Tampa civil rights movement leader speaks at Stetson
Tampa civil rights movement leader Clarence Fort provided the keynote address at the Black History Month Gala on Feb. 19 at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport. The program on “Ascending to New Heights: From Leadership to Legacy” also recognized influential faculty members. Fort’s grandson, Kaarl E. Brandon, is a second-year law student at Stetson. He introduced Clarence Fort.
“It’s imperative to hear the experiences of local civil rights activists, and to learn about civil rights movements that have taken place right here in Tampa Bay, especially being future practitioners of law,” said Brandon. “As we enter positions of influence, the stories of prior generations are powerful tools of uplift, indicia of the fortitude and attitude required to overcome, and prophesy of successful but little known strategies and solutions to similar issues we face today.”
According to the Tampa Bay Times, in 1960, Fort helped lead a student sit-in at F.W. Woolworth’s lunch counter in Tampa. He also worked on integrating Tampa’s theaters and the the city bus service workforce. Fort was one of the first African-American Trailways bus line drivers in Florida.
Fort told the audience at Stetson that while on a scheduled trip from Albany, Georgia, to Tallahassee, Florida, he was stopped by an elderly African-American couple. The female passenger wept during the entire trip, and said that she never dreamed she would live long enough to ride a bus driven by an African-American Trailways bus driver. Fort said it was during this trip that he realized the true meaning of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
Fort served for decades as a Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputy. He coordinated the local Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parade, founded the Progress Village Foundation and has led a “Saving Our Children” program for more than 20 years at New Mount Zion Baptist Church.
In 2014, an East Tampa park was named the Clarence Fort Freedom Trail after Fort.
Stetson’s Black Law Students Association and George Edgecomb Bar Association co-sponsored the event.
Post date: Feb. 26, 2016