Activist's life documented in tribute
Activist's life documented in tribute
By Kim McCoy
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
"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."
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
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
Kim McCoy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or
Copyright © 2002, South Florida
Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel