There are legends — and then there are living legends.
The difference, Lincolnville Museum Director Gayle Phillips, said, is that the latter are still around to enjoy the recognition bestowed upon them.
Four such citizens were honored at an awards ceremony Sunday at the Lincolnville Museum for their service and achievements in the local black community. They are Cora Tyson, Sandra Parks, Henry L. White Sr., and Barbara Edna Vickers.
The Living Legends awards program was established last year as a way to applaud the efforts of those who have “served in the trenches” and worked “toward the advancement of equality,” according to Phillips. Each of this year’s recipients, as well as those named last year, will also have the chance to add their personal story to the oral history archives project the museum is working on. Their names will also be added to a plaque on display within the museum on Martin Luther King Avenue.
Cora Tyson is so embedded into the fabric of Linconville’s past that she is considered one of the “house mothers of the civil rights movement,” according to local historian David Nolan, who introduced Tyson at the awards ceremony.
“I always thought that Florida’s greatest export in the 1960s was citrus,” Nolan said, “but it was actually talented black people.”
Tyson, a graduate of St. Augustine’s Excelsior High School, began a local restaurant called The Savory and enjoyed feeding people so much she worked as a cafeteria manager for several district schools. But it was her hospitality and willingness to see change that had Tyson and her late husband welcoming Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. into her house to rest, dine and hold meetings during the civil rights movement.
Of that pivotal time in the 1960s, Tyson said, “Some of my trust in St. Johns County was broken ... and I think I still feel it. We have come a long ways but we still have a long way to go.”
Though she has continued to work to honor the legacy of her late husband, human rights activist Stetson Kennedy, Sandra Parks has more than made a name for herself while working first to desegregate schools and then close the achievement gap between minority students and their peers.
In her time on the St. Augustine City Commission, Parks helped to get HUD funding to rehabilitate and preserve dozens of houses in historic Lincolnville and also to establish the Willie Galimore Community Center.
For her part, Parks said her mother’s example of service to others was instilled in her at a young age.
“My mother taught me that each one of us is a unique blend of abilities and experiences that we can draw on to do what needs to be done,” Parks said.
Henry L. White Sr.
Henry L. White Sr. was born to two deaf parents, including a father who was the first black deaf person to graduate from the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. The challenge that presented only served to motivate him more, going on to graduate from college and become a physical education teacher and coach at FSDB. He coached boys and girls basketball, football and track and field, and also went on to earn master’s degrees in physical education and administration.
White said the example of early black academic leaders like Otis Mason were role models for him in helping others, especially young people of color, to achieve without boundaries.
White’s leadership brought him and his students to several International Games for the Deaf as part of the Special Olympics. He continues to serve in various community roles since retirement.
White said humbly, “I had a lot of help along the way. ... And that’s what I’ve always done, is to help people the way they did for me.”
Barbara Edna Vickers
Barbara Edna Vickers is no new name to community awards. A lifelong activist, writer and artist, Vickers has always been an agent of change, whether it was opening up her own business or serving as St. Augustine’s own “Rosie the Riveter” working as one of the few black female welders in the shipyards of New York during World War II.
After returning to her native St. Augustine in the 1950s and marrying Eddie Lee Vickers, she began participating in “kneel-in” demonstrations to integrate local churches during Sunday services. Vickers is also credited with spearheading the movement to create a Foot Soldiers Monument in the Plaza downtown.
Said former Mayor George Gardner, who introduced Vickers, “She knelt with those foot soldiers, and 50 years later she built a monument for them.”
The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind is a tuition-free state public school and outreach center available to eligible Pre-K and K-12 students who are deaf/hard of hearing, blind/visually impaired, or deafblind. At FSDB, students learn how to do more, be more, and achieve more, fulfilling our vision of preparing them for a lifetime of success. FSDB gratefully accepts private donations to support vital programs that directly benefit students and are not paid by state general revenue funds. For a campus tour or to inquire about eligibility for enrollment, contact FSDB Parent Services at 904-827-2212 voice or 904-201-4527 videophone. For more information, visit www.fsdbk12.org