An historical marker commemorating the lunch counter sit-ins during the 1960’s civil rights movement in Downtown Pensacola’s department stores was unveiled this past Saturday, April 25th. The marker provides the historical narrative under a bold faced title of “PENSACOLA LUNCH COUNTER SIT-INS” at the very high profile corner of Palafox and Garden Streets.
The NAACP Pensacola Branch and the Pensacola Sit-In Commemorative Group held a weekend of commemorative activities from Friday April 24th through Sunday April 26th starting with a Meet and Greet Reception at the Fricker Recreation Center. The marker unveiling program held on Saturday afternoon at 3:00 pm featured a stage in the center of Palafox Street just south of Garden Street. Dr. John Veasley, NAACP Pensacola Branch Sit-In Commemorative Committee Chair worked in coordination with Dr. Sara Jonas, Rev. John Powell, Cheryle Allen and Della Redmond (organizers of the Pensacola Sit-In Commemorative Committee) who actually participated in the lunch counter protests during the 1960’s.
Patricia Turner Jefferson, a former Pensacola entrepreneur, served as Mistress of Ceremony for this historical event. Dr. Sara Jonas, a graduate of the University of West Florida who did the research on the sit-ins, gave the Occasion presentation at the marker unveiling event. Cheryle Allen, in an interview with the Pensacola Voice commented that, “The reception at Fricker Center was a wonderful event because it gave those of us who had participated in the sit-ins at different times an opportunity to get to know each other better. The impact of what we had accomplished really hit when the marker was unveiled”! Additional remarks at the unveiling were made by the following: Russell Branch, Raymon Harvey, Della Turner Redmond Cheryle Carter Allen.
The role of Rev. William C. Dobbins, of the NAACP Youth Council, was celebrated and documented as the key local civil rights leader who coordinated the protests with the local ministerial council. Stories continued to be shared of how the youth were spit on, burned with cigarettes, and hit with raw eggs. Additionally, they were taken to jail under the false pretenses of stealing store merchandise as small store products were placed into their pockets resulting in unfounded arrests. Francis Tolbert, who participated in the 1960’s sit-in, shared, “Rev. Dobbins needs to be honored because he was a man that did not mind stepping out and being vocal about the injustices being put on our community at that time”! The wife and daughter of Rev. Dobbins were in Pensacola for the ceremonies.