Black in Time

Four women who left their mark on Miami-Dade history

 
 
Gov. Reubin Askew walking with Mrs. M. Athalie Range in Tallahassee on Dec. 30, 1970. Askew appointed Range as secretary of community affairs. In doing so, she became the first black person appointed to that level position in Florida state government since Reconstruction, and the first woman to head a state agency.
Gov. Reubin Askew walking with Mrs. M. Athalie Range in Tallahassee on Dec. 30, 1970. Askew appointed Range as secretary of community affairs. In doing so, she became the first black person appointed to that level position in Florida state government since Reconstruction, and the first woman to head a state agency.
State Archives of Florida

Special to The Miami Herald

The 2014 theme of Women’s History Month, “Celebrating Women of Character, Courage and Commitment,” celebrates the extraordinary and often unrecognized determination and tenacity of women. According to President Barack Obama’s proclamation the month also recognizes the victories, struggles and stories of the women who have made our country what it is today. This theme will be used throughout the year to recognize women’s deeds.

Locally, through hardships and perseverance over time, a considerable number of black women have greatly impacted Miami-Dade County. The death of three during the first quarter of 2014 gives pause to remembering a bygone era. Civic minded educators Edna DeVeaux Alexander, Frankie Shannon Rolle and Maxine Thurston-Fisher were women of distinction.

A fourth was M. Athalie Range, who died in 2006. The recent death of former Florida Governor, Reubin Askew is a reminder that in 1970 he appointed Range as secretary of community affairs. In doing so, she became the first black person appointed to that level position in Florida state government since Reconstruction, and the first woman to head a state agency. She served in Tallahassee from January 1971 until February 1973.

Decades earlier, in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s she was active in the Parent Teacher Association, appointed then elected to the Miami City Commission, served as president of the Roosevelt Savings and Loan Association, and with her husband, the late Oscar Range Sr., co-owned Range Funeral Home in Liberty City. A mother of four, M. Athalie Range spent a lifetime in business and community service.

Edna DeVeaux Alexander was one of Range’s contemporaries. DeVeaux Alexander began as a school secretary after receiving a degree in 1943 at Florida A&M University and settled in Coconut Grove. Later she became a teacher at Orchard Villa Elementary School, earned a master’s degree in supervision and administration at the University of Pennsylvania, and was appointed principal of A. L. Lewis Elementary School. Combining her education duties with civic activities came natural to her. The book, Julia’s Daughters, lists her affiliations with 16 organizations including Alpha Phi Alpha Sorority, United Teachers of Dade, Christ Episcopal Church, and the Miami branch of the American Association of University Women. In the 1940s she was a columnist for the Miami Tropical Dispatch newspaper published by Daniel Francis. She was Miami’s first black woman radio broadcaster. In 1976 she married L.I. Alexander, moved to Jacksonville and continued a busy life with many community activities and professional affiliations until her death.

Frankie Shannon Rolle graduated from Florida A&M University in 1946 with a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education Frankie Shannon Rolle. She relocated to Coconut Grove and began teaching at George Washington Carver Junior Senior High School. In 1960 she earned a masters degree in Guidance and Counseling and School Administration from Indiana University. During that time she as a wife and mother she was also active in the community. She was president of FAMU’s Miami Alumni Association and the Gold Coast Chapter and a life member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. The book, Beyond Julia’s Daughters” Women In Miami-Dade History (Herstory) 1975-2000, lists her numerous leadership positions including member of the Miami Civil Service Board, the Blue Ribbon committee for redistricting the City of Miami and the first woman member of the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority. She was chair of the Miami Community Development Advisory Board, president of the Helen B. Bentley Family Health Center, chair of the Neighborhood Services Advisory Board and a trustee of the Black Archives of South Florida. She and her husband, the late William “Billie” Rolle, a jazz musician, were among the founders of Coconut Grove’s Goombay Festival. They were members of Coconut Grove’s Christ Episcopal Church.

Maxine Thurston-Fischer, the youngest of the four women highlighted in this column, was equally accomplished. She earned a bachelor’s degree at Indiana University in social work in 1960. In 1964 she graduated from Florida State University with a master’s degree and in 1987 a doctorate in social work. Soon after she began working with T. Willard Fair at the Greater Miami Urban League for more than 15 years. Later she founded her own consulting and management firm. She focused on program evaluation and organizational development for human service agencies with projects such as youth violence prevention, youth drug prevention, shelter services and comprehensive child development. An associate professor at Barry University, she also served on the board of trustees at Jackson Memorial Hospital, the United Way of Miami-Dade and North Shore Medical Center. At her funeral another former member of North Shore Medical Center’s board of trustees, neurologist Kenneth Thurston, spoke about her kindness and unselfishness toward people. In Liberty City, Mt. Tabor Church was filled with mourners of all ages, religions and races. The entire audience fell silent as we listened to him speak passionately about the love of his life — his wife, Maxine. Her obituary, published in The Florida Times Union in Jacksonville, expressed his sentiment.

These four black women born in the first half of 20th century and died in the first half of the 21st century, M. Athalie Range, Edna DeVeaux Alexander, Frankie Shannon Rolle and Maxine Thurston-Fischer, enriched the lives of many. May they rest in peace.

Dorothy Jenkins Fields, PhD, is a historian and founder of the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida Inc. Send feedback to djf@bellsouth.net.

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