A Street of Honor, Remembering Charles S. Chestnut III

A Street of Honor, Remembering Charles S. Chestnut III

The Gainesville City Commission recently initiated a poignant tribute to distinguished Bethune-Cookman University alumnus Charles S. Chestnut III, approving the dual naming of a section of 8th Avenue as a lasting memorial. The significant stretch of road in front of Chestnut Funeral Home, a business ingrained in the Chestnut family legacy since its founding in 1914, now bears the name "Charles S. Chestnut III Avenue."

Chestnut, who died on Dec. 4 at 83, began his remarkable life in 1940 in Gainesville. His educational journey, rooted in segregated schools, propelled him to the former all-Black Howard High School in Ocala, where he graduated in 1958. Subsequently, his pursuit of higher education led him to then-Bethune-Cookman College. There, he pledged the Omicron Epsilon Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., before graduating from the Eckels School of Mortuary Science in Philadelphia.

His formal public service began with his military commitment to the United States Army from 1966 to 1968. However, Chestnut’s role as the Alachua County NAACP Youth Council president in 1963 truly defined the character of his lifelong leadership. From coordinating sit-ins to integrate local drugstore counters to advocating for equal access to public accommodations, his courageous activism also included spearheading a campaign to expand voters' rights across Alachua County, facilitating the registration of Black residents to vote.

Transitioning from activism to formal governance, Chestnut served on the Alachua County School Board from 1976 to 1992. He broke barriers as the first Black member, championing educational equity. His commitment persisted as he assumed a role on the Board of Alachua County Commissioners from 1992 to 2000, solidifying his impact on local leadership.

A Street of Honor, Remembering Charles S. Chestnut III

Parallel to his public service, Chestnut demonstrated entrepreneurial acumen as the owner of Chestnut Funeral Home. For six decades, he worked as a funeral director, showcasing business savvy and embodying a commitment to providing essential services to the community with dignity during times of grief.

On December 12, the unveiling day, Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward, capturing the essence of the occasion, acknowledged Chestnut's pivotal role in shaping the narrative of civil rights and community progress. 

"What we're doing today is recording it for future generations to be able to see," said Ward. "We're creating part of an open-air history book so that the history can be researched and learned, but the history has already been made."

The sentiment was echoed by Chestnut's wife, Gainesville City Commissioner Cynthia Moore Chestnut, emphasizing his humility and expressing gratitude for the heartfelt recognition from the community.

Married for more than 45 years, he was the father of six children: Alachua County Commissioner Charles "Chuck" Chestnut IV '00, businessman and attorney Christopher Chestnut, and daughters Pamela Murphy, Janice Chestnut, Tia Chestnut, and Candace Chestnut.

Hundreds attended Chestnut's funeral on December 18 at The Phillips Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Florida before he was laid to rest at Mount Pleasant UMC Cemetery. A lifetime member of the NAACP and Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church as well as a founding member of the Beta Pi Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Chestnut's life was one of service, advocacy, and entrepreneurship, contributing significantly to the rich tapestry of his native Gainesville's history.