Black History Month

Father of Orlando’s civil rights movement describes what living in the city was like in the 60s

ORLANDO, Fla. — Much of what happened In Orlando during the civil rights movement never made national headlines, but that doesn’t mean the community was silent.

Channel 9′s Vanessa Echols talked with a man who was first known as the street priest and is now considered the father of the Orlando civil rights movement.

An exhibit at the history center in Orange County provides a civil rights snapshot of Orlando in the 1960s.

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Front and center in the exhibit is Father Nelson Pinder, who was also front and center in the Orlando civil rights movement.

“My first impression of the city was that it was a good ol’ southern town,” Pinder said.

At 88 years old, a conversation with Pinder brings that history to life as he vividly remembers 1959, when he left seminary in Wisconsin to become the first full-time priest of color at the Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist in Orlando.

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But from day one, he didn’t get a warm welcome. When he arrived at the airport, he had to take a separate taxi.

“Man told me ‘you can’t go with them. You gotta call a taxi,’” Pinder said. “I said, ‘why I gotta call a taxi?’ He said ‘Black and whites don’t mix.’”

From that day on, Pinder knew he would not be sitting on the sidelines when it came to making necessary change in Orlando, like helping to organize students from Jones High School to sit-ins at the lunch counters that refused to serve Black customers.

“The sit-ins were good,” he said. “We had to take the children and train them how to behave themselves at the lunch counters, and they were good at it. They kept their peace and coolness.”

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Pinder was never shy about using his voice, speaking out about Orlando’s segregated hospital.

“Blacks were served in the basement with all the pipes, all the noise,” he said.

He also talked about jobs in an interview with Channel 9 in the early 60s.

“Now, after all the demonstrations, speeches and marches, has the lot of negro in Orlando been improved? Yes. In the field of housing it has improved, but in the field of employment, we’re still backwards, simply because many of the negroes who are responsible and have degrees and are qualified in different areas are being told by employment agencies to go pick fruit.”

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But what unfolded in Orlando during the civil rights movement was dramatically different than other southern cities.

Pinder believes it’s because of what was happening behind the scenes.

“But the thing that was so important, is that we were willing to work with the chief of police, Stoney John Stone, and we told him what we wanted to do, you know,” he said. “But he didn’t want any trouble. That was the whole thing. The chief of police, we began to work together.”

And they didn’t just work with the police, but also with a business leader from Sears and Roebuck too.

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“He began to work hard with the community to prevent things that other cities were having,” he said. “He knew what it did to the economy. So, Clyde began to get a group of white people to meet with us Black people and we began to work some things out. Clyde West became to me a hero, because he was beginning to show them that economy was at stake and other things like that. It wasn’t a political fight. He understood that. It was a march for freedom, justice and peace.”

As Pinder reflected on the history, he said one thing remains constant about Orlando’s civil rights legacy.

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“We did not take this as a political event. We thought it was more a moral, ethical event.”

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Vanessa Echols

Vanessa Echols,

I have been a member of the Eyewitness News team since 1992 and currently anchor Eyewitness News at Noon and 4 p.m. on Channel 9.

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