USF St. Pete celebrates 50th anniversary of court ruling

USF’s St. Petersburg campus commemorates the 50th anniversary celebration of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling on May 17, 1954. The Civil Rights Movement in Florida Conference is “going to be the first conference of its kind here in Florida,” said Monica Rowland, Program Coordinator.

Brown v. Board of Education was the court decision that struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine and was a step toward desegregation in public schools as well as a victory for the Civil Rights Movement.

This conference will be held today to June 6 at USF’s St. Pete campus and will be the fourth in the St. Petersburg Remembers Brown v. Board of Education series. The conference is coordinated by the Florida Studies Program and aims to educate and evaluate the impact this case had on several Americans. This conference will be the first conference to celebrate Florida’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. Several underestimate Florida’s importance in the Civil Rights Movement, which has long been associated with such states as Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee; however, Florida did and still does contribute to the importance of this movement, Rowland said.

Rowland said Florida played a key role in the Civil Rights Movement, which is why USF St. Petersburg chose the case as a major concern.

“We knew it needed to be done,” Rowland said.

Rowland added that Florida is rarely looked at as as a “Southern State,” but was instrumental in the progress of civil rights, with sit-ins occurring in local towns such as Miami, Jacksonville and Gainesville. Also seminal was the participation of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the St. Augustine March of 1964, just prior to the passing of the Civil Rights Act banning segregation.

This conference will mix scholars and activists and will include panel discussions, lively debates and film documentaries dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement both in the state of Florida and as a whole.

Congressman Walter Fauntroy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, St. Augustine Movement founder Dr. Robert Hayling, Congress of Racial Equality leaders Patricia Stephens Due and Gordon Carey, anti-Klan activist Stetson Kennedy, former Freedom Riders Bernard Lafayette and Israel Dresnerthe and several civil rights survivors will be attending the conference.

“These were the real foot soldiers from the beginning of the movement out there fighting the hard fight. These were the people taking the brunt of it all, getting pelted with rocks, and we are lucky to have them with us today because it may be our last chance to hear their stories,” Rowland said.

The conference kicks off today with a bus tour in St. Petersburg that will tour the very spots in which several people struggled for segregation some 50 years ago. The conference will end with a barbecue at USF St. Petersburg.

The conference ends Sunday morning with a farewell breakfast and more keynote speakers. To take a look at the conference program go to and for more information contact Monica Rowland at or call 727-553-4840.

The conference is free and open to the public.