Farm workers advocate Margarita Romo named to Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame

Margarita Romo, 76, started Farmworkers Self-Help Inc. in 1982 to assist seasonal and migrant farm workers.
Margarita Romo, 76, started Farmworkers Self-Help Inc. in 1982 to assist seasonal and migrant farm workers.
Published March 1, 2013

Margarita Romo, a local pioneer in the area of migrant workers' rights, was among four nominees named this week to the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

Gov. Rick Scott, who made the announcement Thursday, made the selection from a list of 10 nominees chosen by the Florida Commission on Human Relations for making significant contributions to the improvement of life for minorities and all the state's residents.

Romo, 76, is the executive director of Farmworkers Self-Help Inc., which she established in 1982 to provide assistance to seasonal and migrant farm workers. The program provides immigration assistance and job training as well as a free medical clinic, after-school programs for teens, free bread for the hungry and the Norma Learning Center for children ages 12 and younger.

"This is what God planned for me," Romo told the Tampa Bay Times in a 2011 profile. "And I will be here until the day I die."

Romo is best known for advocating and lobbying for improvements to Tommytown, a poor farm worker community on the north end of Dade City. Romo also established Agricultural Women Involved in New Goals (AWING), a self-help program designed to help women create better lives for themselves through education. In 2010, Romo was named Hispanic Woman of the year by the Tampa Hispanic Heritage.

"She is the definition of an advocate, always telling power what the community needed and what they wanted," George Romagnoli, Pasco's community development director, told the Times for the 2011 profile.

"And she was not just a talker. She has developed programs and facilities for her people to have better lives."

The other honorees were the late Judge James. B. Sanderlin of St. Petersburg and the late Harry T. and Harriet Moore, civil rights advocates from Brevard County. Sanderlin was the lead attorney representing six families in civil rights cases over classroom segregation in 1964. His efforts against the Pinellas County School Board led to desegregation in Hillsborough and Sarasota counties.

"As Florida marks its 500-year anniversary, we want to honor individuals who have stood for equality in our state's history, even in the face of adversity," Scott said in a news release. "This year's three inductees into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame have acted on their conviction and truly made a difference in the countless lives here in our state and around the country."