At the age of 21, Clarence Fort served as the president of the Tampa, Florida NAACP Youth Council in 1960. He organized and participated in the city’s first lunch counter sit-ins in the Woolworth Department store.
Fort was born in 1938 in Alachua County, a small rural town east of Gainesville, Florida. He was raised on a small farm and attended the local schools. After high school, he left for Orlando where his sister lived. There he found a job working in a drug store delivering prescription medication on a bicycle. He saved up his money and was able to attend barber college. After barber college, Fort worked in a Tampa barber shop.
20-year-old barber at the time, Fort was the new president of the NAACP Youth Council in Tampa. So he and Rev. A. Leon Lowry organized 50 students from all-black Middleton and Blake high schools for a sit-in at F.W. Woolworth’s lunch counter on Franklin Street. “We picked a big chain because if we opened one counter, th
ey’d have to open them all.” The store tried ignoring their black customers. They turned off lights and even closed the store. White men surrounded him at the counter and cursed at him.
After a week of the non-violent sit-ins, Tampa’s then-Mayor Julian Lane appointed a biracial committee to discuss segregation issues and, by September 1960, the city’s lunch counters were integrated.
Fort also led the initiative to integrate the workforce of Tampa Transit Lines and later, as a Trailways Bus Co. employee, became Florida’s first African-American long-distance bus driver. He later spent 20 years as a Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputy.
On the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, the city honored Fort by dedicating the public park and the half-mile fitness trail that runs through it in his name.