While in the process of getting Dania Beach’s John U. Lloyd State Park renamed Dr. Von Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park, which will be officially done Saturday, state Sen. Chris Smith came to a realization about Mizell.
“He was a doctor and probably comfortable,” Smith said. “I’m sure it would’ve been easy to just keep quiet. But to risk his practice, risk his health to stand up and demand something when it wasn’t popular for black people to demand things... .”
The Fort Lauderdale Democrat co-sponsored the bill, signed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, that made it Florida’s first state park named after an African American. Saturday’s party, from 2 to 9 p.m. at 6503 N. Ocean Dr., is being called a “Renaming and Reclaiming Ceremony and Celebration.”
“The goal is to reclaim the park — transform the park into more of a historical park,” Smith said.
In that vein, Saturday’s event will feature a wade-in ceremony by the some of the original students who were part of 1961 and 1962 wade-ins on Fort Lauderdale’s whites-only beaches, and displays of Florida history from the Black Archives, Spady Museum, Rosewood Society, Zora Neale Hurston Museum, Old Dillard Museum, Hampton House, Kinard Bus Tour and Virginia Key Park Trust. There also will be free food and entertainment.
Mizell, the region’s first black surgeon, founded the South Florida NAACP chapter. Eula Johnson eventually headed that chapter as well as various civil rights fights around the area. Both Mizell and Johnson led the “wade-ins” that prompted the county to build a road to the black beach, accessible back then only by ferry.
Alphonso Giles, who ferried people back and forth to the beach, will have the boat ramp named after him. Pavilions will be named after Dr. Calvin Shirley, who desegregated the staff at what’s now Broward Health Medical Center, as well as businesspeople George and Agnes Burroughs.
During the post-World War II era, as black citizens who had fought for the nation accelerated the fight for equal treatment, Mizell demanded the county give black residents a beach to enjoy. Official segregation barred blacks from beaches frequented by whites.
That beach was in what eventually became a park named for longtime Broward County attorney Lloyd, who kept the park from falling to developers.