Civil Rights activist, T. Willard Fair, will be honored as an icon and a revolutionary, for the work he's done to advance people of color throughout South Florida at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach on Saturday. This is the same hotel where he pressured management to hire blacks 50 years ago. He is also being celebrated as the longest serving executive in Urban League history.
He was born in Winston-Salem, N.C., the youngest of seven siblings. He received his undergraduate degree in Sociology from Johnson C. Smith University and a master in social work from Atlanta University School of Social Work. While in Atlanta, he volunteered with the student non-violent movement to desegregate movie theaters and lunch counters.
Fair was voted chapter president in 1963. At that time he was 24-years-old, the League's youngest chapter president.
"If you keep talkin' to us like this, you might wake up one day and your car blow up." For Fair, president of an Urban League of Greater Miami chapter, death threats came with the territory in the 1960s. Fair, along with Rev. Edward T. Graham and NAACP Miami Chapter President Theodore Gibson, met with businesses around Miami in hopes that they'd put blacks on their payroll.
The head of the hotel union Herbert "Pinky" Shiffman had no interest in hiring blacks. "He said to us, you know I can kill niggers whenever I get ready."
Within a few years of accepting the presidency, he successfully pushed to get blacks hired at Eastern Airlines, Southern Bell (which later became AT&T); Florida Power & Light, Florida Highway Patrol; department stores including Burdines (now Macy's), Richards, Jordan Marsh and even the Fontainebleau.
By 1967, Fair's efforts - paralleled with the national outcry for Civil Rights - led to the development of the Equal Employment Opportunity Task Force, which to this day, prohibits discrimination in the workplace.
"Anybody who can do 50 years in one job - and still have the enthusiasm and effectiveness as T. Willard Fair - is a special person," says National Urban League president Marc Morial, who also admits that Fair's reputation precedes him.
Fair was getting things done. However, folks in Miami were growing tired of his larger than life personality. Fair walked around town in a zoot suit. Sometimes carried a spear while wearing a dashiki. He says that his colleagues tried to get rid of him every chance they could during his first five years as chapter president.
He admits that at times he acted inappropriately, but somebody had to do it.
"People were staying in their place, giving the impression that they were happy when they really were not happy," he says. "I was talking back to white folks and talking bad about black folks. Someone had to call them out."
Despite his seemingly bad behavior, he grew the chapter from three employees with a $19,000 budget to having 476 employees with a budget that topped $5 million over a 10-year period. Employees provided direct services such as housing, health and welfare, education and employment to Liberty City and Overtown residents.
Racial tensions were already at a tipping point when the two communities were dealt big blows. The first setback to hit Overtown, then called the Central Negro District, was when an expressway was built through the spine of the economically thriving community. Blacks were uprooted. Their only option was to move to the neighborhood of Liberty City, which to this day houses one of the largest concentrations of African Americans in South Florida.
Source: The Grio | Rochelle Oliver