Mixsonian  Larry

School Integraton

I was doing well in school even with Gainesville High going through some tumultuous times.  As one of the last hold outs of “separate but equal”, Gainesville had Gainesville High School for white students and Lincoln High School for black students. The U.S. Supreme court had ruled in the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education case, that racially segregation of schools was unconstitutional, so schools in the south came up with the “freedom-of-choice” to circumvent full integration. Freedom-of-choice basically said that students could go to any school they wanted but they had to request to do so, and the requests had to be reviewed and approved.  It was in the 1964-1965 school year that the first three black students, requested, and were approved to go to Gainesville High.   In the 1965-1966 school year 329 black students were approved to go to white schools in Alachua county (all schools, not just GHS), just 5% of black students in the county and in the 1966-1967 year it increased to 13%.

Throughout my years at Littlewood Elementary, and Westwood Junior High schools I was unaware that any of this was going on.  It was the summer 1969, after 11th grade at GHS, that I started hearing more about it from the newspaper and news on TV.  In July of 1969 the court ruled that Alachua had to end its segregated schools by the start of the 1969-1970 school year when I would be a senior at GHS. The county fought it, saying they were not ready, and it should wait until the following year when the two new schools they were planning would be completed.  The court agreed and on August 28th, just before the school year was to start, the court delayed the order, so I started 12th grade in September with GHS still being a mostly white school.

The delay was not received well by some blacks and the NAACP took the case to the U.S Supreme Court which, in January 1970, reversed the lower court decision and ordered the integration to proceed starting in the middle of the school year on February 1st, 1970. And so it happened, Lincoln High School in Gainesville and the Mebane High School in High Springs were closed, and the teachers and students moved to Gainesville High.   GHS was closed Monday through Thursday so that the school and teachers could prepare for the merge then school opened on Friday for the first “integrated” school. The school was already crowded, adding another 580 students from Lincoln and Mebane made it even more so. With the additional students, there would be over 3,000 students at GHS, which was built to house only 1700,  868 were seniors.

Although the Lincoln and Mebane students were now attending GHS, individual classes were not integrated. The Lincoln and Mebane students still had the same teachers and classes that they had at their original schools but were now held at GHS.   There were about sixty black seniors that were already going to GHS before the integration, out of around 575 total seniors, not very many and there were none in any of my classes and I don’t recall have ever seeing any.  With all my classes having the same all white students, even after the merge, I seldom saw black students, perhaps occasionally before school or in passing between classes.

But not all went well.  One black student reported in the Gainesville Sun stated, “Blacks were just pushed into GHS without any ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Everything was done because white man said so. When the Lincoln wanted things changed, the whites became scared.”  There were a few incidents at first which soon increased in frequency. In March a white student said he was pulled into a restroom and beaten by three black students, two black students were arrested. Another white student was beaten in the school parking lot, another one was robbed at knife point in the parking lot and the black student arrested. Regular reports of fights behind the teaching auditorium and gym were reported, (although none in classrooms). Rumors that there was going to be full scale riot spread. Much of the violence was black-on-white but there was considerable harassment of blacks by white students.  With many of the black students being to be bussed to GHS, harassment on busses was common. The GHS principle, Joseph Hudson, who lived a few houses down the street from us and whose daughter was a good friend of my sister, said, “We have a large number of good, cooperative students from Lincoln High. But there is also a militant group who have dedicated themselves to disrupting any harmony we are able to build up.” I did not witness or see any of the violence, but I did avoid going to the restrooms.

In March it got worse when on March 26, my brother’s birthday, the school closed at 9:00 AM and the students sent home after violence involving over three hundred students during the first period. Three teachers were injured, and several students were taken to the hospital. The dean of boys, a white man, received severe facial injuries from black students. The school was closed for the next two days. When it reopened the following week, some teachers said they would not return because of the violence but when it did open all the teachers were present and the school opened peacefully.

In April violence spread to other schools in the city that had been integrated.  At Westwood Junior High which I had attended, received the seventh through ninth grades from Lincoln. A brawl broke out, police were called in, the school closed, and the students sent home.  While violence increased at other schools, things began to calm and GHS.  While all of this was going on at GHS, I never felt scared or threatened.

Note: For a full accounting of the desegregation of schools in Alachua County, see the book “We Can Do it, A Community Takes on the Challenge of School Desegregation” by Michael T. Gengler.

Updated: 11-09-2022