Reverend Dr. Willie Oliver Wells, Sr.

Brevard Co., FL I 1931 - 2015

Born in Miami, Florida in 1931, Reverend Dr. Willie Oliver Wells, Sr. earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Fisk University in 1957 and a Bachelor of Theology degree from American Baptist Theological Seminary in 1958. At age 28, in May 1959, he was called to the Greater St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Cocoa, Florida. Six months later, he became President of the Brevard County Chapter of the NAACP. Dr. Wells spearheaded the first nonviolent civil rights protest in Brevard in 1959 when he picketed and subsequently shut down the “Georgia Store” after the store owner slapped and falsely accused a black woman of stealing. He then activated the NAACP Youth Council to conduct sit-ins at the Woolworth lunch counter and Campbell’s Drug Store. Dr. Wells was a Freedom Rider and an original member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was instrumental in bringing about desegregation in Brevard County’s public places, including schools, drug stores, lunch counters, hotels, movie theaters, beaches, restaurants and places of employment. He directly challenged the City of Cocoa in its discriminatory hiring practices; established the Community Action Agency of Brevard; and secured $1.8 million in 1968 to construct two low-income apartment complexes — Shull Manor in Melbourne and Tropical Manor in Merritt Island. Dr. Wells led the Greater St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in building a $1.2 million complex in 1978. Dr. Wells also orchestrated many community projects to combat racism, poverty, drug abuse, and crime.