NEWBERRY ‒ June 10 was a time for a community to honor one of its own. Over 75 friends, family members and elected officials, both current and past, gathered at Freddie Warmack Park to celebrate the life and legacy of the first black mayor of Newberry. The park is named in honor of that mayor, Freddie Warmack, for his long years of service and achievements in the community.
Warmack was born and raised in Newberry. He died in 2019 at the age of 87 but left a lasting legacy for his dedication to improving the city’s infrastructure and living conditions of its citizens.
As a young man, Warmack joined the Army and served in the Korean War before receiving a medical discharge due to Malaria, which would continue to affect him for years, according to his daughter, Cynthia Loretta Warmack.
Warmack was heavily involved in community issues and was always open to hearing from others. He served on several committees in local government and then became a city commissioner from October 1974 through October 1984. That year, he was elected as the first African American mayor in Newberry, serving for 10 years until 1994. At the time, the mayor also held the position of city manager. In addition to these duties, he was also a member of the Central Florida Community Action Agency, helping low-income people become self-sufficient.
During his tenure as mayor, he is credited with establishing the Newberry Fire Department in 1981, creating the Newberry Historic District, purchasing and installing the veteran's memorial monument in 1988, and presiding over the construction of Newberry City Hall in 1992. His accomplishments to improving Newberry had a lasting effect and Freddie Warmack Park was named in his honor in 2009.
The park's location is significant as it sits on the site of the first African American school in Newberry. The school was built during segregation, a time when African Americans had to purchase land and build the school themselves if they wanted their children to attend school. The school was also located across the street from a field called Lynch Hammock where several lynchings took place.
Today, the old school is gone, and Warmack Park is a place for children to play in happier times. The only building left is the old cafeteria, and that is where everyone gathered to honor the memory and achievements of Warmack. The event was sponsored by the City of Newberry and the 100 Black Men of Greater Florida GNV Chapter.
The Chapter is part of a nationwide organization with106 Chapters with approximately 10,000 African American men committed to the organization’s founding mission- to enhance the quality of life in African American communities by improving the educational, economic and social status of African-Americans. The organization now serves more than 125,000 youth annually through its mentoring, training and development programs. Chapter members attended the event to honor Warmack with their first-ever posthumous membership award for his dedication to community, youth and education.
Pastor Lewis King delivering the invocation and Cynthia Warmack spoke about her father, praising his accomplishments, compassion and caring for others. Her focus was his life beyond politics and his relationship with people.
“He loved Newberry and in return the city embraced him," she said, recalling that on the day the Newberry Fire Department officially opened, her father “Cut the ribbon with a smile that would brighten the sky. He was always willing to listen to the concerns of others.”
King, who is Warmack's son-in-law, spoke about Warmack's life in politics and said he lived out Luke 12:28: “To whom much is given, much is required.”
"One thing I can say about Freddie Warmack as an elected official is he took care of the needs of the city, the needs of the people,” said King, who served at the same time as Warmack on the Newberry Planning and Zoning Board. “He would apply for grants to have houses remodeled along with other grants to supplement the city budget. It was those types of actions that the community appreciated. He always put the community first,” King said
After Warmack retired from serving the City, he still stayed involved. King recalled how he shared with Warmack that the City Commission was considering giving away the fire department to the county.
“They ain't giving my fire department,” Warmack responded. Warmack then showed up at the next Commission meeting to vehemently oppose any attempt to give away the fire department he built. King said the fire department might not have stayed in the City's control without Warmack's persistent efforts, even after he was no longer mayor.
Warmack's grandson, James Mayberry, came to the podium and invited family members and former City officials who worked with Warmack to join him on stage. “It takes a village,” he said as family and former officials flanked him on each side, with his grandmother standing next to him.
“Everywhere we look in this town, you see part of his legacy,” said current Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe. “The old school and that park have a long history and a long legacy in our community and I hope that it goes on for a long time,” Marlowe said. “There isn't a place that you can go in our community and not see his impact.”
Marlowe proclaimed June 10 to be “Freddie Warmack Sr. Day to recognize and thank him for his years of dedicated service to the residents of this city and as a patriarch of this community.” Marlowe said that because the Newberry Fire Department moved into its building on June 10, 1981, he read the proclamation on that same date in honor of Warmack.
Once the three spoke and the family returned to their seats it was time for the city's proclamation and The 100 Black Men induction.
Gator 100 President Jamar Herbert asked his fellow members to come to the stage as he presented grandson James Mayberry with the posthumous membership induction of Warmack into the 100 Black Men Chapter. “This has never been done before,” Hebert said about the posthumous induction. “We felt that based on his lifetime of dedication to his community, especially improving the opportunities for low-income youth, that he deserved membership” Herbert said.
After the ceremony, another of Warmack's grandsons, artist Alpatrick McCleary, took the stage to unveil a portrait Marlowe commissioned him to paint for Newberry's Freddie Warmack Center. The portrait was revealed as attendees applauded and family members expressed how much it portrayed his character. “I got a picture from my auntie and I decided to capture him the best I could,” McCleary said.
As the ceremony ended, McCleary reflected on the event “I think my grandfather would be proud to see that all the good he did is still remembered by the citizens of Newberry.”
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