Robert D. Perkins, Sr. and Trudie Chester Perkins fought fervently for equality, social justice, access to employment opportunities and economic empowerment, on the local, state and national levels. Their courageous and tireless efforts effectuated monumental and transformational change in the areas of recreation; education; desegregation; health care; business; land use/property rights; and most notably – equal employment and pay equity.
The Perkins’s navigated the Federal judicial system to fight against injustice and discriminatory hiring practices. Their valiant actions eventually led to the issuance of a Federal Consent Decree, which was entered and ordered on April 10, 1975. The Consent Decree facilitated the desegregation and diversification of the City of Tallahassee’s workforce, which also impacted Leon County and the State of Florida. Ultimately, the attainment of enhanced diversity and inclusion fostered improved relationships among all races and made life better for our citizens.
A few of their salient actions, accomplishments and contributions are capsulized below:
- Robert and Trudie Chester Perkins were both graduates of Florida A&M College for Negroes. Trudie graduated from the Beauty Culture Program in 1944; Robert earned a B.S. in Auto Mechanics, Math and Physics in 1947.
- In 1951 Robert & Trudie Perkins, purchased property on Adams Street for the purpose of erecting a Filling Station to serve residents who lived on the Southside. Subsequently, they filed petitions to have their property rezoned to permit business construction. Though the petitions were denied, the Perkins’s entrepreneurial spirit was not stymied and they eventually opened their business in the Bond Community. Perkins Service Station & Beauty Shop was located on the corner of Osceola & Railroad Avenue (now Wahnish Way). They provided an array of services (at minimal cost or by extending credit) to Southside residents and FAMU faculty, staff and students.
- A professor/instructor at both FAMU and Florida State University, Mr. Perkins also spent countless hours tutoring FAMU teaching assistants and students in math, chemistry and other subjects. In his quest to facilitate learning gains, he would often extend assistance to students/faculty outside of the classroom. He tutored many of them at the service station as he repaired automobiles (late night), or at his own home.
- Perkins Service Station was the only black owned service station with three (3) gas pumps. They were able to provide ample levels of gas to residents participating in the Tallahassee bus boycott.
- During the early 50’s Robert Perkins was one of only a few black residents who advocated for the construction of recreational facilities for black youth. He was relentless and he persisted in his efforts for a protracted period. When it became apparent that this was not a priority for City of Tallahassee officials, Mr. Perkins and Mr. Charlie Jenkins loaded their vehicles with black youth and took them to play at recreation centers and parks in white neighborhoods. This action prompted the City to identify and allocate funding for construction of a recreation center for blacks. Soon thereafter, Jake Gaither Park and Recreation Center was constructed in 1954.
- During the early 60’s, Mr. Perkins headed the Recreation Advisory Council and petitioned the City and Leon County Commissions to provide more funds, support and manpower for expansion of the Negro recreation facilities in Tallahassee and throughout the County.
- In the mid-1960s, the couple enrolled their children in previously all-white schools, before the desegregation of local schools was mandated. Their daughter Loretta was one of the first black students enrolled at Leon High School and became the first black member of the school band. Their youngest children, Jacqueline and Reginuer were a part of the first group of blacks to desegregate Hartsfield Elementary School (1967). Another son, Romerio, was one of the first blacks to attend (the almost all white Preparatory School) Phillips Academy, Andover Massachusetts, in 1966.
- In 1964, Mr. Robert Perkins became the first black to supervise/manage the operations of the Computer Center at Florida State University (FSU).
- In 1967, Mrs. Trudie Perkins graduated from the Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) Program at Lively Vocational School. She was the only black in her class. That same year, she would become one of the first black nurses to be employed by Tallahassee Memorial Hospital (TMH).
- In January 1971, Mrs. Perkins along with her colleagues, Mrs. Lizzie Smith and others, formed the Community Health Organization (CHO) to help render better health care in the underserved communities. The CHO members were trained in health care management and they provided: transportation for underprivileged and disabled individuals to and from health care centers and doctor’s offices; instruction and assistance to individuals with planning proper diets in the home; and counseling for various medical problems. The CHO also engaged in fund raising and voter registration drives.
- From 1970 – 1971, Mrs. Perkins (with assistance from Mr. Perkins) was relentless in her efforts to abolish discriminatory employment practices at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. Mrs. Perkins advocated alongside her colleague Lizzie Smith, in addition to community leaders, Rev. C.K. Steele, Father David Brooks, Malachi Andrews and others as they fought against the harassment and mistreatment faced by black workers.
- On January 19, 1972, Mrs. Perkins and her co-worker, Mrs. Lizzie Smith, were both fired, under the spurious claims that they had falsified time cards and had been insubordinate to their supervisors. Subsequently, Robert Perkins prepared case files and assisted (approx.) 25 employees of the city-owned Tallahassee Memorial Hospital in filing complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice. He used his own time and personal financial resources to travel to Washington, DC, where he met with members of Congress, including Senators Ted Kennedy, Birch Bayh. He presented evidence of racial discrimination in city employment practices and ultimately, U.S. Attorney General William Saxbe agreed with Perkins. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) used Mr. Perkins’ files to prepare its case, and persisted in filing a complaint against the city of Tallahassee in December of 1974 alleging that the city had engaged in “a pattern and practice of discrimination” against blacks in job recruiting, hiring, assignments and promotions.
- In April 1975, U.S. District Judge Winston Arnow handed down a decision in which he would monitor a formal “consent decree.” Under terms of the consent decree, the city agreed to fill half of all vacancies with minority applicants until the long-term goal of 23.7% black representation had been achieved in eight separate job categories, especially in classifications that they had been excluded from (e.g., administrative; skilled craftsman; technician; professional; officials & administrators).
- Robert Perkins was also terminated from his job (in 1972) for fighting against injustice. Though it took several years, he never relented and he argued his case, pro se (without the assistance of a lawyer), all the way to the Florida Supreme Court. Even though he persisted, the Court refused to hear his case. Perkins continued to fight for justice (and assist others) until he died on April 19, 1994.
- Trudie Perkins continued to provide compassionate care and comfort to countless individuals for almost 40 years as a nurse, before retiring for the last time at age of 86. At the age of 85, she became the oldest person to graduate with a degree in Biblical Studies. Mrs. Perkins died peacefully on September 27, 2013 at the age of 92.