Miami’s History of School Integration.

 

 

 

On a fall morning in 1959, four years after the U.S. Supreme Court knocked down the “separate but equal” doctrine and ruled segregated education unconstitutional, Dade County schools took the first steps toward integration. The county admitted seven-year-old Gary Range and three other African American students to Orchard Villa Elementary School.

It was a symbolic change that would take years to accelerate. But 60 years after the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, the first day of school for a group of African American children marked the beginning of huge changes that would forever shape education and race relations throughout Florida. It was a turbulent time in an area that, while more peaceful than in other parts of the South, still included plenty of fights, death threats, protests and politics.

In 1953, Athalie Range — Gary’s mother, who would later become Miami’s first black city commissioner — filled the all-white school board auditorium with black parents to protest conditions at the old Liberty City Elementary, where she said there were just 13 toilets for 1,200 students and no lunchroom.

Despite the 1954 high court ruling, change in the classroom was virtually at a standstill. In Miami, the school board didn’t begin to integrate schools until 1959 after lawsuits were filed and some parents, including Range, fought to send their children to the all-white Orchard Villa in Liberty City.

It wasn’t until the federal courts got involved in 1969 that the school system took stronger measures to desegregate. Under a court-approved plan, the school board agreed to reduce the number of black students attending all-black schools to 24 percent.

To do that, the district rezoned schools, “paired” and “grouped” dozens more, created magnet schools to draw white students into black schools and vice-versa, and at points bused students to break up one-race schools.

A federal judge first declared Dade County’s dual school system a thing of the past in 1971, but the district continued to struggle toward diversity in its schools. In 1977, Johnny Jones became Dade’s first black superintendent. And in 1979, Jones appointed Willie Wright as the first black principal of the largely white Gulfstream Elementary in South Dade, though Wright said parents swiftly tried to have him removed, but soon gave up when they found out the superintendent was black.

The federal courts continued to monitor Dade schools until 2001 when Judge William Dimitrouleas declared that court supervision was no longer needed.

Today, Miami is among the most diverse regions and school systems in the country, with black and Hispanic students comprising more than 90 percent of the student body.

-Ursa Gil

Cross, G. O. (n.d.). Desegregation of Miami-Dade County Public Schools: 1954–1959. Retrieved from https://aquila.usm.edu/theses_dissertations/198/

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