Tribute to Gwendolyn Cherry
Vol. 1, No. 6, 1979, pp. 2-3
On February 7, Gwen Cherry, the Vice-President of the Southern Regional Council, died in an automobile accident in Tallahassee, Florida. Her death leaves the Council without one of its valued officers and a dear close friend.
As a state leader in Florida, Gwen Cherry set new standards and precedents for the discussion of issues in government relating to Blacks, other minorities, women and poor of her state. As a national leader, Gwen inspired many with her singular devotion and joyful energy. She raised issues, took positions, and conducted the business of justice without fear of personal loss or concern for monetary reward.
As an officer and member of the Council, Gwen led the organization from a time of increasing despair and disbelief to a beginning period of hard work, faith in human nature
and potential, and no-nonsense judgment tempered by humor and tolerance.
While often overworked, under-regarded and too often unseen, Gwen Cherry was an example of accomplishment and belief in principled equality which many Blacks and women immediately emulated and admired. Yet for everyone of any race or sex–Black or White, male or female–she represented the virtue of patience untouched by hate, the belief in freedom unbridled by cynicism, and a very unique insight into the tragic-humor of people who resist the call for action.
As a lawyer, Gwen Cherry represented the interest of clients and causes in court. Still, she spent as much time developing the potential of cooperation as exercising the art of an adversary.
As the first Black woman in the Florida Legislature, she was the spokeswoman at home and elsewhere for feminism and equal rights. Yet, she was much more to many more. Gwen Cherry stood alone to say “nay” when the lynching mob of the Florida Legislature pushed through the death penalty. She stood alone in saying “nay” when boards and commissions were filled without Blacks and women. She stood alone and said “nay” when the state rushed helter skelter to push Black and poor students out of the schools in the name of competency. Gwen Cherry stood alone when she proposed numerous pieces of legislation to aid the afflicted, the aged, the poor, and the uninfluential.
Like most of us, Gwen Cherry lost too many of the battles which she fought as a state leader, an officer of the Council, a lawyer, and a national figure. Her victories were too few. So long as she took breath, however, she continued her struggle believing that people of good will would someday, somehow act.
The most fitting and lovely tribute that we as her friends and companions can pay to Gwen Cherry will be to endure beyond the conditions against which she fought and to take her life and friendship as a special gift which enables us to be more wise, loving, and devoted to the just and humane world of which she gave us a clear vision.