PORT RICHEY — After a march from Union Missionary Baptist Church to the former Booker T. Washington School, with sung refrains of “We Shall Overcome,” floating through the chilly morning air, more than a hundred members of the community gathered Monday to remember the words and life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his birthday.
The African American Club of Pasco has been celebrating Martin Luther King Day for as long as everyone can remember, but every year the celebration has grown in attendance and added a larger line-up of speakers and entertainment. This year, those speakers included government officials Mike Fasano, the Pasco County Tax collector, and state Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey.
The headliner was Marvin Dunn of Miami, whose book “The Beast in Florida: a History of Anti-Black Violence” is going for more than $100 on eBay and Amazon. The book, published in the spring of 2013 by the University Press of Florida, only had one printing, so copies are hard to come by. Dunn stayed afterward to sign those brought to the event.
When Dunn, a retired former assistant professor of psychology at Florida International University, reached the podium, which was decorated with a painting of King, he looked out over the small crowd of people in the room and smiled.
“All these kids here today — black and white — this is what Dr. King would have wanted,” he said.
Dunn spoke about his book, the culmination of years of research into various Florida communities and racially charged violence, and how the state intentionally quelled incidents of racism to be seen as a more “family-friendly state” to win the bid for Disney World, he said.
“Florida had more lynchings than Mississippi,” Dunn said.
Dunn was inspired to write the book after reading former University of Miami history professor Charlton Tebeau’s 1971 book “A History of Florida,” which didn’t mention a single lynching and made only a passing reference to the Ku Klux Klan.
Despite the somber undertones to the celebration, Dunn and others kept their speeches mostly positive.
“I’m not here to make anyone feel bad or appeal to anyone’s anger,” Dunn said. “If you’re a black person, there’s no reason to be angry. Anger doesn’t get you anywhere.”
He added: “Think about how far we’ve come. We have a black president. What a great, great nation we are.”
Aside from speakers, guests to the birthday celebration were entertained with a performance by mimes Myron Donaldson and Rudy Wilson, as well as performances by the Sanctuary Choir at Union Missionary Baptist Church and youth group Fearingstar, which recently appeared at the Straz Center in St. Petersburg.
In February, for the first time, the AAC has planned a month full of events for Black History Month. The events will include a film festival of African films at the New Port Richey Public Library, a “Salute to Veterans of the AAC” and a PowerPoint presentation at the West Pasco Historical Society’s Rao Musunuru, M.D., Museum on the civil rights struggle.
There will also be a discussion of Dunn’s book by the AAC Book Club, a ribbon-cutting event with the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce, an Apollo Theater Talent Night with cash prizes and a dinner dance to raise money for the AAC Scholarship Fund.
Other events being considered are a “College Night” for high school juniors and seniors to meet with representatives of local colleges, exhibits of the AAC’s Bayliss collection of African-American literature at St. Pete College and PHCC, and an exhibit of African-American literature by Callaghan Books South at the Rao Musunuru, M.D., Museum.
For more information, call AAC President Darryll Stevenson at (727) 495-3206 or Corresponding Secretary Dan Callaghan at (727) 372-1742.
Follow Daylina Miller on Twitter @DaylinaMiller.