The name of Pinellas County’s first Black full-time lawyer will adorn its law library.
Fred G. Minnis was so honored Tuesday in a unanimous vote of the Pinellas County Commission.
He opened a practice in St. Petersburg in 1956. Minnis represented students arrested for participating in sit-ins at the Webb’s City lunch counter and argued a case to integrate county-owned golf courses. He also became a mentor to a generation of Black attorneys, earning him the moniker of Pinellas County’s dean of Black lawyers. He died in 1991 at the age of 81.
In December, nearly 30 years after his death, the Bar association named for him — the county’s only predominantly African American lawyers’ association — asked the commission to rename the Pinellas County Law Library or one of the county’s three courthouses in his honor. The idea had the backing of several state lawmakers and organizations.
There was almost no discussion among county commissioners before they made their unanimous decision. Several people called into Tuesday’s meeting to express their support.
“He excelled at the practice of law, and he excelled at being a community warrior, fighting for integration, fighting for desegregation,” state Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said of Minnis.
Retired Pinellas-Pasco circuit judge Jack Day called Minnis “a fine role model not only in terms of law practice but also in terms of civic involvement for all lawyers” and believed his name was fitting for the law library.
Leon Jackson, the first Black St. Petersburg police officer assigned to an all-white neighborhood and the last surviving member of the group of officers dubbed the Courageous 12 for their successful discrimination lawsuit against the city, spoke of Minnis’ importance as a Black lawyer in the 1960s.
“My grandfather was putting in the work with civil rights,” said Minnis’ grandson, Jason Minnis, who called in from Brooklyn, N.Y. “It’s important we acknowledge him in some way.”
Commissioners also voted to rename a wing of the State Attorney’s Office within the Pinellas County Justice Center after late Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe. He died Jan. 1 at the age 73.
The commission’s decision stemmed from an effort spearheaded by Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican and former prosecutor who considered McCabe a mentor, to rename the entire building after McCabe.
The Sprowls proposal had support from a wide array of elected officials, community organizations and lawyers. But it also received pushback from defense attorneys who thought the county could send the wrong message by naming a building meant to serve all branches of the legal system after McCabe, who served for 28 years as the top elected prosecutor in Pinellas and Pasco counties.
The courthouse at 14250 49th St. N houses the judiciary, the Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender’s Office and the Pinellas Clerk of the Circuit Court’s office. Commissioners echoed those concerns.
“I think the name Pinellas County Justice Center is a powerful name to the people who walk through those doors: It says, you walk in here looking for justice,” said commissioner Pat Gerard, who added that she loved and admired McCabe. “But I think it’s important that people understand the justice system is centered in that building, not just the prosecutor’s office.”
The Commission voted 5-1 to name the wing after McCabe. Commission chair Dave Eggers was absent due to another meeting. Kathleen Peters, a former Republican legislator, issued the lone dissenting vote, arguing the commission should only vote on Sprowls’ original request, not provide its own alternatives.
No timetable for renaming the law library was set. Neither Sprowls nor his office spokesperson responded to requests for comment for this story.