Longtime Brevard civil rights chief Clarence Rowe dies at 82


Early civil rights leader Harry T. Moore was killed by the Ku Klux Klan in 1951 on the night of his 25th wedding anniversary.

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Clarence Rowe, who used his platform as president of the NAACP’s Central Brevard branch to push for greater recognition of martyrs Harry and Harriette Moore and a host of other social justice issues, died Wednesday. He was 82 years old.

Rowe, who never fully recovered from a massive stroke in 2003 that left him under the care of friends and family, has been in poor health for the past few months. He was to be honored by the City of Rockledge this month by renaming the street.

He served as president of the NAACP’s Cocoa-based central branch for nearly 20 years, challenging the Brevard County Commission, law enforcement agencies, and Patrick Air Force Base leadership in the process.

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“He was a very passionate person,” said Bill Gary, past president of the NAACP North Brevard office, who often partnered with Rowe to discuss community needs.

“He took on many things and wasn’t afraid to tell the truth to power. The things he believed in you knew he believed in them. And whether you liked him or not, he did what he had to, ”Gary recalled.

Early years

Rowe was likely born in Brevard County at a time when midwives were handling deliveries in many black communities and there was little record keeping, said his daughter Doreen Rowe Freeman, Rowe’s caregiver.

“He grew up in Brevard and graduated from Northwest Jr. High School in 1960,” she said.

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Clarence Rowe (Photo: FLORIDA TODAY)

It was a time of racial struggle in Central Brevard, with protests in Cocoa and desegregation efforts across the county and across the country.

Years later, Rowe, with his telltale snow-white beard and glasses, would help name the county’s new courthouse after the Moores, the Mims who advocated equal pay for teachers and fought against lynching and mob violence.

Rowe spoke frequently about the Moores who founded the Brevard branch of the NAACP, and for decades appeared in annual church services to honor the couple who were killed in a Christmas Day bombing 75 years ago in 1951.

“His heroes were Harry and Harriette Moore from an early age. Harry Moore was one of the teachers who worked to unionize before he and his wife were killed. My father was always looking for justice, “said Freeman.

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Clarence Rowe (Photo: FLORIDA TODAY)

Rowe advocated for Brevard’s civil rights giants like the Moores, Pastor WO Wells, and others. In taking on the role of President of the NAACP of Central Brevard, Rowe embraced the cause of social justice and the pursuit of equality.

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At one point he campaigned for the residents of parts of the cocoa to have the dignity of having garbage cans, said Alberta Wilson, a former president of the central division and chair of the national board of directors of the National Congress of Black Women.

“He was a bulldog, and at that time we needed a bulldog. But I’ll tell you he was highly valued, even by people who opposed him back then, they respected him. Even if he wasn’t around all these years he is still held in high regard. ”

He would also tell his five children to always be prepared, Freeman said.

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Clarence Rowe, in an undated photo (Photo: FLORIDA TODAY)

Rowe ran a garden and kept chickens in his house.

“I didn’t get it then, but he told us we need to know these things if we need to teach. But I see now he taught us to be ready for days like this. He would say,” You not only have to show them, but you have to show them how to get it, “she said.

Rowe was to be honored with a street renaming ceremony on March 20. Rockledge City officials decided to rename Pennsylvania Avenue – which Rowe has a home – to Clarence Rowe Avenue.

A force in Brevard

In the 1980s, Rowe’s persistence paid off.

He was one of several black leaders who confronted the Brevard County Commission over its decision at the time not to give paid vacation leave to county workers on the birthday of murdered civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1988 the county passed a resolution calling instead a “civil rights and Martin Luther King Jr.” Day, according to an Orlando Sentinel article published at the time.

“To me, it doesn’t show the positive leadership King stood for and died for,” Rowe told the Sentinel of the decision. “I have a serious problem with the way this has been handled. It was a dowsing-type situation.”

More: Harry T. and Harriet V. Moore are honored by the school board creating a new curriculum in Brevard

Over the years, Rowe went on, and eventually the commission approved the King’s holiday as paid time off for its staff.

However, family members and friends point out that it was Rowe’s 1993 push to name the district court in honor of the moors, which was its crowning glory.

He also urged the Moore case to be reopened for criminal investigation, something that was ruled by the government at the time. Charlie Crist would later order in his administration.

He was a member of the Homeite Committee, which was formed to oversee the development of Moore Park, which would later become the Harry T. & Harriette V. Moore Cultural Complex, Gary said.

After the district court complex opened its doors on the former Viera cow pastures, Rowe reminded the news media to call the justice center more than just a courthouse.

“It’s Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore’s Justice Center. Don’t forget,” he said. “Let’s not forget that.”

Home going agreements were not confirmed.

JD Gallop is a Criminal Justice / Breaking News reporter for FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Gallop at 321-917-4641 or [email protected]. Twitter: @JDGallop.

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