JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville icons, Dr. Johnetta Cole and Dr. Nathaniel Glover sat down together, for the first time, to reflect on the past and demand a better future.
The setting for their conversation was carefully selected; Cole's home in historic American Beach.
"A.L. Lewis and six other Black men founded the Afro American Life Insurance Company in 1901,” Cole said. “Let's fast forward to the year 1935 a year in the segregated, racist south when no Black person was welcome on white folk's beaches. A.L. Lewis had a vision."
Cole's great grandfather created the only beach in Florida that welcomed Black Americans and offered safe overnight accommodations.
"I went to A.L. Lewis school when I was a kid and little did I know that I would be sitting in the presence of and having a conversation with a part of the family lineage,” Glover said. “And that is to me awesome!"
Their paths have crossed before, but never like this.
"I have the honor of sitting yes as the great granddaughter of A.L. Lewis, but with a former president of Edward Waters College now University on whose board A.L. Lewis sat," Cole explained.
Their experiences are documented in history and now shared aloud in Cole’s living room adorned with memories.
"There had been some sit-ins occur in the downtown area by a group of NAACP youth," Glover recalled a frightening day that changed him, August 27, 1960. While walking outside of Morrison's Cafeteria where he worked, he was confronted by a mob of white men. “They quickly surrounded me with those ax handles and they were actually hitting me with the ax handles calling me names."
The names he need not repeat but the encounter Glover replayed in his mind until it shaped him.
“I ran,” Glover said. “I was so afraid. Terrified does not explain it strong enough. I can remember going home and laying across my bed crying. I was not crying because I was hurt. I was crying because I ran. I made a vow then I would never not do something that I should do because of fear. And that shaped my life- gave me the courage to run for sheriff."
By 1995 he'd go on to become the first African American elected Sheriff in the state of Florida since the end of the Reconstruction Era, and later lead at his alma mater for eight years as President of Edward Waters College, now University.
"President Nelson Mandela, he once said education is the most powerful means that you will have to help to change the world,” Cole said. “I believe that."
In 1987 Cole became the first Black woman President of Spelman College.
"I am deeply concerned now that so much of what I think our young people need to know- is being challenged,” Cole said. “Our young people need to understand the history and the herstory of our country and our world. And some of that is not a pretty picture."
A social justice activist, Cole found herself in handcuffs at 85 years of age during a demonstration in Washington, D.C. while pushing back she says against voter suppression.
“In my country, a democratic country how dare there be efforts to keep some people from voting,” Cole said.
Education, legislation and peaceful agitation are ways the accomplished author, anthropologist and educator believes the country can move forward.
“The atmosphere as it relates to partisan politics I've never felt like it was so toxic,” Glover said. “If we decided that we wanted to truly solve the problem of divisiveness, racism and sexism in this country we could do it. We could do it, without a doubt in my mind. But we've got to have the courageous population to stand up and that's what we're lacking.”
Cole sees a division between elders and what she calls ‘young folk’ aiding in holding us all back.
"There is power in knowledge,” Cole said. “There is hope through understanding. And so I will just keep writing and talking and teaching and most fundamentally, learning!"
You can watch their full interview on First Coast News Plus streaming now on Roku and Fire TV.