Eighty-five year old Hazel Land has seen a lot of changes. Hazel was born and raised in Brooksville, grew up in the Jim Crow era and attended a segregated high school. The youngest of three girls, Hazel recounts her large family structure, noting that her grandmother had 15 children, which included a set of triplets.
She graduated from the Moton School in 1949, when it still served elementary through high school aged students. Hazel recalls attending another school prior to Moton. The school was then inside a church. Today, the building has moved, but she is still an active member of the church.
After graduating from high school, she attended Tuskegee University in Alabama, and earned a degree in Physical Education. She worked as a teacher in Alabama and Florida following her college graduation. She was living in New Jersey when she learned about John F. Kennedy’s inception of the Peace Corps. “I heard that, and I knew that was for me,” she recalls.
Hazel joined the Peace Corps and was assigned to the Philippines. Later, she would spend time in Nigeria. This was right around the same time the Civil Rights movement was taking off, and she said, “I just knew I would be involved in it. I knew it will be there when I get back. I wasn’t wrong either.”
Returning to the United States, Hazel got a job with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). However, there was no NAACP chapter in Brooksville, where she wanted to settle to be closer to her family. She recalled people not getting involved with the NAACP because they didn’t know how it would affect them personally, or their jobs. No one wanted to “rock the boat.”
Training at the Tampa chapter, she managed to talk with the regional director to learn about what she would need to do to organize the Brooksville chapter. “It would take a minimum of fifty people to get a branch started,” she said. “It took twenty-seven days.”
“I went door to door … it was not a hard job at all. People just needed it explained, what I was talking about. Some people thought we were about burning houses down, because some of those things were going on at that time. But that wasn’t NAACP’s work.”
While she was working to form the Brooksville Chapter, Hazel learned that one had existed some years prior, but had no activity. She recalled that for her group’s first meeting, there was a notice placed in the newspaper and genuine interest from the community. Soon, she was asked to be a Regional Director in Nashville, Tennessee. “There was a shortage of people that would work for the NAACP,” she said.
While in Nashville, she decided she’d like to attend law school, and thought it best to return to her home state of Florida. While working for the NAACP, she recognized that a law degree would be best for her to help others in her community. “I always thought I could do a lot of things,” Ms. Land said, adding that she was unaware at the time that she could be the first black woman to graduate from the University of Florida Fredric G. Levin College of Law. “I didn’t have any problems, I sent in my application ... and I got a letter from them saying I was accepted.”
Following her graduation in 1973, Ms. Land started working with legal services, where she felt she could “do the most good,” focusing on getting people the help they needed. Afterward, she formed a solo practice in Clearwater. “I wanted to be of help to people … I had white clients too. I was there to do a job. Money wasn’t on my mind.”
After eleven successful years in Clearwater, Ms. Land returned to Brooksville to work with Legal Services until she retired. “I’m guided by Christ. I’m a Christian,” she said of her many accomplishments and eventual return to the area. “I did what I chose to do, and I did my best where I could. I’m glad I did it.”