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Former Springfield City Council member Denny Whayne has a long history of working for civil rights causes. He joined the NAACP when he was 11 years old, and has been involved in the movement ever since. Threats have been made upon him on at least three occasions but he says "when you are doing what is right, it takes the fear out of it". Denny Whayne shared his story with Mike Smith, who produced this feature for the KSMU Sense of Community Series.
Mike Smith here for KSMU with a profile of a courageous Springfieldian named Denny Whayne, who at a very young age began to challenge “The system” as it pertained to racial inequalities. In1956 when he was 11 years old, he joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (the NAACP) and has been active in the civil rights movement and the NAACP ever since. One day when Denny Whayne was shooting baskets at one end of the Boys Club gym a white man who was coaching an all white team at the other end of the court approached and asked Denny to join with his team. Denny was elated at the opportunity, and so began a friendship with the Coach, who was a Detective in the Springfield Police Department. His name was Bill Lloyd and he took Denny Whayne “under his wing” to mentor the youngster by teaching responsible behavior, showing the consequences of actions, and advising Denny Whayne to work hard in school and stay out of trouble. Whayne says “Bill Lloyd taught me the system of how the city structure works, and in doing so, taught me how I could use the same system so nobody could tell me red was blue. It was then that I began to question and challenge their system using their rules. I began to stand out and stand up for civil rights”. Whayne tells the story of how in his teens, he broke tradition of blacks ordering from an outside window and walked in to Coley’s hamburger stand because “I just wanted a hamburger”. As Denny tells it, “The place got quiet as a church mouse, until the silverware began to drop and folks started talking. After a couple of minutes, someone finally came up to him and said “Coley’s doesn’t serve colored people inside the café”. I said that’s ok because I don’t eat them. I would like a hamburger instead”. He ended up getting his hamburger to take out with him. At age 19 Denny Whayne began what would be an 8 year career as an accountant at Douglas Aircraft in Tulsa Oklahoma where racial tension was high in the mid to late 1960’s. “We were picketing the segregation of a cafeteria there and things got really ugly. The brought out the dogs and the fire hoses. People were spitting on us. Man it really was ugly”. Denny Whayne moved back to Springfield in 1972 to work as a bank teller and then from 1975 to 1985 in the Finance Department for the City of Springfield, while also working to bring equality in housing, employment and public accommodations for all Springfield citizens. “Even though the public accommodations act was passed in 1964, a few hotels in Springfield were not yet with the program”. Whayne says it was during those years that his life was threatened on 3 separate occasions. “I never was too scared because I’ve always felt that if you are doing the right thing, it takes all the fear out of it. People called me an agitator. I told them well, you go find a washing machine without an agitator and I’ll buy it for you. You need an agitator. It gets the dirt out of the clothes”.Denny Whayne served as President of the Springfield NAACP from 1980 to 1988. He was elected to Springfield City Council in 2001, and served 2, 4 year terms as Zone 1 Councilman. His tenure on council was interrupted right in the middle of his 2 terms when he suffered a massive stroke in June 2004. Whayne savors his survival and proudly looks back at his career of public service and sense of community. “My time on council was one of the best experiences of my entire life. My mindset on council was to try to move the city of Springfield forward”. Denny Whayne was interviewed for the KSMU Sense of Community Series at his home in West Springfield. I’m Mike Smith.