In 1961, President John F. Kennedy named Frank D. Reeves, a Howard University law professor, as his advisor on minority affairs, the first African American chosen to serve as a presidential advisor. That same year, in December, Reeves defended the NAACP and two prominent Fort Lauderdale, Fla. blacks, a physician, Dr. Von D. Mizell, and Eula Mae Johnson, head of the local branch of the NAACP, in a lawsuit brought by the City of Ft. Lauderdale in the Broward County (Fla.) Courthouse to stop the ‘wade-ins’ at the Ft. Lauderdale beaches that had taken place over a six-week period in July and August 1961. Trial began in December 1961 without a jury before an elected, white, state court judge, Ted Cabot, a legendary jurist who later became Fort Lauderdale’s first resident federal judge.
The wade-ins started when local authorities failed to complete bridge and road access to the ‘Colored Beach’, purchased by Broward County for $1.6 million to preserve segregated beaches, and used by blacks only, beginning on the Fourth of July in 1954, just two months after the release by the U. S. Supreme Court of the Brown decision. That first formal wade-in took place on the Fourth of July, 1961, after seven years without road and bridge access.
Eula Mae Johnson and Dr. Von D. Mizell led the first of many wade-ins in the summer of 1961.
What prompted this post is the present condition of the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Building built in 1986 and named in honor of the Howard University law school professor and civil rights activist after he died at age 56 in 1973. At present, the Reeves building is a disgrace to Reeves’ name. Rain-soaked, poorly maintained, the Reeves building houses a hodge-podge of city departments, nonprofits, and offices for public officials with vague descriptions of uses. Nevertheless, the land alone in southwest Washington, D.C.., is worth $33 million, according to a local appraisal. With the dilapidated structure added to the land, the total value rises to anywhere from $55 million to $60 million.
For over a year, the building has been a pawn in a multi-million dollar soccer stadium deal. At first, it looked like the Reeves building would be traded to a third party to help pay for a soccer stadium. Lately, the mayor has championed the Reeves building. Let’s hope the rest of the council follows suit and the City Council of Washington, D.C. acts swiftly to properly maintain the facility and uphold the memory of Frank Daniel Reeves, an architect of the Brown briefs before the Supreme Court, law professor, pro bono attorney for the poor, and champion for the civil rights of all Americans.