Terry Coney
Terry Coney, president of the NAACP Lakeland Branch | Kimberly C. Moore, LkldNow

NAACP Lakeland Branch President Terry Coney wants young people to understand and appreciate the struggles he and the older generations of Black people went through to obtain civil fights for them – and that the people who endured for their rights are still alive to tell their stories.

“I think it’s important that Generation X and Millennials get a refresher on the harshness of the way people were treated and things just didn’t overnight happen,” Coney said.

Black History Month Program

6 p.m. Monday

Coleman-Bush Building

1104 Martin L King, Jr. Ave.

On Monday at 6 p.m. at the city’s Coleman-Bush Building at 1104 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., Coney is going to welcome Beverly Boatwright, who was trained in non-violent resistance during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

In addition, David Towns, who was among the first group of Black students at Lakeland High School in 1965-66 and also one of the first Black teachers at Frostproof High School in the early 1970s, will also share his story.

“He said he didn’t realize it at the time, but he had a daughter of the head of the Ku Klux Klan in his class and he was teaching social studies and he was trying to give some information on Black history or something and she looked at it and threw it on the floor,” Coney said. “And then all the other kids threw it on the floor, even the black kids and he thought maybe the black kids were just responding to what the white kids were doing just to keep from being singled out.”

Coney will also show the documentary “At The River I Stand” about the Memphis sanitation workers strike and Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination there.

“There’s some pretty dramatic stuff in there,” Coney said Friday. “You know, police beating up people during the march and that kind of thing, but and even the determination of the mayor to not even negotiate with them … There is a whole pervasive attitude of ‘less than’ … and whites still thinking of blacks as almost like children, that they’re still on the plantation and they gotta take care of them because they can’t take care of it themselves.”

Coney said that while some people his age — he’s 71 — remember why King was in Memphis in April 1968, young people don’t generally know why the sanitation workers were striking.  It’s because they were not treated as equals with white sanitation workers, had no insurance benefits and Blacks were forced to take work breaks outside. 

On Feb. 1, 1968, sanitation workers Echol Cole and Robert Walker were crushed to death by a malfunctioning garbage truck when the men tried to seek shelter from a torrential rainstorm in the compactor area of their garbage truck. They were killed when the compactor accidentally turned on. It was the latest in a long series of neglectful actions on the part of Memphis city officials toward Black workers and 1,300 Black city public works employees went on strike.

Coney said the entire community is invited to the program. He recalled King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” when civil rights activist had been told to wait and their rights would come.

“He said, ‘We have been waiting. And we keep getting these promises that keep being broken. So we know we can’t wait any longer,’” Coney recalled.

In 2020, The Ledger published a series called Black in Polk. Read it here.

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Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at kimberly@lkldnow.com or 863-272-9250.

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