WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Other than black churches, you could say this is the most important thing the black community wants to preserve: the formerly all black Roosevelt High School that was home to West Palm Beach’s budding black doctors, lawyers, educators and countless other young people who became productive citizens across the globe. It’s the place where educators like S. Bruce McDonald wouldn’t accept excuses or subpar school work from its pupils.
It’s where these neighborhood children learned respect, manners and that the sky was the limit for them despite the prevailing racist attitudes toward them because of the color of their skin.
Racism wasn’t to be an excuse. At Roosevelt, you were taught to rise above and nothing less was accepted.
And that is why a newly formed group, started by McDonald, has come together to save the building on 15th and Tamarind in the heart of the black community and turn it into a black museum and library and the surrounding areas into an educational park. “This could be and should be an educational park,” said McDonald. “We have so many needs in our community.”
But the School District of Palm Beach County has had various plans for the building over the years. At one point, there was much talk about tearing down the building citing safety concerns because the building, they say, is unfit. It’s first graduating class was 1951. But members of the Industrial/Roosevelt High School National Alumni Association and Friends, Inc. say the school must be preserved. “The school must remain to show that educators were able to teach our children to be productive citizens –which they became. We have our churches, and we have our schools. Everything else is gone,” said Cora Studstill Perry, president of the group. “When you talk to people from Roosevelt, you can just see the pride all over them.”
But there is some action from other factions. The school district has reportedly pledged $10 million toward the renovation and reconstruction of the building with the museum and library in mind. Debra Robinson, M.D., a long-time African American presence on the school board, has worked with the first group that mounted an effort to turn the school into a home for historian Ineria Hudnell’s massive collection of black history photos, artifacts and exhibits. That group, known as AARLCC (African American Research Library Culture Center), is now working in conjunction with this organization. It is not altogether clear what the school district has in mind for the site. However, the group says they appreciate the effort on behalf of Robinson and the school board, but they want a seat at the table.
McDonald says the citizens need to coalesce with the school district and become partners. “I want to see us become partners with the School Board,” he said. But he believes the group should have it’s own financial stake in preserving its history and saving the school. “I don’t like to beg. The borrower is always a slave to the lender,”
McDonald said. They are asking alumni, educators and friends of the school to become members of the organization. And thus, the group is also holding it’s first major fundraising event on June 29 called “An Evening with the Stars!” It will feature an evening of entertainment from all genres with performances from both seniors and youth and those in between. There will be soloists, oratorical speakers, a noted professional opera singer, dance group and many additional performers. The event takes place at the Hurst Chapel AME Church, located at 1617 Silver Beach Road in Riviera Beach. Doors open at 5:30 and show time is at 6 p.m. Anyone wishing to support the effort to save the historic Roosevelt building should donate or purchase a ticket through the group at 561-313-3087.
According to a report in Cocowire.com, Gov. Rick Desantis signed an appropriations bill at the urging of Sen. Bobby Powell, that would give $150,000 toward the museum and library. It was short of the desired amount of $350,000, but Robinson said every amount helps.
Perry says the cause is not only important to those who attended the school, but it’s important for today’s generation as well. “It’s a beacon in the black community and it’s important for our children to know our history.” Gwen Ferguson, the group’s secretary, said it’s important to know the kind of people Roosevelt and Industrial High produced. “It’s important to know that some good things came out of these schools,” Ferguson said.
Industrial High School opened in 1917. It’s first graduating class was in 1929. It was the first high school for African American students in Palm Beach County. McDonald graduated from Industrial High. Roosevelt High opened in 1951 with its first graduating class in 1951. Roosevelt’s last graduating class was the Class of 1970. The school produced many standouts in a variety of fields as well as athletics, many who ended up on a world stage.
In May, the Roosevelt High School Sports Hall of Fame inducted it’s latest class of standout athletes from the school. Willie Goldsmith, one of the school’s former notable athletes, founded the sports hall of fame to pay homage to the countless star athletes at the school who never received the recognition they deserved. The ceremony each year draws a big attraction and has been carried on by Pembrook Burrows, chairman.
Perry, meanwhile is urging the community to support the Industrial/Roosevelt group and their effort, as a nonprofit organization. “We should be able to speak for ourselves instead of others deciding for us,”
she stated. And Ferguson added, “Besides that no one knows our history like we do.”
“I’m making sure that we reach out not only to the many different parts of the Latino community here, to the black community, but to people of all ages and all backgrounds,” he said.