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"Witnesses On the Bridge"
Florence L. Florence Tate FBI Most Wanted Secretary
March 2, 2013 10pm ET LIVE
Witnesses On the Bridge: Florence L. Tate, Civil Rights Activist, Journalist, and Press Secretary
She recounts Life from Days in Jim Crow South to the1984 Jesse Jackson Presidential Bid in New Memoir
Many would think becoming an octogenarian reserves one the right to rest on her laurels — but Florence L. Tate, 81, says, “There’s still work to be done.”
The former Civil Rights activist, Dayton Daily News reporter, and press secretary for the historic 1984 Jesse Jackson Presidential campaign has lived through seven decades of American epochs – and now she’s writing about her impressive experiences and achievements in a new memoir – tentatively titled, The FBI’s Most Wanted Press Secretary Opens Her Files on Civil Rights, the Black Power Movement, and Black Partisan Politics.
At a time when our country should be experiencing a sense of accomplishment at realizing the fruits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work — evidenced by the election of the first African American President –Tate feels instead that the racial unease and tension revealed by events like the current drama surrounding the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case signify America still has a long way to go in race relations.
“The country has gone backwards from the time of Dr. Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech; we have regressed. There’s been an attempt to take things back to the pre-Civil Rights days,” says Tate.
In her memoir, Tate draws upon her extensive experience integrating major companies like Bell Telephone, and Globe Industries, working with seminal civil rights groups including SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and CORE (Congress for Racial Equality).
As the first African American female journalist at the Dayton Daily News, she also covered current events — including the Dayton riots that occurred during the “summer of ‘68” race riots that swept across the country.
The work that brought her into close confidence with key activist figures — such as Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown — also eventually brought Tate, a middle class Dayton housewife and mother of three children, under the surveillance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation – evidenced by the giant file she received from the FBI when she petitioned for them decades after her civil rights and Pan Africanist work.
Tate wasn’t all that surprised by her voluminous FBI file. “We suspected we were under surveillance because, for example, we would pick up the phone, to try to use the phone, and there would be a silence there… we didn’t know, but we suspected… We suspected there would be people in the meetings, sometimes people who gave off vibes that they were not there to work with us… they were there to spy on us. And figures like Stokely Carmichael were always being followed by the FBI; they didn’t even try to hide it. They would sit outside in cars – for example, if he were at a meeting at my house, or wherever he was, they would be sitting outside my house. When I got my FBI file, then I knew exactly when they had been watching, spying…or infiltrating.”
Tate’s memoir chronicles her journey — from growing up under segregation in the South from the 30s through the mid-50s — to moving north in the late 50s…to finally become an influential figure in the small but dedicated civil rights movement ground work happening in Mid Western cities like Dayton.
“The civil rights activists were working in parts of the country other than the south – where the ground work was well publicized. Little or no publicity was given to the work being done in Mid Western cities like Dayton, Ohio,” she shares.
Related experiences — as Communications Director of the National Urban Coalition, and National Information Coordinator for ’72 African Liberation Day Coordinating Committee — landed Tate the role of Press Secretary in Marion Barry’s first campaign in his successful bid for Mayor of Washington D.C. in 1978, and Press Secretary during his first two years in office. Later she would repeat that role for Jesse Jackson’s 1984 Presidential campaign — during which time she traveled with him to Damascus, Syria during his historic rescue mission to free downed U.S. Air Force pilot Lt. Robert Goodman.
Tate also writes of another major life-defining segment of her journey: her experiences with mental and physical health issues. These include battling breast cancer, suffering a major stroke after the birth of her third child.
Tate says she hopes her memoir will encourage young people – and especially young women – to understand and act on their power to impact the world around them. But like a true mother, grandmother – and now, great-grandmother — she admits her main reason for penning her memoir is for her children.
“My children and grandchildren have repeatedly asked me to write my biography — so they will know who I am…so they can know who they are.”
Octogenarian Florence L. Tate Recounts Life from Days in Jim Crow South to the1984 Jesse Jackson Presidential Bid in New Memoir Many would think becoming an octogenarian reserves one the right to rest on her laurels — but Florence L. Tate, 81, says, “There’s still work to be done.”