Naomi Winbush made education and literacy a priority

A cotton, rice and soybean farm in Sunflower County, Mississippi, was home to Naomi Daniel, parents Isaac and Abbie Staples Daniel and Naomi’s eight siblings. Born on April 7, 1932, she left home at the age of 16 to attend Tennessee State University, majoring in home economics, which at that time was one of the few degree options for minorities.  

Although they were in college together, Naomi didn’t meet her future husband, Nelson Winbush, until he was discharged from the Army and returned to Tennessee to teach in 1953.  They married later that year.

The couple moved to Kissimmee, Florida, in 1955, both having been hired as teachers. Naomi began teaching fourth grade in 1957, then remedial reading at Kissimmee High School, the county’s only black school. After integration, she transferred to Highlands Elementary School.  Wanting to help children build an educational foundation, Naomi became director of the Title I program for Osceola County. She taught families of migrant workers and other disadvantaged students the tools they needed to succeed; she also introduced computerized-assisted education. Always dedicated to what was best for the students, promoting literacy was one of Naomi’s priorities.

In 1981, Naomi ran for and was elected a Kissimmee City Commissioner, a position she held until 1987. Not only was she the first woman elected to city office, she was also the first black commissioner. But she ran to serve all the people, which she did in a quiet and deliberate manner as evidenced whenever she spoke at Commission meetings. Some of the issues Naomi tackled were the shopping carts littering the community and the poor condition of roads throughout the city. Naomi spearheaded the projects to have a street named for Martin Luther King Jr. and a park name after Cornelius Chambers (the only black soldier from Kissimmee to die in Vietnam).  

Upon retiring in 1987 she remained with the school system another five years. She then dedicated her time to grandchildren, tutoring, singing in the church choir, sewing and was known for her homemade pound and coconut cakes. She gave advice to many young women who became mothers too soon and attention to anyone longing to learn to read.

Naomi died in Kissimmee at the age of 67 on September 26, 1999; she is buried in Osceola Memory Gardens.

Written by Anza Bast.

Sources: “Orlando Sentinel” October 4, 1981, September 29, 1999; Ancestry.com; family members’ online information