SAFETY HARBOR, Fla. — Back in 1964, nearly a year after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. recited his famous “I have a dream” speech, Safety Harbor voters elected their first Black city commissioner.
William “Bill” Blackshear was officially sworn in on April 10, 1964. He was just 29 years old, married and raising his and his wife’s, Betty, seven children.
“I can remember all of us sitting down and watching it on the television,” said Jacqueline Williams.
Williams and her husband, Col. Harry B. Williams (USA, RET), were just kids at the time.
“I didn’t know the depth of all of this at the time,” she said. “When I grew up and found out the extent of what he had done, it hit me, wow my father is amazing.”
Blackshear’s first order of business as commissioner was a game-changer for Black folks in Safety Harbor. He and his wife needed help watching their two youngest kids while they were at work. Unlike other sections of the city, the predominately Black Lincoln Highlands area didn’t have daycare. Blackshear started the Lincoln Nursery Association, which led to the area's first daycare center. His efforts helped hundreds of Black families.
“He’s our African American trailblazer, our role model,” said Col. Williams.
Blackshear also helped start the Weekly Challenger newspaper. He stayed on as commissioner until 1967, but his work in the community and helping Black folks didn’t stop.
“It just amazes me how phenomenal he was.”
City leaders worked for the last few years to come up with a way to honor his legacy while he was still alive, unfortunately, he died before they could get the ball rolling. Blackshear passed away at 85 years old in 2021.
“We are really grateful for the current administration and the work they’ve done to honor this great man,” said Col. Williams.
The city is working with the family on a celebration of life event, and city leaders approved funding for a new mural to go up at the Mattie Williams Center to detail his legacy of fighting for childcare for Black families.
Leaders also approved a proposal to rename the city commissioner’s chambers.
“I think what people should take away from his legacy is if you want to see change you have to make a change,” Col. Williams said. “It’s not going to happen automatically.”
If you are an artist interested in painting the mural, you can apply at email@example.com, or by calling 727-724-1562, ext. 1516. The deadline is Feb. 24.