While the world looked on, Warren was instrumental in mediating civil unrest in St. Augustine during the mid-60s. Problems started when black leaders were denied the opportunity to participate in planning of the city's 400th anniversary celebration. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was arrested and jailed during the resulting demonstrations. After his arrest, the KKK and the national media converged on the city.
"Dr. King chose St. Augustine for the sole purpose of demonstrating to the world segregation in its worst form, in the oldest, most segregated city in the world," Warren said.
Warren urged the Daytona Beach News-Journal to send a reporter to talk to King in the jail. King agreed to speak before a grand jury. Although the grand jury suggested that a biracial committee be appointed to resolve the dispute, the matter was never resolved. Warren praised the newspaper for supporting racial tolerance.
He credits his parents for being great humanitarians and teaching him to always do "what my conscience dictated."
This article was contributed by Toyca Williams, voluntary bar liaison with The Florida Bar's Public Information Department.
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|Publication:||Florida Bar Journal|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2005|
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