Leon Collins was born in Cocoa in 1939 and was a lifelong resident of Brevard County. He was one of nine children. As a child, he shined shoes as a job. His father worked at Patrick Air Force Base, then called Banana River Naval Air Station, and Leon would shine shoes for five cents at the Officer’s Club. Leon married Jewel Moore Collins in 1956. They went on to have three children, Carl, Sheila, and Mary Ann. In the 1960s, Leon and Jewel marched for Civil Rights in Cocoa, advocating for voting rights for African Americans. They were active members of the NAACP and Cocoa/Rockledge Civic League.
In the late 1960s, Leon Collins played drums with the band Fredo and His Soul Music. The newspaper Florida Today called the band led by Bahamian Fredo Russell “different, refreshing and fun.” They played at local clubs, including Wolfie’s and Bali Hai. Leon also worked in local citrus groves before becoming an electrician with Pan American World Services where he was employed for 42 years.
In 1973, Leon Collins became first African American Cocoa City Councilman. He served the City Council for 10 years. He was also Vice Mayor for 7 years. He founded the Central Brevard Recreation Association. He also served on the Brevard County Zoning and Planning Board. Leon Collins died September 22nd, 2001, at the age of 62.
High School Principal and Rockledge City Council chairman Richard Blake once called Leon Collins “The neon man” because “the electric current he possesses projects a glow every man could be proud of.”
Minnie Jewel Moore Collins was born in Shellman, Georgia in 1936. She has been a community leader and activist all her life. She married Leon Collins in 1956 and they had three children, Carl, Mary Ann, and Sheila.
At the age of 19, Jewel Collins started ironing shirts for 75 cents an hour and then she began cleaning houses for white families in the Cocoa area. She became a housekeeper at the Polaris Motel in Cocoa Beach and quickly became the supervisor. Jewel Collins came from a family of ten children and her father always emphasized the importance of education. While working full time and taking care of three small children, she attended night classes at Brevard Community College taking courses in economics, psychology, sanitation, and sociology. In 1970, she became president, secretary, and education chairperson of the Cape Kennedy Chapter of the National Executive Housekeepers Association.
A member of the Democratic Women’s Club of Central Brevard since 1973, Jewel was elected president of the club in 1985. In 1980, she won the Heart of Gold award for her extensive volunteer work in the community. She received a 24-karat gold heart as her award. She was also active on the Cocoa Rockledge Civic League, the Central Brevard Recreation Association, the Central Brevard Branch of the NAACP, and the Poinsett Middle School’s advisory board. She also served as a fundraiser for the Wuesthoff Memorial Hospital in Titusville, taught Sunday School at Fiske Boulevard Church of Christ for many years, and she was a member of a volunteer choir at the Sunny Pines Convalescent Center.
In 1999, Jewel Collins was the first African American woman elected to Cocoa’s City Council, serving 7 years. In 2001, she was elected Deputy Mayor and in 2002 she was elected Vice Chair. In 2005, she was named “Woman of the Year” for the Women of Achievement Award sponsored by the March of Dimes.
Jewel and her husband Leon spent their lives advocating for civil rights and were active members of the NAACP and the Cocoa/ Rockledge Civic League. The Leon and Jewel Collins Museum of African American History and Culture is located at 307 Blake Avenue in Cocoa.