“Black lives matter” has become a touchstone issue in the United States in the past two years. It’s a message that Warren Dawson has dedicated his whole professional life to furthering.
The 76-year-old attorney has fought numerous legal battles to advance civil rights for black people in Tampa Bay, including desegregation of schools and preservation of voting rights.
In the latest recognition of his contributions, Dawson was recently elected to the Judicial Council of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the highest judicatory body of a church estimated to have 7.5 million members in 39 countries.
Delegates at the church’s recent quadrennial conference in Philadelphia voted Dawson to the council, which performs an appellate court-like role for the church, giving final rulings on rules and disputes like placement of pastors.
“I’m very, very happy for the opportunity to give back to the church that I have known for all of my life,” Dawson said.
The AME Church is part of Dawson’s heritage. A fourth-generation member of the AME Church, his mother was a pianist and choir director at an AME Church in Mulberry.
“I’m told that my beginnings was my mother would put my bassinet on top of the piano while she played for the choir,” he said.
As an attorney, Dawson championed black rights over a career that next year will hit the 50-year mark. He was the first black hired in the National Labor Review Board’s Tampa regional office and was Tampa’s first black assistant city attorney.
He helped fight for single-member districts so that minority neighborhoods would have a better chance of being able to elect black candidates.
Perhaps his biggest contribution was serving as lead council for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Manning vs. Hillsborough County School Board, a long-running legal battle that led to the desegregation of Hillsborough County schools.
He also helped force Gasparilla parade organizers to admit black revelers to the festival.
In 2008, Dawson ran for state House 59, losing to Betty Reed in the Democratic primary.
He is still actively advocating for the black community, most recently negotiating with The Jeff Vinik-Cascade investment project to ensure that minority-owned businesses benefit from the redevelopment of a 40-acre site around Amalie Arena.
“Warren is probably one of the most iconic lawyers we have in the African-American community,” said James Ransom, a board member of the Tampa Organization of Black Affairs. “He’s a very, very articulate gentleman. He has a statesman-like quality about him.”
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SOURCE: The Tampa Bay Times – Christopher O’Donnell