Rev. Eddie Nunn aided police integration, bettered Zephyrhills

Zephyrhills Police Capt. Reggie Roberts, the Rev. Eddie Nunn Sr. and City Manager Steve Spina. Rev. Nunn who died Oct. 2, is credited with pushing to integrate the city Police Department. Courtesy of Steve Spina
Zephyrhills Police Capt. Reggie Roberts, the Rev. Eddie Nunn Sr. and City Manager Steve Spina. Rev. Nunn who died Oct. 2, is credited with pushing to integrate the city Police Department.Courtesy of Steve Spina
Published October 10 2017
Updated October 12 2017

The Rev. Eddie Nunn Sr., a longtime minister in Zephyrhills, is a name that may not be familiar to many residents. But they are better off for his being here and improving our community.

As the pastor at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, an African-American congregation a short jog east of the city limits, Rev. Nunn served a small but active church, teaching the word of God and also reaching into the community as a partner and leader. He died Oct. 2 in Tampa at the age of 85.

I first met Rev. Nunn in early 2000, when he visited my office at City Hall. It was time, he said, for Zephyrhills to hire a black police officer. He stressed the importance of police departments hiring officers who represent the communities they serve. After a search of several months, we hired the city's first African-American police officer — Daniel Hill.

Rev. Nunn didn't let up on me, though. He invited me to his church, first for the homecoming service, then on different Sundays. We sat together at February's Black History Month ceremonies and shared ideas on bringing the community together. It was then I realized that we were one community, Zephyrhills, despite city-limit signs or boundaries, but in many ways still separate and acting out in our own ways.

To combat this, Rev. Nunn joined the Zephyrhills Ministerial Association. He shared his pulpit with white ministers and went to white churches to share theirs. The "most segregated hour in America" became just a little more integrated, bit by bit. But Rev. Nunn wasn't done.

He supported efforts to get local streets paved in an African-American neighborhood and joined forces with Irene Dobson for a street in Zephyrhills to be named after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We moved forward on several fronts, hiring more black people citywide and adding African-Americans to city boards, but also suffered a setback when the street naming became a point of controversy.

Yet, through it all, Rev. Nunn remained undaunted. We made progress, he told me. Eyes were opening, and change was coming.

He then returned to his original focus — law enforcement. Rev. Nunn initiated Law Day at Macedonia, inviting law enforcement officers from Zephyrhills, Pasco County, Dade City and other neighboring jurisdictions to visit his church, meet his congregation, talk and mingle with children in the neighborhood, all in an effort to break down barriers. Police were seen in a different light, praying, talking, visiting and dining with church members, who also were viewed differently.

Then one day he asked Officer Hill if there were other police officers working at the Zephyrhills Police Department "that looked like him." Hill responded no, there were not. Rev. Nunn's gaze turned to me. Isn't it time to fully integrate the Police Department? he asked.

So, how does one man change a community? With concern, with compassion and with ideals of fairness. Today, the Zephyrhills Police Department is fully integrated with officers of varied ethnic backgrounds, genders and religions. The second-in-command, a native of Zephyrhills, is an African-American who was promoted to captain this spring.

With Pastor Nunn at the helm of Macedonia for more than 25 years, progress has been made, extending far outside the church door. Law Day is an annual event, and the city is once again looking at annexation to fully bring the community together.

It was Margaret Mead who once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

To that I would add, never doubt that one man, committed to decency and equality, cannot leave a legacy in his wake.

Eddie Nunn has, and Zephyrhills is a better place, thanks to him.

Steve Spina is city manager of Zephyrhills