Desegregation of Gainesville high schools topic of new books


A student inspects a class schedule at Gainesville High School in this February 1970 archive photo. Two books about Gainesville’s black history have been published in the last few months. (Photo courtesy of Matheson Museum)

Published: Friday, February 15, 2013 at 1:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 15, 2013 at 1:33 p.m.

Every Gainesville student learns about Brown v. Board of Education, but not every student knows how that case played out in his or her hometown. Three Gainesville authors aim to change that.

Facts

Buy the books

“Lincoln High School: Its History and Legacy” ($20) can be ordered via email from Albert White at babywhite1@cox.net. Proceeds benefit the Lincoln High School Alumni Association.
“Beyond Bravery” can be purchased on Amazon.com for Kindle for $5.99.

"Lincoln High School: Its History and Legacy," by Albert White and Kevin McCarthy, is a comprehensive history chronicling Florida's first accredited all-black public high school from its beginnings in 1923 to its federally mandated closing in 1970.

"Beyond Bravery," by LaVon W. Bracy, is a first-person account of Bracy's experience as one of Gainesville High School's first black students in 1964.

Together these two works tell a part of Gainesville history seldom taught in schools.

White attended Lincoln High School from 1956 to 1962. As student council vice president, he was the football team's varsity quarterback and played on the tennis, basketball, track and swim teams. Since most local entertainment facilities were closed to blacks at the time, the junior-senior high school was the cultural hub of Gainesville's African-American community, he said.

"Everything that occurred in our community of any significance happened at Lincoln — our concerts, our plays, our athletic events," White said. "When football games (were held), the whole black community attended," he said.

In response to a federal mandate to desegregate public schools, the Alachua County School Board voted in 1969 to convert Lincoln into a vocational center and to build the new and integrated Eastside High School.

Hundreds of Lincoln High students stayed home to boycott the school's closing. More than 1,000 students marched from Lincoln through UF's Plaza of the Americas to the school board office carrying signs reading, "No Lincoln, No Peace" and "Give Us Lincoln Or Give Us Death."

"The closing took away motivation, hope and opportunity," said White, who was attending college in North Carolina at the time. "When you snatch away the nucleus of a community, you get chaos in some ways."

White's younger brother, Scherwin Henry, was among the Lincoln High students to transfer to Gainesville High School in February 1970 — just months before graduation.

"Lincoln was the heartbeat of the community," said Henry, who is a Gainesville City Commissioner. "What happens when a heart stops beating? It did take the life out of us when they closed Lincoln."

Because he and his Lincoln classmates transferred in the middle of the school year, Henry said they weren't allowed to join sports teams or the band. Lincoln senior traditions, like the Terriers Bark talent show and the crowning of Ms. Lincoln, ended when students transferred to GHS.

"We had nothing to feel a part of. We were just existing," Henry said."We wouldn't get a chance to do what we desired and what we'd been on the path to do."

LaVon Bracy attended Lincoln High School until 1964, when her father and then president of the local NAACP chapter, the Rev. T.A. Wright, enrolled her in Gainesville High School, making her one of the school's first black students.

Bracy's book, "Beyond Bravery," chronicles her experiences facing racism from her peers.

When she took her seat on the first day of school, her classmates moved to the far side of the room, she remembers. Every day after that, classmates would place tacks, dead roaches, rats and snakes on her seat, she said. The cafeteria and the library would empty when she entered.

"They treated me like I had a contagious disease," said Bracy, who now lives in Orlando where she works with voter registration drives. "I didn't have any friends or anyone to talk to."

Bracy said she left Gainesville High School angry and hurt, and didn't return until 2004, when she was invited to speak to Gainesville High School students and teachers about her experience.

"The real story needed to be told from the perspective of someone who experienced it," she said. "My responsibility is to make sure my voice is heard and make sure others know they have a voice."

Bracy said she hopes her book and her life's work show readers the struggles she and her peers went through to achieve the equality enjoyed today.

"I vowed I'd never be in a position where I couldn't speak again," she said. "I vowed to become an advocate for justice and equality."

Kevin McCarthy, who taught linguistics and writing in the University of Florida's English department for 37 years before retiring in 2005, said writing "Lincoln High School: Its History and Legacy," with White was a labor of love.

"There were so many people in town who were so helpful with information, yearbooks, photographs and documents. It wasn't hard to write because there was so much available," said McCarthy, who met White in 2009 when he was working on a biography of Judge Stephan Mickle, the UF College of Law's second black graduate.

McCarthy said he noticed then how much information White had on Lincoln High School and encouraged him to compile it into a volume. The research process took a year. In addition to sorting through White's own archives and those available at UF and the Matheson Museum, McCarthy also visited the former home and gravestone of Lincoln's first principal, A. Quinn Jones, to take photographs.

"I find that illustrations really make a text come alive," he said. "And most people have never seen these photographs before."

The history of Lincoln High School tells a larger story about the history of educational opportunities for blacks in the South.

"The school really did prosper and put Gainesville on the map in terms of African-American education," he said. "I think this book will give everyone involved with Lincoln a good sense of pride."

Today, White and Henry are involved in a movement to reinstate Lincoln Middle School as a high school.

"It will energize the community — white and black," Henry said. "And it will give the African-American community a great sense of pride."

Black history wasn't taught when White was in school, which is why it's important this story is told, he said.

"We want to make sure our kids learn that this school existed in the community and that it was a success," White said.

"That's the message here. We can overcome any challenges we may have" he said. "We can overcome any notions that we are lacking in the ability or wherewithal to learn and be productive."

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