PENSACOLA — Longtime Florida civil rights fighter H.K. Matthews is set to receive an honor previously given to Nelson Mandela and Coretta Scott King.
The Pensacola News Journal reported Saturday that the 86-year-old Matthews will be honored with the "Gandhi, King, Ikeda Community Builders Award" for his lifetime of work to advance civil rights by Atlanta's Morehouse College on Aug. 16 in a special ceremony at the Mattie Kelly Fine and Performing Arts Center in Niceville.
Matthews was a leader in the civil rights movement in the Panhandle in the 1960s and 1970s.
He led sit-in protests at segregated Pensacola lunch counters and led efforts to remove the "Rebel" mascot from the local high school.
Matthews marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Ala., in 1965.
"When the call came out from Dr. King to come to Selma and join the march, I just dropped my little mop bucket and went," Matthews told the newspaper. "If I had known what I would have faced when I got there, I would have stayed here. It was bad. Horrible."
Matthews also led protests against the Escambia County Sheriff's Office in the mid-1970s after a black motorist was shot and killed by a deputy.
On Feb. 24, 1975, Matthews was arrested for unlawful assembly and felony extortion. Matthews was sentenced to five years of imprisonment, but received clemency after serving 63 days. He was eventually pardoned.
In all, he has been arrested 35 times for non-violent protest.
"We are indebted to you for your stalwart and dedicated leadership for non-violence and human rights," Lawrence Carter, founder of the Morehouse Interfaith Institute for Global Ethics and Reconciliation, wrote in a letter to Matthews.
Matthews said it is gratifying to know he made a difference.
"I was driven by seeing the injustices that prevailed during that time," said Matthews, who grew up in Snow Hill, Ala. "I was tired of seeing how my grandmother was treated. I was tired of the injustice. I was tired of no justice."
Matthews continues his work today from the pulpit where he preachers in Brewton, Ala.