After Brown: School Desegregation in Florida - Part One
By Margaret (Meg) Folk, Marco Nadiello, and Jasmine D. Peters
1: Booker T. Washington High School Yearbook, 1928
Booker T. Washington High School was an African-American high school located in Tampa. In 1928, students and faculty produced this yearbook, which showcases many aspects of student life in a segregated high school. The yearbook is filled with superlatives, quotes from students, and displays obvious school pride. This yearbook offers a testament to the connectedness that African American students in Tampa felt for their school and for each other. The book also contains details regarding every black school in Hillsborough County. Segregated schooling was the norm in the South until 1954, when the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in a landmark case, Brown v. the Board of Education. The Brown decision declared that “separate but equal” schooling was unconstitutional, but the actual implementation of integrated schools proceeded quite slowly in some places.
2: Clemmie James and Ethel Jones Interview
Prior to the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling in 1954, black students and teachers in Tampa faced monetary and institutional challenges that consistently proved that “separate but equal” was not living up to its promise. Educators and principals that challenged the status quo or sought higher wages often lost their jobs or faced demotions. Nonetheless, African American educators sought ways to work around the barriers that restricted them from receiving necessary resources. Clemmie James and Ethel Jones worked as teachers at Booker T. Washington High School in the 1930s. The combined perspective of the two women in this interview give us insight into the perspective of black educators in Tampa as well as the trials they faced during segregation. It is apparent throughout the interview that poor pay and inferior facilities did not stop black educators from going above and beyond to provide their students with the best education in spite of the unfavorable circumstances.
3: LeRoy Collins Speech at Southern Governors Conference
In 1958, Florida Governor LeRoy Collins gave a speech at the Southern Governors Conference championing limited integration, a position that virtually all the other governors at the conference opposed. As chairman of both the southern and national governors’ conferences, Collins possessed a certain level of prestige that allowed him to be heard over the objections of the segregationists in attendance. In comparison to those around him, Collins advocated a strategy of moderation in dealing with the dilemma of civil rights. In his speech he called for respect for the Supreme Court’s authority in their ruling on Brown vs. The Board of Education, but also stated that the process of integration was must be enacted by the states. Among southern governors, Collins was widely regarded as a moderate who advocated a level-headed approach to the integration process. However, his position met with substantial opposition from many white Floridians.
4: Pamphlet Opposing Desegregation
After the ruling in Brown v Board of Education, opponents of desegregation published a variety of materials protesting the decision. This pamphlet was produced in Duval County and distributed in an effort to force the governor to ignore the Supreme Court’s desegregation ruling. Significantly, the pamphlet only mentions race once. Instead, it uses a states’ rights argument, claiming that the federal government had overstepped its power and interfered with state control over education. The pamphlet claims that states have the power to judge – and selectively ignore – the directives of the federal government. The term “interposition” is used to describe this process. Interposition seems to be synonymous with the theory of nullification advanced in the South before the Civil War.
5: Leo Wotitzky Interview
In this oral history, Leo Wotizsky talks about his involvement with the desegregation of the University of Florida law school. During his second year, when he was the president of the Student Bar Association, Wotitzky was called into the dean’s office. The Dean was curious to know what the student body’s reaction would be to granting Virgil Hawkins, a black man, admittance to the law school. Wotitzky didn’t know what the student body’s reaction would be, but he said that he would ask around. Mr. Wotitzky asked students in the law library, claiming that none of the students objected to Virgil Hawkins being admitted into the law school. Even so, Hawkins was not admitted. Court cases related to Hawkins’s attempt to integrate UF lasted for nearly a decade. In the end, Virgil Hawkins did not attend law school at the University of Florida.
6: Letter to Sumter Lowry regarding Desegregation of Florida Universities
Sumter Lowry was a Florida businessman and staunch opponent of desegregation. This letter to Lowry, written by John B. Hayes, discusses efforts to prevent integration. Hayes commends Lowry’s efforts to block integration, especially in the state universities, including the University of Florida. Hayes warns Lowry that Rembert W. Patrick, a faculty member in the history department at UF, was a strong supporter of integration. Hayes writes that Dr. Patrick spoke at a Florida state teachers’ conference and gave a speech on “race-mixing.” The NAACP later turned Patrick’s speech into a pamphlet. Hayes writes that Dr. Patrick should be fired for violating the Florida Constitution and undermining the white southern “way of life.” Hayes quotes from Dr. Patrick’s speech in the letter. In the last paragraph of his letter, Hayes offers his own reasons for opposing integration.
7 and 8: Ernest Boger Integrates the University of South Florida
These documents – a photograph and oral history conducted in 2003 – relate to Ernest Boger, the first African American to attend the University of South Florida. Boger, a native of Tampa, graduated from Blake High School in 1961. On recommendation from his assistant principal, he applied to USF. In spite of his pioneer status, Boger describes his experience at USF as fairly normal. He suggests that the lack of an established college tradition made the integration process much easier. USF had not yet selected a college mascot nor had an alma mater been written. Since Tampa had been something of an ethnic melting pot for many years, the various cultures and spirit of relative toleration flowed over on campus. In an era where Jim Crow was still prevalent in the South, Boger remembers being able to associate with white students as well as students from other cultures without resistance or discrimination. Boger was able to forge friendships and took advantage of the resources that were available to him at USF, where he was greatly involved in student life activities. His presence on campus made USF that a place that was open to all Floridians, regardless of race.