Slavery was abolished with the adoption of the 13th Amendment in 1865, but this did not mean that blacks and whites would have equal conditions. In fact, integration into Lee County schools occurred only a century later.
If you go to Lee County School today, you will find a melting pot of different faces of all different races.
Dr. Shirley Chapman remembers a time when that was not the case. She attended Dunbar High School in the early 1960s, when schools were still divided – separate and unequal.
“We always got handy typewriters, handy books from Fort Myers School,” Chapman recalled. “Our teachers always told us: don’t worry about what it looks like, you worry about learning, about what’s between the covers.”
Mrs. Ida Wells was one of those teachers at Dunbar High School. She decided to prepare her students even without all the tools. “My field was teaching science, and if you don’t have Bunsen vodka, test tubes or anything else to show the kids, science just talks, not does … That’s all we knew, so we did our best.”
Dunbar was the only high school for black children in the early ’60s, so children from all over southwest Florida were transported to one building.
The previous location was on High Street until 1962, when it later moved to Edison Avenue.
However, it was still segregated almost ten years after Brown v. The Board of Education, when the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed school segregation.
Wells said: “At the time I didn’t know anyone who insisted on integration, but after Brown v. The Board of Education in 1954, then it was said that separate but unequal was proven, so they had to integrate, and that’s at the national level. Only in 1964 were there no integrated schools in Lee County. ”
It only happened after a lawsuit forced Lee County.
Rosalind Blaylock, a black man from Dunbar High School, was denied enrollment in 1963 at Fort Myers High School, all white.
She wanted to go there for the best scientific equipment and new textbooks to prepare for a career in medical technology.
Blalock, several other students and the NAACP sued the district and won, forcing them to integrate.
“There was resistance to integration.” Wells said: “I guess it was the nature of the people living in Lee County. And, perhaps, at that time even many of us did not seek integration … We found that we have better equipment, and, in fact, on the one hand, could be better, and on the other – many of our practices were rejected ».
Fifty-eight years later, Gwyn Gittens became the first and only black man to sit on the Lee County School Board.
She feels that students from minorities still have a long way to go to truly be treated as equals. “I don’t think we’re a leap from the 60s. All together, we don’t have this school here and that school there, but we don’t have the same resources, ”she said.
Dr. Chapman agrees, saying, “We’ve come a long way … We’ve been a close-knit community.” But she is not offended by the time at Donbar’s secluded high school.
The Southwest Florida community is still fighting for the best for the next generation of students.
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