ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — On a sunny day in his longtime Orlando home, Ernest “Pete” Boyd sat at his piano and played melodies at random.
The piano sits in a room surrounded by medals, trophies and certificates that tell a story about his esteemed career as a musician, his time as an educator and service to the Black community in Orlando, some of which has happened through his lifetime membership in Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.
“We’ve been around a long time, seen a lot of changes in Orlando. What you see now, is not what it used to be,” Boyd told Investigator Reporter Daralene Jones.
Boyd is a percussion genius, and he cut his teeth at Jones High School.
“Because of my mentor, he was like my dad, Mr. James W. Wilson. I wanted to be like him, and that was the only reason I really majored in music, because of him,” Boyd said.
Music is why so many people in the African American community know exactly who Boyd is. He taught at all of the Black schools in Orlando.
“Carver, Hungerford, Wymore and Jones,” Boyd listed them off.
Jones High School is also where Boyd, who is now 83, earned his high school diploma. It was the only school where Blacks from Orlando, Apopka, Winter Garden and other Orange County communities were allowed to get an education until about 1953, as whites continued their protests to keep Blacks out of their schools.
It’s believed Jones was started as a school in 1895. It was initially located at Garland Avenue and Church Street the Parramore community. It was later moved to the corner of Jefferson and Chatham Streets and was named Johnson Academy in Honor of Lymus Johnson, the principal. But in 1921, a new school was building at Washington and Parramore Avenue.
And because the family of a former principal, L.C. Jones donated the land for the school, it was renamed Jones High school. It was the only school for Blacks in Orlando at the time, and it would remain that way for decades.
“We didn’t go across the tracks, basically we just survived. There was specific part of the Orlando area you lived in if you were Black,” Boyd explained.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional in 1954, Florida was slow to comply. It took nearly 10 years for Orange County to move in that direction, first, integrating just one school.
“The way they integrated the schools in Orlando, they integrated the teachers first. All of the black teachers were put in a fishbowl, black teachers and our names were pulled on Saturday evening,” Boyd recalled.
School integration for children meant bussing them to all white schools, but Jones students weren’t interested and watched as other Black schools were shuttered. They staged a boycott in 1969 and protested plans to close the community school to appease whites who didn’t want to come to their neighborhood. “That’s all we knew and to us, it was the school. We had good teachers, we felt they were very concerned about us and they made sure you worked hard to finish high school,” Boyd said.
When they did, they flocked to Florida A&M and Bethune Cookman Universities, two of historically Black Colleges and Universities in Florida. It was and still is an extended community and safe haven for African Americans who just want an equal education and a chance to become someone great. “If you live in Orlando and you Black, they’ll tell you in a minute, Jones high, that’s the only school,” Boyd said.
Orange County Schools was under a federal order to work toward eliminating those past segregation practices until 2010. It was the same in Seminole County until 2006.
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