May 11, 2016 – Tallahassee, Fla.– Today, Earl M. Johnson, Jesse McCrary, Jr. and Rutledge Henry Pearson were officially inducted into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame for 2016.
“These three individuals have made a great impact on the civil rights movement in the Sunshine State, and I am excited to distinguish them by their induction into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame,” said Florida Commission on Human Relations’ Executive Director Michelle Wilson. “As someone who has personally and professionally benefited from the works of these pioneers, I join all Floridians in recognizing their contributions that improved our state and country for the better,” concluded Wilson.
Earl M. Johnson (1928-1988), formerly of Jacksonville, was the first African American to become a member of the Jacksonville Bar Association. Johnson also served as chair of the Florida Board of Bar Examiners and was instrumental during the Consolidation of Jacksonville through his service on the Local Government Study Commission as Secretary. Johnson was committed to fighting inequality and segregation throughout his life and distinguished himself by representing many civil rights activists, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ambassador Young. His cases helped to desegregate many public places in Florida, including schools, parks, water fountains, and hospitals. The Earl M. Johnson Memorial Park in Jacksonville was created and named in honor of his work for the civil rights movement.
Jesse McCrary, Jr. (1937-2007), formerly of Miami, was the first African American to serve as Secretary of State in the Florida Cabinet since Reconstruction, as well as the first African American Assistant Attorney General. As a student at Florida A & M University, McCrary was an organizer of sit-ins in Tallahassee against racial discrimination. After graduation, he served in the United States Army and received an honorable discharge as a First Lieutenant. McCrary went on to become the first African-American lawyer to argue before the United States Supreme Court on behalf of a southern state. He later became the first African American in the south to be appointed to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals. During his life, McCrary argued many landmark state and federal cases, including Neil v. State, which prohibited the dismissal of jurors solely on the basis of race. In 2002, the Florida A & M College of Law founded the Jesse McCrary, Jr. Chapter of National Black Law Students Association. In 2013, the Little River Post Office in Miami was dedicated and renamed in recognition for his work as a civil rights pioneer.
Rutledge Henry Pearson, (1929-1967), a native of Jacksonville, was a Civics and an American History teacher, a civil rights leader, and a human rights activist. He began his journey in the Civil Rights movement when as a baseball player, Jacksonville park officials chose to close the park rather than allow him to integrate professional baseball. He inspired and motivated many citizens and his students to fight discrimination and racism. Mr. Pearson was the adviser to the Jacksonville Youth Council NAACP during Jacksonville’s 1960 sit-ins and Ax Handle Saturday. In 1961, he was elected President of the Jacksonville Branch of the NAACP, and was later elected President of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP. He was also elected to the National Board of the NAACP.
For more information on the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame, please visit http://fchr.state.fl.us or on Facebook.