The NAACP should be proud of the work it's accomplished in the last 100 years, Eugene Patterson said Saturday, but it's also appropriate to appreciate the more than 300 years of African-American history.
"The NAACP has made room for many strong voices and great leaders," Patterson said. "You are positioned to show the way to excel."
Patterson, a 1967 Pulitzer Prize winner who retired as editor and chairman of the St. Petersburg Times in 1988, was the keynote speaker Saturday at an event dubbed "A Legacy of Courage, Hope and Achievement."
The celebration, held at the Coliseum, marked the 100th anniversary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Locally, the St. Petersburg chapter marked its 76th year of existence at the event.
St. Petersburg's NAACP chapter has its roots in the Great Depression. The organization led efforts for improved housing, the end of segregation in social life and better opportunities for black students.
The event also recognized the achievements of several community leaders and the service of the local chapter's 17 past presidents.
"I know you, and I know your organization," Patterson told the crowd.
Patterson said he encountered the NAACP in 1948, when he joined the United Press news service.
"I was the only reporter that was giving the NAACP responses," he said. "I had assumed that's what you did in journalism - tell both sides."
Patterson gave the crowd a rundown of civil rights icons, and encouraged them to take note of local community leaders who are currently working to make things better for the black community.
He also addressed recent comments made by former President Jimmy Carter, who said that much of the criticism of President Barack Obama stems from racism.
"I regret that he felt he had to give voice to a probable truth that was probably better left unsaid," Patterson said.
Debra Woodard, a fourth-grade teacher at Yvonne C. Reed Christian School Inc., said Patterson's words stirred memories of her own childhood.
"It helped me realize it was a long struggle," she said. "And it wasn't just 100 years."
Kameel Stanley can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8643.