Years before he co-founded Fort Lauderdale’s first black hospital or ran for a school board seat in the face of Klan intimidation, Dr. Von Delaney Mizell was on a mission to escort a group of chained Nazi prisoners from Atlanta to Fort Benning. Mizell was then a second lieutenant in the Army Reserve.
The World War II story is told in Deborah Work’s My Soul Is a Witness: A History of Black Fort Lauderdale. “When they stopped at a restaurant in Tilton, Ga., the owner seated the shackled Nazis in his air-conditioned dining room. Mizell and the other black guard were seated in the kitchen. He was forced to guard them through a hole in the kitchen wall.” How’s that for your service?
But Mizell was used to it. Years earlier in 1937, the trained orthopedic surgeon came to the aid of a young black man who had been shot in the stomach by a bunch of cowardly white kids driving along Hammondville Road. The young man was refused treatment by physicians at two white hospitals, one being Broward General.
Mizell quarreled with staff at the now long gone Memorial Hospital on East Broward Boulevard and finally argued his way into an operating room, bringing the victim along. Without help, Mizell removed the bullet.
Fighting, fighting, fight your way. Even when you are a respected medical doctor.
A few years later, when he and other African-American doctors were refused use of facilities at Broward General, Dr. Mizell fought back. He sued for entrance into the all-white Broward Medical Association so that he and the others could practice at the hospital. The group won.
But that wasn’t enough indignity from this hospital, even after it was fully integrated. Dr. Mizell was later stripped of his surgical privilege. Whatever the charges were, no substance was found – and he won a $17 million lawsuit alleging racism.
Founder of South Florida’s first NAACP chapter, he turned to the field of education in 1948, which of course was a great concern for the underserved black community. That led to another battle.
Although well-respected by many in the local Democratic Party – the year before, Dr. Mizell had successfully pressured police to hire two black officers – they were taken aback when Dr. Mizell announced his run to replace a departing school board member. There had never been a black board member, nor in fact any black elected official in the city or county.
The Ku Klux Klan came three times, burned crosses on Dr. Mizell’s lawn, and broke windows in his home. The next time, the candidate was there on the lawn with his own shotgun and turned them away. While he lost the election, it was close and he made his point. He opened the way for others.
His nephew Von Mizell, an attorney, argued in a 2011 Sun-Sentinel op-ed piece that “Dr. Von D. Mizell is the most significant African-American figure in the life of Fort Lauderdale and Broward County.”
The younger Mizell, listing his uncle’s many achievements, laid out the case for naming the former John U. Lloyd State Park exclusively after his uncle.
On another occasion, historian Stuart McIver expressed a similar sentiment. “His impact on the area,” McIver wrote, “would be greater than any other black who lived here.”
By the time President Kennedy and President Nixon named Dr. Von D. Mizell to prestigious committees – in the years before his death in 1973 – it was clear a city had underestimated and underappreciated him.