Born in 1912, Fred G. Minnis, Sr. began practicing law in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1956 and was often known as the “grandfather” of African-American lawyers in Pinellas County. Until he opened an office on 22nd Street S in late 1956, no black attorney had ever practiced law full time in Pinellas and in the beginning, it was difficult for him to attract business.
Throughout his years as a pioneering attorney and community advocate, Mr. Minnis mentored and provided opportunities for clerkships to lawyers such as Frank Peterman, Sr. and James B. Sanderlin, Pinellas County’s first African-American judge. They persevered for equal job opportunity and equal access to the judicial system for African Americans.
According to an article in the February 3, 1959 edition of the St. Petersburg Times Local and National Negro News, “Licensed Negro real estate salesmen and brokers have declared war on ‘unauthorized persons engaged in the sale and rental of property’ in the Negro community”. The licensed salesmen and brokers included Cleveland Johnson, Sr., Louis D. Brown, Attorney Isaiah Williams, Isaac McNeal, and Mrs. Lillian Ramsey. The group met in the offices of Attorney Minnis, president of a law and real estate firm to set wheels in motion to clamp down on real estate bootleggers.
Mr. Minnis headed the law firm that represented the Citizens Cooperative Committee, the NAACP and the NAACP Youth Council in their many legal actions in the 1950s and 1960s. Minnis, a member of the NAACP executive committee, was one of the speakers at a meeting of the NAACP held in January 1961. The meeting, outlining the plans of the organization including a “concentrated effort to register all of the eligible Negroes in the community” and a selective buying campaign, was attended by an estimated 200 people.
A graduate of Howard University in Washington, D.C., he passionately supported his alma mater. Howard University awarded him an honorary doctor of Law degree for his enduring support of the school and his work to improve life for African Americans in St. Petersburg.
Mr. Minnis died at the age of 81 on April 16, 1991. The Fred G. Minnis Sr. Bar Association is named after Minnis, the first African American full-time lawyer in Pinellas County, Florida.