PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — As Black History Month comes to a close, News 13 looks at the life and experience of local attorney Cecile Scoon.
Scoon is a civil rights attorney known for her pro bono work and involvement in the community.
Scoon said her heart is soft to those who didn’t have the same opportunities she did growing up.
“People say, ‘Why do you care about this?’ I’m like because I had all of the benefits,” Scoon said. “I didn’t earn any of it. I just was born into it and I was a little flower that got the right amount of sun, the right amount of water, you know, loving comments and I blossomed. And I’m proud of myself. But I know I had a huge head start.”
Scoon spent some of her childhood going to school in Antigua where she said there wasn’t a major focus on American History.
She and her family moved back to the states when she was 15-years-old. She attended the National Cathedral School and took African American History where she learned about segregation for the first time.
“I thought, ‘wow, people had to sit in the back of the bus,'” Scoon said. “They were mistreated for going to school, they were spat on and people hated them and yelled at little girls and I was like blowing my mind.”
Scoon initially thought her parents didn’t experience segregation. After doing the math, she realized her parents lived through all of it, but never told her in order to protect her.
“And I’m going around like ‘Oh that happened a long, long time ago’ no, it happened in your parent’s lifetime,” Scoon said. “They were young people and they endured all of that.”
Growing up in the 60’s, Scoon missed most of the civil rights movement. She said she received opportunities like scholarships and spots on sports teams.
“These experience reinforced in my mind, ‘I better make sure that other people get some benefits.’ ‘I better make sure that I do some small part to keep the civil rights movement going in some small way,'” Scoon said.
After high school, Scoon attended Harvard University. At the time, Harvard invested in multiple U.S. corporations that supported apartheid in South Africa. Scoon said this was the moment she decided to become a lawyer.
“Yes I joined that big protest at Harvard,” Scoon said. “And watching when we would go to the Board of Trustees, they call them the Board of Overseers, what a terrible name, at Harvard, the corporation. And the lawyers would sit and talk and the stocks and the this and the that and you were like ‘what are they saying?’ We would be so mad. I would say you know what? There will never be another time in my life, where lawyers are gonna sit and talk and I’m not gonna understand.”
Scoon was in the ROTC program at Harvard. After graduation, the Air Force gave her a deferment to attend law school. When she received her law degree, she was assigned to Tyndall.
While stationed here, she received a call from another attorney looking for leniency for his client. The phone call took an uncomfortable turn.
“Later on, I learned he was a white gentleman but at the time, taking me back to that time: southern accent, talking with a drawl, and ‘You know, I got a guy and you all really need to help him, and you know he’s just an old ni —-‘ and he just really needs and he just you know he’s really in a bad situation can you help him?’ and I’m thinking, did I hear what I think I heard? No he said it flat out,” Scoon said.
Scoon said she believes the other attorney thought she was white.
“He assumed, officer, captain, lawyer, assistant staff judge advocate, gotta be a white chick,” Scoon said. “And listen to how she talks. He thought he was safe.”
At first, Scoon didn’t realize the weight of being the first black woman to practice law in Bay County until people started calling her attorney Scoon instead of Cecile.
“I kind of learned about my status in an organic way,” Scoon said. “Through people’s reverence I would say. Attorney Scoon.”
Scoon said she is now in her awakening in terms of community work. She recently received an award from the Florida Bar for her pro bono service — specifically helping convicted felons get back their right to vote and educating lawyers on how to help them.
“So getting lawyers involved, training them how to do it, is a way to give tools to make it happen so that’s why I got that award,” Scoon said.
Scoon said she understands why people may be prejudice of race or gender: because they grow up around it.
But, she said she and her husband remember the warmth and family atmosphere they felt straight from the beginning.
“Even though we’re interracial, and for a lot of people, 39 years ago, especially a white man and a black woman there’s just a whole lot of things going on there,” Scoon said. “But people were really friendly.”
As for social justice issues, Scoon feels Bay County is not far behind where the rest of the country is.