As remembered by Rodney L. Hurst
January 8, 2012
I would like to add the name of Mr. Rutledge H. Pearson to the "In Our Memories They Live Forever" page of CRMVET. He was my mentor and was the advisor to the Jacksonville Youth Council NAACP during the 1960 sit-ins and Ax Handle Saturday. He is one of the "threads" throughout my book.
Most public school American History textbooks during the fifties included only a few references to Blacks: Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver or Frederick Douglass's writings. Though important to the history of this country, they certainly are not the only Blacks who made salient contributions to America. In Mr. Rutledge Henry Pearson's Eighth Grade American History class, we did not have to look forward to just a week or month of Negro History — we had Negro History every day. When Mr. Pearson's classes displayed their exhibits during Negro History Week, they easily rivaled high school exhibits.
Studying American history without also explaining the contributions of Blacks yields an undesirable consequence: If you have no clue about the historical contributions made to this country by my ancestors, you have a lack of respect for me as an Black. I have an obligation as a black man, to explain to you those historical contributions. I also have an obligation to show you documented proof that Blacks helped to found and settle this country.
Mr. Pearson not only taught us in his American History and Civics classes, but he encouraged us to join an organization called the Youth Council of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He served as advisor to the Jacksonville Youth Council NAACP. Can you imagine an American History school teacher being the advisor to an NAACP Youth Council? I knew about the NAACP, but frankly at the age of 11 had no clue about the NAACP Youth Council, though it did sound quite interesting. Mr. Pearson used a particular saying when he talked with us about the NAACP and the struggle for human dignity and respect. He simply said, "Freedom is not free" and "If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problems" which resonated with me.
Mr. Pearson also encouraged Black schoolteachers at Isaiah Blocker to join the NAACP, and sought support for the NAACP from the community. Getting Blacks in Jacksonville to join the NAACP became one of his priorities.
Mr. Pearson's classroom teaching, and his involvement with the NAACP outside the classroom, took a lot of courage in the fifties. Mr. Pearson and his family even moved into the predominantly white Springfield neighborhood, which we considered one of the racist neighborhoods in Jacksonville at that time. At the ripe "old" age of eleven, I could not understand or appreciate the width and breadth of Mr. Pearson's courage, but I would become a quick learner.
In essence, here was:
A Black schoolteacher in Jacksonville who ignored and refused to use the approved Duval County School System (in Florida) American History textbook that excluded many relevant contributions by Blacks;
A Black schoolteacher in Jacksonville who taught outside of the public education box by extolling the contributions of Blacks in American History;
A Black schoolteacher in Jacksonville who encouraged both students and schoolteachers to join the NAACP while actively marshalling the resources of the Black community;
A Black schoolteacher in Jacksonville instrumental in getting whites to actively support and join the NAACP;
A Black schoolteacher who proved, even in Jacksonville, that the color of your skin should not be a prerequisite for, or a condition to, the purchase of a home in any neighborhood in Jacksonville, Florida.
As I said, Mr. Pearson personified courage.
(Permission granted by author to use excerpt from It Was Never About a Hot Dog and a Coke.)
Rodney L. Hurst, Sr.
Author: It Was Never About a Hot Dog and a Coke
(New Kindle version available from Amazon.com)
Web site: rodneyhurst.com