Black community leaders share fight for school integration in Florida

ORLANDO, Fla. — School integration was a hard fight in Florida.

In some parts of the state, school districts didn’t reach what’s called “unitary status,” until the early 2000s.

In Channel 9′s ongoing commitment to share impactful Black History stories in February, investigative reporter Daralene Jones explains why the federal court had to force some districts to remove the effects of past segregation.

“I really grew up initially in St. Augustine,” said Dr. Lavon Bracy. “And as you know, St. Augustine is the oldest city in the United States. My dad was a preacher and my mother was a school teacher.”

Watch: Florida was slow to comply after segregation in public schools deemed unconstitutional

Bracy’s father wanted to be in St. Augustine because of its rich history.

Back then, everything was segregated, but her dad was determined to change that, petitioning the school board at every meeting.

“He says, ‘You’re not spending any money in the Black community. There’s no recreation for the kids,’ and they said, ‘No.’ So dad was labeled as a troublemaker,” Bracy said.

They were forced out of St. Augustine and resettled in Gainesville where her father sued the school district when it refused to allow African American students in the all-white school, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.

Bracy said she volunteered to help her father make it happen once he won the lawsuit.

Watch: How Jackie Robinson’s path to integrating baseball ran through Central Florida

“Two weeks before school is to start, the FBI comes to the house,” Bracy said. “The FBI says, ‘Reverend Wright, I need you to postpone what you are doing for at least three years. We have surveyed Gainesville. The climate is not right. It’s toxic, it’s not right.’”

He refused, and Bracy pushed through the last year of high school in a new school, dealing with racist remarks and attacks from white students.

“When I would leave, dad would say, ‘How was your day?’ And I would only say that I survived that day,” Bracy said.

It was decades after the 1954 decision to end segregation in schools that schools in Florida started making progress.

Her husband’s story was the same growing up in Jacksonville.

“It was all segregated. I went through K-12 grade and never sat in a class with a Caucasian,” Bracy said.

Watch: ‘It was a march for freedom, justice and peace’: Father of Orlando civil rights movement gives snapshot of city in the 1960s

According to a published University of Central Florida research project, nearly 20 school districts in the state were still under a court order to achieve unitary status in 2008.

In Central Florida, Orange County and Seminole County finally did so in 2010 and 2006, respectively.

Bracy’s husband was part of the fight to get there once they moved to Orlando.

“They were determined to turn back the hands of time and did everything in their power to do so,” Bracy said.

That means they have finally eliminated the effects of past segregation, according to a judge, and the courts no longer supervise how the districts assign students or school boundary decisions.

The scars of it all left Bracy with a sour taste in her mouth for years to come - and even though she could’ve finally attended a majority white University of Florida without much hassle, she insisted on enrolling in a historically Black university.

She has certainly been through a lot but Bracy and her husband have been very involved in Orlando for decades.

Recently, she’s been active in voter registration drives and published a book about her story, “Brave Little Cookie.”

Colorblind: Race Across Generations: A Brave Little Cookie on Apple Podcasts

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