BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has fought for the equality of all people for over a century.
In 1909, the national organization was organized in New York City, New York. A little over 30 years later, Florida held its first state convention in St. Petersburg in 1941.
In 1944, the Bay County branch was formed. It was signed in by the national corporation president at the time, Walter F. White.
The Bay County branch was formed near the end of World War II, during a time when African- American soldiers were not appreciated for defending the United States.
“They fought in segregated units. Living quarters were segregated and even their units were segregated but then when they returned home. They kind of thought things would be better once they return home but what they found out is a lot of them were threatened, they were assaulted and abused and totally disrespected,” said Dr. Rufus Wood, the president of the Bay County Chapter of the NAACP.
Wood says this treatment sparked a desire for change.
“It brought about I guess a hunger and thirst for social justice. So I mean blacks across the country, we put our lives for this country and then to come back home after we fought for the freedom of America and we can’t even have our own personal freedom,” said Wood.
In 1954 the Supreme Court integrated schools in America via their landmark decision in Brown vs. Board of Education. This ruling did not go over well in Bay County.
Dr. Wood grew up in the 60s and 70s and says he still remembers social injustice he faced at school.
“Prior to the integration, our school to say was second hand, is an understatement. We didn’t have new books. We had old desks. We didn’t have a parking lot that was paved.”
The schools were integrated in 1967 and Wood says that move changed a lot. He says though, the integration wouldn’t have been made possible without the help of former chapter president Reverend Timothy Youngblood.
“We got new desks, we got a paved parking lot, they painted the school, they put a fence all the way around the school, new tables and chairs in the cafeteria.”
Dr. Wood says he actively joined the Bay County NAACP after finishing college in the 90s. He says while a lot had improved in the country and community, the organization still had a battle to fight.
One specific area was education. Reverend Lemuel David Glover, the President of the Bay County NAACP in the 1990s, worked on this issue during his tenure.
“He (Glover) tried to do some things to educate, equip, empower the community so dealing with the whole issue of equal rights and social justice but that was his way of addressing the issues. His method was to equip and empower.”
One way Glover achieved this was by creating an office library. People would donate books to the center that highlighted the contributions African- Americans made. This library was specifically designed to empower children.
“I think that was great for the kids to learn about people who looked like them who made contributions because needless to say when African American history is taught in the schools, we get so little of it and a lot of the textbooks we have in the schools, the kids don’t see people who look like them so I think it’s encouraging when they understand their ancestors made major contributions not only in this country, and I always say with that I say when you talk about African American history, you have to trace it back to the motherland,” Wood said. “We need to teach our children that our ancestors were kings and queens and princes and princesses.”
Wood says this knowledge brings pride and confidence into the younger generations when they know what greatness precedes them.
Wood took over as chapter president in 2008. He says his first focus was strengthening the committees of the local organization.
“No matter how great the president is, you have to have people around you to do the work.”
Wood says he believes it’s also important to keep the youth engaged with their efforts.
“Everything we do, there’s not any activity we have that we don’t include our young people because we’re going to have to pass the baton on to them and they’re going to have to be able to carry on the fight,” Wood said.
The Bay County NAACP Chapter is recognizing 75 years of service this year, using the slogan ‘Honoring the Past, Celebrating the Present and Embracing the Future’ to commemorate.
“We’re honoring the past, many of the people that have gone on, we want to honor the contributions they made because we’re standing on their shoulders. We couldn’t be here and do what we’re doing now had it not been for those who’ve gone on before,” Wood said.