OCPS's History of African-American Schools in OCPS

History of African-American Schools in OCPS

Dozens of Separate Schools Educated Orange County’s Black Students
Dozens of Separate Schools Educated Orange County’s Black StudentsFor much of the 150-year history of Orange County Public Schools, aseparate network of schools existed to educate the African American children of the district.

Despite secondhand books, a lower pay scale for their teachers and often substandard facilities, the schools were community hubs and sources of tremendous pride.
“The school was the anchor for the black community,” said Francina Boykin, who attended Phyllis Wheatley School in Apopka from first grade through her junior year.
The black communities of greater Orlando placed a high value on education, with schools popping up wherever there were enough children to attend. By 1888, 14 Black schools served 635 students in areas including Maitland, Oviedo, Orlando and Spring Lake, which is west of downtown Orlando.

Especially in the early years, the Black community had to raise funds to build schools or provide bus transportation. The schools also had some separate administrators, including L. Claudia Allen, who served as director of secondary education.

The four regional high schools that served Orange County’s African American population have long historical roots, some open for more than a century. The school that later merged into Phyllis Wheatley opened in Apopka in 1886. Jones High in Orlando dates to 1895, and Hungerford in Eatonville was founded two years later. A school for black children opened in Winter Garden in 1923, later took on the name Charles R. Drew in 1949 and became a high school in 1959.

Frances Ward King taught elementary students at Drew from 1957 to 1965, which had grades 1 to 12 for several years. The school made it possible for hundreds of African American children to be in the band, play sports and have their parents attend events, she said.

When the school closed in 1969, most students lived too far from their new schools to participate in extracurricular activities. “The distance was a barrier between the home and the school. They missed out,” she said.

Wheatley School 1940sBoykin also had fond memories of Wheatley, which drew black students in grades 1 to 12 from as far as Tangerine and Zellwood. The school cafeteria “had the best cooks in the world” and the older students mentored younger ones, she said.

 The school hosted events that drew the entire community, such as a homecoming coronation that included a king and queen in every grade. The sports teams also were a point of civic pride. The boys’ basketball team in 1958 placed third in the national championships.

As the oldest daughter in her family, Boykin sometimes had to stay home to watch a sibling. “I would cry,” she said. “I didn’t want to miss school.”

Although separate, these black schools produced distinguished graduates. They became business leaders, doctors, ministers, elected officials and more, such as Wall Street fund manager Eddie Brown of Wheatley; Henry Postell of Drew, a retired educator, pastor and mortician; and Belvin Perry, Jr. of Jones, retired Florida chief judge and 2020 OCPS Hall of Fame inductee.

But change was coming. After school segregation was declared illegal by the federal courts in 1954, Orange County took only small steps to blend the two separate school systems. A group of eight parents sued in 1962. The final ruling in the case, Ellis v. Orange County Board of Public Instruction, required the district to desegregate fully, noting that the district had given black schools second-rate physical facilities, equipment, course offerings and instructional materials. Separate was not equal.

Eleven OCPS schools were still considered segregated in 1970 by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals – Callahan Elementary; Carver Junior High; Eccleston Elementary; Holden Street Elementary; Hungerford Elementary; Maxey Elementary; Orange Center Elementary; Richmond Heights Elementary; Washington Shores Elementary; Webster Avenue Elementary; and Wheatley Elementary. A desegregation agreement followed, resulting in the closure of many black schools and the busing of thousands of students.

In 2010, OCPS achieved what is called unitary status, freeing the district from the court order and requiring the replacement of a group of aging schools attended predominantly by black children. Those construction projects were completed in 2018.

Today, the district’s student population is approximately one-fourth black. Wheatley and Hungerford are now elementary schools, with Hungerford soon to offer Primary Years International Baccalaureate and STEM programs. Jones High offers its students the International Baccalaureate Diploma and Medical magnet in addition to superior musical extracurricular activities.
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