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Jacksonville Civil Rights icon dies, some colleagues promise to keep work going

The Jax SCLC chapter would immediately be recognized as an agent of change. Reverend Levi Wilcox was the founder.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — The Southern Christian Leadership Conference was born out of the Montgomery Bus boycotts. In 1964 a chapter opened in Jacksonville with the same conviction for racial and economic justice and reconciliation.  

The Jax SCLC chapter would immediately be recognized as an agent of change. Reverend Levi Wilcox was the founder. 

"He was focused on the city of Jacksonville," said Dr. Juan Gray.

Gray was Chairman of the SCLC board. He served with the organization from 2005 to 2018.

On Monday, Wilcox died after an extended illness. He was 85.

"I am numb and heartbroken," said Gray. "He was the soul and heart of the SCLC."

A few years ago, Wilcox and the SCLC broke from the city's annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast. It started its own MLK breakfast to protest what it called the city's approach to inequities in the Black communities.

"He was a man who stood for justice," said Gray.

On its website, the SCLC has a list of social justice efforts it has engaged in over the decades.  

Malachi Beyah remembers Wilcox. He said he was a college student at Edward Waters College when Wilcox recruited him. Among his first mission was to protest a grocery store in the Black community for its treatment of its customers.

"He needs to be remembered as a strong leader," said Beyah. "He was a man who stood for justice."

Beyah credits Wilcox for opening his eyes to the injustice that was all around him. He said Wilcox did not just talk about it, he did something about it.

Gray said Wilcox was steadfast and held strongly held to the tenets of the National SCLC. 

Gray called Wilcox a rock, a soldier in the fight for civil rights.

"We have lost a good soldier," he said.

Rev. Dr. James Sampson also knew Rev. Levi Wilcox and was surprised to learn of his passing. He remembers his work and his commitment.

"He was a strong man," said Sampson," he was a man ahead of his time and he spoke truth to power."

As for the future role of the local chapter of the SCLC Gray maintains his membership.

Beyah who has been involved off and on over the years with the SCLC said there is an effort to keep the local chapter going.


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