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Activist's life documented in tribute

Activist's life documented in tribute

By Kim McCoy
Staff Writer

February 3, 2002

The legacy of C. Spencer Pompey, the civil rights activist, educator, historian and humanitarian who made such a mark on Delray Beach, will live on in a documentary being made about his life that will premiere at a Black History Month celebration.

Although Pompey, who died at 85 in July, received honors and recognition during his lifetime, Palm Beach County Commissioner Addie Greene was surprised that more efforts weren't being made to pay homage to his memory.

So, she sought the advice of Jane Bassa Tolliver, owner of Perfect Results Inc., a communications company in Delray Beach. Tolliver suggested her company make a video. Delray Beach is paying $15,000 for the video, and Greene will reimburse the cost from her discretionary fund.

Tolliver was close to Pompey; they were members of St. Paul AME Church in Delray Beach.

"I had known him all my life, and I hadn't realized all the contributions he had made," Tolliver said. "Sometimes there are heroes and legends among us and we don't appreciate their greatness until they're gone."

The documentary will be featured at a black history tribute in honor of Pompey on Feb. 23 at Pompey Park, 1101 NW Second St. The park was named after him.

"In all communities, whether African American or white, there are people known by work they do," Greene said. "Anybody from Tallahassee to West Palm Beach knows Spencer Pompey."

The tribute to Pompey will be one of several Black History Month programs in south Palm Beach County, including events in Delray Beach, Boca Raton and Boynton Beach.

In Boynton Beach, HeritageFest, formerly known as Black Awareness Day, includes several activities throughout the month. Organizers changed the name of the 22-year-old event to make it more inclusive.

"Some people feel black awareness means only black people need to be there," said Angela Girtman, co-chairwoman of the event. "We're trying to make everybody aware. We want everybody to come out and feel comfortable enjoying the activities."

Highlights will include Festival in the Park on Feb. 23-24 at the Hester Center, which will feature the Black Inventions Museum, a traveling exhibit, and a carnival. There will be the Battle of the Bands featuring the Florida A&M University Marching 100 on Feb. 22 at Boynton Beach High School. Organizers in Delray Beach are hoping to draw a diverse audience for the Pompey celebration as well.

Pompey was one of three black teachers who began a class-action lawsuit in 1942 against the Palm Beach County School Board and its superintendent over a $25 monthly pay disparity between white and black teachers. Later, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, then a NAACP lawyer, tried the case and won.

Pompey also fought to open Delray Beach's whites-only beach to blacks in the 1950s. He pushed for the first organized recreation programs for the city's black children. Over 40 years, he taught social studies at the formerly all-black Carver High School and other schools, became Carver's basketball, track and football coach, then Carver's principal.

Pompey was also a mentor for Delray Beach Commissioner Jeff Perlman, an honorary co-chairman of the tribute. Perlman formed a friendship with Pompey when he was a newspaper reporter in his 20s. When Perlman was considering running for the commission, he turned to Pompey.

"He was one of the first people I went to, to see if it was feasible," Perlman said. "He inspired me to concentrate on race relations. He told me not to do the popular thing, but to do what was right."

The documentary will feature interviews with important people in Pompey's life, such his wife, H. Ruth Pompey, former Carver administrators and students, and possibly local county and city commissioners. The Pompey documentary will be 45-60 minutes long and copies will cost no more than $20 with nonprofit groups and schools receiving a discount. It will also be available in public libraries.

Pompey's widow, an honorary co-chairwoman of the tribute, said she was "overwhelmed" when Tolliver contacted her about making the video. She was married to Pompey for nearly 53 years.

"Once a person dies, you figure they're gone and people have forgotten them," she said.

She said the video will be a good memento for people who knew him.

"I think it will give black kids a mentor -- someone that they knew and who had a lot of influence on the community that they lived in ... They'll feel proud."

For more information on the video, contact Perfect Results, Inc. at 561-278-3577 or write the company at P.O. Box 6335, Delray Beach, FL 33482.

Kim McCoy can be reached at kmccoy@sun-sentinel.com or 561-243-6631.

Copyright © 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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