‘She was a pioneer and fearless’: Legacy of JSO’s first Black corrections officer lives on

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax is highlighting the Jacksonville Sheriff Office’s first Black correctional officer: Mary Francis Griffin Sparks.

In an exclusive sit-down interview with two of her nine children, Beverley Watson and Louis Wilson Jr. say their mother’s legacy will continue to live on.

“She was an activist for life,” Wilson Jr. said. “She was a pioneer and fearless.”

He said his mother paved the way for diversity within JSO beginning in the 1960s.

“She even got other Black guards hired because of her,” Wilson Jr. said.

Sparks’ daughter described hearing stories when she was young about her mother guarding Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he was in Jacksonville in the early 60s.

“We asked her what type of person he was, and she said he was a very nice and soft-spoken man,” Watson said.

“She had him,” Wilson Jr. said. “She said I got him. Nobody could touch him.”

The Jacksonville Brotherhood of Police Officers dedicated a memorial to Sparks back in 2016 to recognize the historic contributions she made.

Sparks lived in Jacksonville all of her adult life and was dedicated to creating change even outside of the jail. She volunteered as a voter elections worker, a tutor to kids in need and was very involved at Asbury United Methodist Church.

“She had a beautiful personality,” Watson said. “Anyone that met her, loved her. If she could help you, she would take the clothes off her back and give them to you. That’s the type of person she was.”

Sparks passed away in 1994 but her children say their mother’s legacy will always shine on.

“We miss her and love her so much,” Wilson Jr. said. “She’s a special person.”

Comments on this article