Priest recollects segregation in Orlando throughout civil rights period

Father Nelson Pinder is an 85-year-old great grandfather. He is also a civil rights icon in the Central Florida area.

  • Father Nelson Pinder recalls fight for civil rights
  • Pinder describes how Orlando was segregated

While the priest can chuckle about it now, Pinder remembers the sharp sting of segregation well as he describes the words used against him and other demonstrators pushing for integration.

“2, 4, 6, 8 — we not gone’ integrate!” and “You blackies go home” are just some of the words Pinder recalled.

The words uttered in the City Beautiful during the civil rights movement came from those wanting Jim Crow laws to stay in place forever.

However, he says he knew when he flew into Orlando in 1959 that change needed to happen. He says his welcome to the city was not so warm.

“They told me they couldn’t serve me coffee at the counter. I had to go around,” Pinder remembered.

He tried to hail a cab to get into town but says the brakes were put on that effort too when he was told he was only allowed to take a “colored cab.”

He adds, “They told me I couldn’t get in there. So, what I had to do was call a cab from town to come and get me and I had to pay twice as much. It cost me to be black.”

Those sweeping Jim Crow laws dictated just about everywhere that blacks and people of color could go, even in sickness. Pinder says patients were even segregated in the hospital, including babies.

“Yeah they were put in the basement with all the pipes,” Pinder said.

He says education and job opportunities were just as limited.

“We had two different sets of schools. One white. One black. The bus system, most blacks had to ride in the back,” explained Pinder.

But he said the winds of change were coming and that people felt like enough was enough.

He organized the community and talked to the police chief. Pinder trained dozen of students in nonviolence tactics that they used at downtown Orlando lunch counter sit-ins in hopes of integrating them.

“Our message to everyone was: ‘Know where you are — what we have to do — let us not start any trouble.’ Let us be calm, cool and be able to win people over to what we are doing,” the priest explained.

It took time but it worked without the violence seen in other cities across the country as Orlando demonstrators walked away when provoked and were trained to take insults.

Pinder says the biggest changes came when schools were forced to integrate. He says, “I’ve seen this community change and move forward and I think that…

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