Administrators at Archbishop Curley Notre Dame High School in Miami received a phone call last Aug. 19, from Dr. Francis Reed of the class of 1964, reminding the school that 2010 was the 50th anniversary of Archbishop Curley being the first Florida high school to integrate.
From that call an idea emerged, then a lesson plan and, finally, an event. For a group of Advanced Placement History juniors and the entire student body, the event would become a “living history” lesson.
For five months, students, teachers and others searched through records and yearbooks and contacted alumni and anyone else who could remember what happened from 1960 to 1964.
Were Archbishop Curley and Notre Dame Academy the first high schools in Florida to integrate?
The historic moment began in a nursery school, years before two boys and a girl would become lifelong friends. Their families were parishioners of Holy Redeemer Catholic Church and the boys’ families were friends.
The three children went on to attend Holy Redeemer Catholic School and eventually graduate from Archbishop Curley and Notre Dame.
The three friends are Paul Wyche Jr., Cyrus Jollivette and Carlotta Rhetta Campbell. Each one’s parent played major roles in desegregation and social change in Miami.
Wyche’s mother was a nursing pioneer who started working in hospital “colored wards” before retiring after 30 years of service. His father was the first African-American U.S. Customs Chief Inspector.
Jollivette’s father owned and ran a chain of pharmacies and his mother, a Miami-Dade public school principal, helped integrate the faculty at Miami Jackson High School. His grandfather, Henry Sigismund Reeves, founded The Miami Times.
Campbell’s mother taught Latin, American history and government at her alma mater, Booker T. Washington High School, and, in 1947, received a master of arts in American history and government from the University of Pennsylvania. Her father worked as a truancy officer for Miami-Dade County Public Schools and advocated for the rights of migrant workers and to end child labor. Her grandfather was Dr. William A. Chapman, for whom a school is named.
For the trio, the first day of high school was just another school day but a reporter from the now defunct Miami News photographed Wyche and his father that day at school.
Archbishop Curley, a college preparatory high school of the Archdiocese of Miami, integrated 10 years before the county public high schools complied after receiving a federal court order.
Wyche, Jollivette and Campbell will be among those who will address students on Wednesday, Feb. 9, when the AP History juniors host a symposium to celebrate the school’s 50th anniversary of Integration.
The symposium is titled “Opening Doors to the Future by Remembering the Past.”
Wyche recalls that first day of school.
“This was such a huge success by Curley and Notre Dame in the days when integration was barely mentioned in the South — and then with disdain,” he said. “It was a wonderful time in my life and Curley played a major role in preparing me for my future successes.”