C CAIR-FL In The News

Speakers recall segregation, encourage unity

By COLLIN BREAUX, For Panama City News Herald , On 23 February 2018, Read Original
Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

“Racism isn’t hereditary,” Shack said. “It’s learned.”

PANAMA CITY — Matthew Shack experienced segregation firsthand.

Shack, 75, went to the movies with a white friend named David at the Martin Theatre in the early 1950s after he met David at a huckleberry patch in town. David joined Shack, who’s black, in the back of the bus and black part of the theater when Shack wasn’t allowed to sit in the front of the bus or in the white movie theater.

It was then that Shack first learned about racism.

“Racism isn’t hereditary,” Shack said. “It’s learned.”


Shack was one of several older black residents who told stories about their firsthand experiences with segregation and racism during an Eracism event Thursday night at the Bay County Government Center on 11th Street in Panama City. The event, intended to address racism and promote unity and progress, also featured younger motivational speakers who encouraged the multi-ethnic standing room crowd to be compassionate and help one another.

Eracism was co-sponsored by ACURE, the Bay County Democratic Black Caucus, CAIR-Florida, Democratic Women’s Club of Bay County, JUDOS, Kingdom Impact Center, the LEAD Coalition of Bay County, the League of Women Voters of Bay County and the NAACP. The audience clapped at certain points in the night as speakers related their personal and emotional experiences.

Leon Belton, president of the Black Caucus, said some of the things he experienced in Panama City when he was young will go “to my grave.” One was when his uncle was assaulted after drinking from a whites-only water fountain.


“I’ll never forget when me and my uncle walked to town, he was thirsty,” Belton said. “So he decided to drink some water. And this white guy came out of the service station. It was located on Harrison (Avenue) and Sixth Street. This man kicked my uncle in the rear end. ... We didn’t go home and tell our parents what happened because we probably would have gotten a whipping for drinking water at the fountain we knew we should not have been drinking in.”

George Hines Jr. also said he encountered racism in Panama City and in the military. Hines grew up in the same neighborhood as Shack and also got a hostile reaction when he drank from a white fountain. Hines, who turns 65 in a few weeks, said after he entered integrated education a teacher told him not to worry about learning how to write a check because he was an “n word.”

“After 11th grade I got so tired of racism in Bay County I just decided I’d quit school,” Hines said. “I said I’d join the military. I went and joined the military and guess what? Racism! ... I have had racism all my life. I have dealt with it. It has not been easy. ... We can live together if we try.”

Sue Carol Elvin, a white woman, told stories about hearing her neighbors using racist slurs and her mother being terrified of the Ku Klux Klan. Elvin said reading books by black authors gives her a background on how she was raised because back then she was told she “had no idea what was going on.”

“There was such a gulf and there’s still a gulf,” Elvin said.

Kevin Warren, CEO of the Tallahassee-based Life Group, looked toward the current generation and future during his turn to speak. Warren encouraged the audience to bridge gaps, keep fighting against racism and negativity and said people have stopped loving each other. Warren also said older and younger generations can work together and understand one another.

“Love is the only thing that can produce true, powerful courage,” Warren said.

General Email: 

For legal assistance text:

To Donate:

Call 833.CAIRFLA (833.224.7352)

Mailing Adrress:
8076 N 56th St., Tampa, FL 33617 (Main Office)

CAIR Florida office locations:

Sunrise – Fort Myers – Tampa – Orlando – Panama City