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Robert W. Saunders, Sr.

Born on June 9, 1921, in the area of West Tampa known as Roberts City. He attended Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach and after military service completed a BA degree at the Detroit Institute of Technology before entering the University of Detroit Law School. In January of 1952 he suspended his legal studies to accept a position as Florida field director for the NAACP after the state's first field director, Harry T. Moore, was killed in a Ku Klux Klan bombing of his home.

Assuming a difficult and dangerous leadership role, Saunders guided the state through challenging years of change, including landmark legal decisions on voting rights, school desegregation, the integration of public beaches, facilities, and housing, equal pay for Black teachers, and many other milestones, many of which are described in this book.

In 1966 he left his position with the NAACP to work with his friend Roy Wilkins at the U.S. Office of Equal Opportunity, serving for a decade as the chief of civil rights for the southeast region. He returned to Tampa in 1976 and directed the Office of Equal Opportunity for the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners until his retirement in 1988. From that time until his death on 18 March 2003, he remained an active and outspoken community leader.

The St. Petersburg Times featured him in its "Millennium Magazine" among the most inspiring Floridians over the past century as one of "Twenty-five Who Mattered." In that profile, Times columnist Bill Maxwell concluded by quoting Saunders on the reasons for his continuing activism.

"I need to go back to a meeting we had with Thurgood Marshall in 1955 regarding the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision," Saunders said. "Thurgood made this comment: "There are going to be ups and downs. There are going to be enemies fighting us. But you can't give up. Remember, when you're driving a car up a hill and you take your foot off the accelerator, the car slows down. You've got to continue to apply the gas" We're at the point now where the fight for justice is just beginning."

Cited from:

Bridging the Gap: Continuing the Florida NAACP Legacy of Harry T. Moore by Robert W. Saunders, Sr.