Home / Education / Gainesville Civil Rights Fight Remembered, Leader John Lewis To Speak At UF

Gainesville Civil Rights Fight Remembered, Leader John Lewis To Speak At UF

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LaVon Wright Bracy was the first African-American to graduate from Gainesville High School in 1965. Photo courtesy of LaVon Wright Bracy.

LaVon Wright Bracy remembers checking her chair for tacks every time she sat down her senior year of high school.

Bracy was the first African-American to graduate from Gainesville High School in 1965.

“I am 66 years old, and it is still the worst year of my life,” she said.

Bracy’s father, who was president of the Gainesville NAACP, encouraged her to switch schools her senior year, something her mother was largely against.

Her family would receive threats, and at school she had to tolerate racial slurs, she said.

But she endured the daily harassment because she thought she could make a difference. It was critical at the time, she said.

Over 30 years ago, she and her father met civil rights leader John Lewis in D.C.

On Friday, Congressman Lewis will speak at the University of Florida.

Bracy’s father was president of the Gainesville NAACP for 19 years. He died in December, but Bracy said he definitely would have found a way to meet with Lewis.

Lewis will speak about his work during the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and his continued commitment to civil service, said Shelby Taylor, communications director at the Graham Center for Public Service.

“He’s an amazing figure,” Taylor said. “We always like to showcase figures who have made an impact in this country.”

She said the Graham Center is excited to finally be bringing Lewis, the only living member of the “Big Six” civil rights leaders, to UF.

“He never quit,” she said. “He’s still sitting in Congress making a difference.”

Sharon Austin, an associate professor of political science and director of UF’s African-American studies program, said his work advanced the causes of all minorities, including women.

“If it were not for people like him, people like us wouldn’t be here,” she said.

The early legislation Lewis worked toward, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, targeted specific counties in Florida. As a result, African-
Americans were encouraged to
vote and run for office.

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Bracy started her senior year of high school in 1964. Photo courtesy of LaVon Wright Bracy.

The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at UF has been documenting Florida’s changing race relations since 2009. They have collected almost 1,000 personal stories, said Ryan Morini, program coordinator.

He said he feels the project is important because in a state with a booming population like Florida, it’s easy to make assumptions.

Much of Florida’s history has been told from a white perspective, he said. The program hopes to change that.

“People underestimate the effect of history on their daily life,” he said.

The event will be held in the University Auditorium at 7 p.m. Tickets will be available at 5 p.m. Friday.

About Ariella Phillips

Ariella is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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