HISTORY OF

Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.

&

Delta Omicron Sigma Chapter

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The History of Delta Omicron Sigma

"Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, let us march on till victory is won.”—James Weldon Johnson, composer of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” Florida native and brother of Phi Beta Sigma

Whether in civil rights, education, economic development, sports or national defense, the men of the Delta Omicron Sigma chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. have lived the fraternity’s motto – “Culture for Service and Service to Humanity” – by helping shape and lift communities across Pinellas County as great places to live, work and play for all.

Affiliated with the Gamma Eta Sigma chapter – which stretched from Tampa to St. Petersburg and Clearwater to Bradenton, Plant City and many other Tampa Bay area communities – before 1963, Sigma Men gave St. Petersburg its first Black lawyer, a chemist who helped develop the strobe light used in photography, the first president of Gibbs Junior College, principals who opened new elementary and junior high schools for Black children, and the first Black fellow of the Florida Historical Society, among many other achievements on behalf of Black residents of Pinellas County.

 

In the summer of 1963, the national civil rights movement reached a feverish pitch when Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace blocked two Black students from registering at the University of Alabama, until President John F. Kennedy sent the National Guard to the campus; more than 250,000 people marched on Washington and listened to Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial; and a bomb killed four Black girls and injured others at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.

 

In St. Petersburg, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and its Youth Council worked to seat Black residents to dine at Webb City, protested to view movies at the Center, State and Florida theaters downtown, and registered 1,041 new Black voters.

 

By fall 1963, another organization had arrived in St. Petersburg, focused on meeting the needs of Pinellas County communities and supporting the work of individual members already fighting for equity, equality and justice for Black residents of St. Petersburg, Clearwater and other communities; raising the standards in education; and building business acumen.

 

On Nov. 14, 1963, the general board of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. meeting in Brooklyn, NY, authorized 12 men to establish the Delta Omicron Sigma chapter of Phi Beta Sigma. As former members of the Gamma Eta Sigma chapter based in Tampa, the first officers of Delta Omicron Sigma were installed by Gamma Eta Sigma president George Dennis in March 1964.

 

The new chapter officers were O’Cain J. Thumbtzen, president, principal of Union Academy in Tarpon Springs and resident of Clearwater; Alvie E. Benton, vice president, assistant principal of Gibbs Senior High School and resident of St. Petersburg; Lawrence Lindsey, secretary, faculty at Gibbs Senior High School and resident of St. Petersburg; Louis D. “L.D.” Brown Sr., treasurer, principal of Wildwood Elementary School and resident of St. Petersburg; and Samuel Kicklighter, historian, employee of Sperry Microwave Electronics Co..

 

The other charter members were Frederick D. “Fred” Burney, Latas L. Edwards, Charles J. “Charlie” Ford Sr., Joseph A. “Jumping Joe” Johnson Sr., Rudolph “Rudy” Miller, Fred G. Minnis Sr. and Kenneth Valentine. By the March installation, the chapter included eight more members: Alphonso Battle, Albert Brooks, N.L. “Love” Brown, George Grogan Sr., Samuel Hayward, Charles Manning, Dr. John E. Rembert and Sterling Thomas.

 

The charter members of Delta Omicron Sigma were civil rights attorneys, civic leaders, educators, businessmen, engineers, musicians, athletes and more. These brothers of the wondrous band of Sigma set a high bar for commitment to serving the community that continues to this day through educational scholarships given in their names, outreach programs done in their honor and support of Pinellas County’s youth driven by charter members’ sacrifices.

We invite you to learn a little more about each Delta Omicron Sigma charter member who thought it not robbery to …

 

March on, march on, ye mighty host,
Nor think the journey done,
Nor of future deeds to boast,
Till we’ve the victory won.
Then, when we hear, from time to time,
“Sigma, what of the day?”
We’ll thunder back along the line:
“Our cause speeds on its way.”

 

Charters Members

Alvie A. Benton, Former Chapter Vice President & Assistant Principal at Gibbs High School

Louis D. “L.D.” Brown Sr., Former Chapter President & Principal of Wildwood Elementary School

Frederick D. “Fred” Burney, Former Pinellas County School Administrator

Latas L. Edwards, Former Educator & Author

Charles J. “Charlie” Ford Sr., Former Vocational Teacher at 16th Street Middle School & Architect

Joseph A. “Jumping Joe” Johnson Sr., First Black Pinellas County Referee & School Administrator

Samuel Kicklighter, Former Chapter Historian & Pinellas County Educator

Lawrence R. Lindsey, Former Chapter Secretary & Gibbs High School Teacher

Rudolph “Rudy” Miller, Former Educator

Fred G. Minnis Sr., Distinguished Service Chapter Member, Former Attorney & Community Activist

O’Cain J. Thumbtzen, Former Chapter President & Principal of Union Academy

Kenneth Valentine, Former Educator at 16th Street Middle School

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Honorable Fred Gilliam Minnis Sr.

November 10, 1908 - April 16, 1991

Past Southern Region Director 1964 - 1966

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Fred G. Minnis Sr. was the first full-time Black lawyer in Pinellas County, opening his law practice in St. Petersburg in 1956 and ushering the way for other Black attorneys to begin practicing in the county. Minnis eventually would join with one of the many associates he helped bring to St. Petersburg, I.W. “Ike” Williams, to form the No. 1 Black law firm, handling most of the civil rights cases of the time.

 

The firm represented the Citizens Cooperative Committee, the NAACP, and the Youth Council of the NAACP in many legal actions during the 1950s and 1960s. Aside from being the “grandfather” of Black attorneys in Pinellas County, Minnis was known far and wide for helping Black students attend college, specifically his alma mater, Howard University, where he recruited and aided more than 500 students, many he didn’t even know. Minnis earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Howard in 1932 and a master’s degree in the same discipline in 1934.

 

With the United States in the grips of the Great Depression, Minnis joined the Army as an officer, serving as one of just two Black officers to lead a Civilian Conservation Corps company for five years. During World War II, he served in the Army and Army Air Force. Minnis became one of the original Black officers to open the Tuskegee Army Air Base in Alabama, where author Charles E. Francis in The Tuskegee Airmen: The Men Who Changed A Nation credits Minnis for being “greatly responsible to the success of the Tuskegee [E]xperiment,” the federal government’s program to train Black men to fly and maintain fighter aircraft. (The Tuskegee Airmen – the 99th and 332nd fighter squadrons – were among the most celebrated for their aerial combat and contribution to the war.)

 

After the war, Minnis returned to Howard University and earned a law degree. He later earned a master’s degree in law from Georgetown University. Minnis then served as the only Black researcher in the New Deal agency that produced the Social Security Act. In 1951, he took the oath as a Florida attorney in a hushed ceremony in Bradenton, but shortly after, returned to Washington, D.C, to become the only Black lawyer on the national staff of the Office of Price Stabilization.

 

After three years, Minnis left to teach law at Florida A&M University, until he learned as the highest-paid law professor at FAMU he was earning $3,000 less than the lowest-paid white professor at the University of Florida. He resigned, and Phi Beta Sigma brother Louis D. “L.D.” Brown Sr. and the Rev. Enoch Davis persuaded Minnis to settle in St. Petersburg. He was married to Frankie Minnis, and died April 16, 1991.

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Louis David Brown Sr.

October 5, 1916 - June 25, 1989

Louis D. “LD” Brown Sr. worked in education as a teacher and administrator, and he was an owner of Lou Brown Realty with his wife and son. He began teaching in 1939 at Gibbs High School, where he met his wife Lena, a school guidance counselor.

 

Brown later became assistant principal of 16th Street Middle School before being named the first principal of Wildwood Elementary School when it opened in 1956. He retired in 1973. In 1980, Brown started his realty business with his wife as co-owner and his son Lou Brown Jr. as realtor.

 

Brown served in the Navy during World War II. He was a member and a past president of the Ambassador Club, an influential group of prominent Black men who advocated for civil rights, provided lunches for school students, raised funds to benefit the community and broke a segregation barrier with a float in St. Petersburg’s annual Festival of States parade. Brown studied at Edward Waters College in Jacksonville and Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. He earned his master’s degree and did further academic work at the University of Pennsylvania. He was married to Lena Brown, and died June 25, 1989.

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William O'Cain Thumbtzen

October 29, 1918 - December 24, 2011

O’Cain J. Thumbtzen worked for many years in the Pinellas County Schools system and served as the first president of the newly chartered Delta Omicron Sigma chapter. He also found himself even more in the limelight later in life after his daughter, Tatiana Thumbtzen (born Stephanie Yvonne Thumbtzen), secured the lead dance role in Pop Superstar Michael Jackson’s 1987 video for the hit The Way You Make Me Feel.

 

Not surprising, O’cain Thumbtzen was president of the Florida Inter-Scholastic Speech and Drama Association. He also once led the Pinellas County Administrative Council, comprised of principals and administrative assistants from Pinellas County’s Black schools to field complaints about problems. Thumbtzen sat on the board of the Clearwater Bucs Bunch, a nonprofit stated in 1978.

 

He was principal at several Pinellas County schools, including Union Academy of Tarpon Springs, Forest Hills Elementary School and North Ward Elementary School in Clearwater. He retired in December 1986. Thumbtzen died Dec. 24, 2011.

Alvie Benton

Alvie Benton

June 12, 1917 - Dec. 6, 1991

Alvie A. Benton worked as a teacher and administrator for Pinellas County Schools for 25 years, including as assistant principal of Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg when the new building was dedicated in March 1963. He also served as president of the Pinellas County Teachers Association and the Florida Teachers Association.

 

Benton became a teacher in Pinellas County after serving in the Army during World War II, and he served as the education consultant to the Legal Defense Fund of the NAACP. He also was an associate minister at Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church in St. Petersburg. Benton graduated from Florida A&M University, and earned a master’s degree in social science and guidance from New York University. He was married to Catherine Benton, and died Dec. 6, 1991.

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Lawrence Rudolph Lindsay

October 23, 1917 - June 5, 1977

Lawrence R. Lindsey grew up on a farm in Leon County, Fla., with parents whose education ended in elementary school, and though his education was interrupted by World War II, Lindsey went not graduate from Florida A&M University and teach for 24 years in Pinellas County Schools. He taught at Gibbs High School.

 

Before that, he served as a TEC 4 in the United States Army and was honorably discharged after 2.5 years. Lindsey attended St. Augustine Episcopal Church, with his good friend and Sigma brother Charles J. “Charlie” Ford Sr., and he belonged to the Masonic Lodge 259. He was married to Georgia Lindsey, and he died June 5, 1977.

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Samuel Kicklighter
June 26, 1931 - 

Last Living Charter Member
Samuel Kicklighter brought his business acumen into classrooms to help give students a leg up on working. An employee of Sperry Microwave Electronics Co., a division of Sperry Rand that manufactured electronics, Kicklighter provided typing instruction as a second job at Gibbs Evening Adult High School. He later taught cooperative education and work programs at Lakewood High School for many years.
 
Kicklighter graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from Florida State University and he attended the University of South Florida and Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach. He was married to Alma Kicklighter, and is the last living charter member of Delta Omicron Sigma and continues to participate in fraternity gatherings and community work.

Joseph Johnson

Joseph J. Johnson

Born in 1913 - April 18, 1989

Joseph A. “Jumping Joe” Johnson Sr. filled a lot of roles in his long and distinguished career with Pinellas County Schools – several at the same time. He was a science teacher, department head, a coach, a human relations counselor, an administrative assistant, a dean of student, an assistant principal, and a principal between 1947 and 1981.

 

Johnson’s first position was teaching biology at Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, where he also coached football, swimming and girls basketball. Then, he taught and coached basketball and baseball at Gibbs High School, where his team won a state basketball championship in 1951. Johnson later joined 16th Street Junior High School as the head of the science department, athletic director and assistant principal. He was the first principal of Campbell Park Elementary School when it opened in 1962, and Johnson stayed there for nine years.

 

During his time with the school system, he also officiated football games, served as the city of St. Petersburg’s teen program coordinator and started the city’s summer basketball tournament in 1948. Johnson was a standout high school and college basketball player, being named an All-American guard in 1938 and getting elected to the Extra Point Club Inc. of the Atlanta University Center Sports Hall of Fame. He earned a Bachelor of Arts from Clark College, and master’s degrees in biology and administration from the University of Wisconsin and Florida A&M University, respectively. He was married to Estella V. Johnson, and died April 18, 1989.

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Charles James Ford

May 7, 1920 - October 12, 1996

Charles J. “Charlie” Ford Sr. built crafts, structures and lives as an industrial arts teacher devoted to the community and youth. Ford taught at Gibbs High School and 16th Street Middle School for 31 years, interesting young people in work and inspiring them to build skills in in machinery and drafting. He set the example by serving on the city committee that planned the Enoch Davis Community Center and playing a key role in planning and constructing St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, where he was a member in St. Petersburg.

 

Ford also was one of the first Black members of the several city boards, including the code enforcement and zoning boards. He served in the Army during World War II. Ford earned his bachelor’s degree in industrial arts from Florida A&M University, and earned a master’s degree in art and design from New York University. He was married to Inez Ford, and died Oct. 12, 1996.

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Latas L. Edwards

January 27, 1926 - March 28, 2005

Latas L. Edwards solved problems, leading him to major in mathematics in college, teach mathematics at the secondary and post-secondary levels, and earn 34 awards, honors and citations. After a stint as a teacher and assistant principal in Hendersonville, NC,

 

Edwards joined the staff of Gibbs Junior College in 1958 as a mathematics instructor. He went on to become head of the school’s mathematics department, and served as advisor to Gamma Tau, the collegiate chapter of Phi Beta Sigma at Gibbs.

 

Edwards began teaching mathematics at St. Petersburg Junior College after Gibbs shut down. While there, the problem solver immediately recognized math texts were lacking for some study areas – professional pilots and architectural technology – and set about enlisting help, researching what was needed and co-authoring the 182-page Algebra and Trigonometry for Technicians that was used at SPJC from 1975 through 1980.

 

Edwards graduated from Selma University, Shaw University and Lincoln University with bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and psychology, and he earned his master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Pennsylvania. He was married to Sueise Edwards, and died March 28, 2005.

 

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Frederick D.  Burney

Born in 1911 - February 5, 1999

Frederick D. “Fred” Burney, a chemist by training who helped advance the field of photography, worked in education most of his life, including opening the doors of 16th Street Junior High School and Perkins Elementary School as the first principal of both. He taught in schools in Lakeland and Bradenton before turning to his education in chemistry, specifically in metallurgy and metallography research, going to work for Sylvania Electric Co. There, Burney took part in the research that led to the strobe light used in photography.

 

In 1948, he joined Gibbs High School as a chemistry teacher, and then, for a short time, served as principal of Gibbs Junior High School before opening 16th Street in 1952 and Perkins in 1958. He later became principal of Jordan Park Elementary School, retiring in 1973.

 

Burney was a founding member of the Ambassadors Club; led the Commission on Religion and Race for the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church; served on several city boards – the commission on aging, the civic improvement committee, the budget review committee, and the environmental development commission – and the Boys Club of Pinellas County; and filled an appointment to the 2nd District Court of Appeal Judicial Nominating Committee from 1978-1982. He studied at Bethune-Cookman College, Boston University, Harvard University and Florida A&M University. He was married to Jewel Burney, and died Feb. 5, 1999.

Rudolph "Rudy" Miller

Rudolph Miller

November 22, 1937 - July 31, 1996

Rudolph “Rudy” Miller gave 32 years to educating the young people of Clearwater, teaching at Ridgecrest Elementary School for 15 years and Plumb Elementary School for 17 years. He also devoted time to civic duties. Miller served on the Clearwater Housing Authority Advisory Board and the Neighborhood Advisory Board and worked the voter registration poll.

 

He volunteered for Meals on Wheels, the Salvation Army and Clearwater social services. As a Red Cross volunteer, Miller was named chairman of the agency’s fund drive among Black residents in upper Pinellas County in 1961 when such drives were segregated. He graduated from Florida Normal College in St. Augustine, Fla. He as married to Mary F. Miller, and died July 31, 1991.

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Kenneth Valentine Jr.

Born in 1922- January 13, 2006

Kenneth M. “Kenny” Valentine Jr. taught in Pinellas County Schools for 31 years, pushing science and engineering decades before STEM became a fashionable term. He taught at Gibbs High School, Campbell Park Elementary School and Tyrone Middle School.

 

In 1959, while at 16th Street Elementary-Junior High School, Valentine performed experiments and demonstrations with electricity and magnetism as part of the first series of science workshops he and two other local teachers organized under the Pinellas County Progressive Science Teachers Association. Valentine also organized the first Boys Scout Troop at Campbell Park Elementary.

 

Before teaching, Valentine served in the Army during World War II. After teaching, he was a member of the Retired Teachers Education Association and Mel Tan Heights Neighborhood Association. Valentine earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Tennessee State University and a master’s degree in science education from Florida A&M University. As a member of the TSU alumni association, he recruited students from Pinellas County to the engineering program at his alma mater in Nashville. He was married to Katherine D. Valentine, and died Jan. 13, 2006.