By BEA L. HINES
Special to South Florida Times
MIAMI — Some laughed, some applauded and some even cried. But most of the folk attending Delta Sigma Theta Sorority’s gala Founders Day Luncheon last Saturday, just enjoyed the trip down memory lane, as members of the Miami Alumnae Chapter told of attending all-black high schools and the beloved teachers who helped them get to where they are today.
The luncheon, at the Miami Downtown Hilton, was a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., founded on Jan. 13, 1913, at Howard University by “… 22 courageous, extraordinary visionaries, who were not afraid to follow their dream,” said Miami Alumnae Chapter President Brenda L. Bryant.
“Their boldness has blazed a path that over 300,000 women across this great nation, have followed in sustaining the founders’ legacy of transforming lives and impacting communities.”
This year’s Founders Day theme was Transforming Lives, Impacting Communities Through Comprehensive Educational Initiatives.
While each chapter of the sorority has community service programs aligned with its Five Point Programmatic Thrust — Economic Developoment, Educational Development, International Awareness and Involvement, Physical and Mental Health, and Political Awareness and Involvement — Bryant said that because this is the sorority’s centennial birthday her chapter chose to focus on the Educational Development component, and the impact that six African-American pioneer schools have made on the community and many of the chapter’s members.
Cecelia Jones recalled her days at Arthur and Polly Mays High School, a school that was the dream of a couple who had little education. Still they knew the value of education and were committed to educating the black children in the Florida City – Howard community.
Their first school was organized in 1914 and housed in a church. In 1926, the Mays convinced the Dade county School Board to establish a school for the black community, and Goulds Elementary School was born. It later became Goulds Agricultural School.
IN THEIR NAMES
The Mays donated land for a school that housed grades one through 12. And in 1951, the school was dedicated and named Arthur and Polly Mays Elementary, Junior and Senior High School, in the couple’s honor.
Mona Bethel Jackson fondly remembered her school, George Washington Carver High School in Coconut Grove, started by Dana Albert Dorsey in 1899 as a private school for the black children of Coconut Grove. In 1924, George Merrick offered the Board of Education five acres on Grand Avenue and Lincoln Drive in what is now known as Golden Gate. The school was never completed and a newly designed, nine-room building was exchanged for the unfinished building. For many years it served elementary and junior high school students. Now known as Carver Elementary, the school was affectionately called “Little Carver” for many years. Later, a new school, known as the Dade County Training School, served students from Coconut Grove and as far south as Homestead. Some students traveled as far as 25 miles each way to school daily.
In 1929, Frances Tucker, a Tuskegee University graduate and friend of George Washington Carver, became the school’s principal. She is credited with the school’s growth. Starting in 1934, one high school class was added each year until the first senior class graduated in 1939. When Carver died in 1942, Tucker led a movement to rename the school in his honor. The new George Washington Carver opened in 1952 and was the first black high school in Miami Dade County to have its own gymnasium. Tucker retired in 1957. Carver High School graduated its last class in 1966. In 1967 the school that was the source of pride for so many for so many years was phased out and became a junior high school when the Miami-Dade County School system was integrated. Today, it is a middle school.
Roberta Daniels told the audience that the 87-year-old Booker T. Washington High School is “more than a center of education; it is a landmark of history.”
It was because of the Booker T. Washington Alumni Association and former teachers such as the late Marion Shannon, who wouldn’t give up the fight for a new Booker T. to reopen as a high school, that the battle was won in 1999, and a brand new Booker T. Washington High School opened its doors.
At the first graduating class in 2000, graduates from classes as far back as 1934 attended. Wearing their black-and-orange school colors, some came in on walkers and some on canes as they marched in and took their seats in the designated section of the gym. Some proud Washingtonians shed tears as they marched in the procession. But their heads were held high with pride.
While the room was steeped with nostalgia as Daniels told the story of Booker T., perhaps the loudest laughter came when Naomi D. Porter spoke of Northwestern High, telling stories about one of her favorite teachers, the late Dorothy Maxwell Newton, and what a loving teacher she was. Porter told of the time when her class received new language arts books, and how Newton lovingly caressed the books as she took them from the box.
“Then, she had someone pass out the books to each of us. She told us not to open them until she said so. When it was time, we opened our ‘new books’ and on the inside cover there was another school’s name stamped there: Coral Gables High School. Mrs. Newton spoke softly as she asked us to pass the books back. She placed them back in the box and sent them back to the school board. For the next two years, we didn’t use textbooks in her class.” It was a demonstration in dignity.
Later Alstene L. McKinney, class of 1955, the last graduating class from Dorsey High School, remembered and honored the late Dana Albert Dorsey, son of a sharecropper, who donated the land at Northwest 71st Street and 17th Avenue in Liberty City, where the old Dorsey High School building still stands. Since closing its doors as a high school in 1955, the building has been used for several ventures, including an adult education center.
“How could we forget the Dana Albert Dorseys of the world, who thought it not robbery to donate land for a black school?” McKinney asked. The school opened in 1937, and in 1939 had its first graduation ceremony in St. James AME Church in Liberty City. For 18 years Dorsey High School stood as a beacon in the Liberty City area.
“Students were bused in from as far north as Hallandale, as far south as Railroad Shop (now know as Allappattah), and as far east as Ojus (now known as Aventura), and from other areas including Opa-locka and Bunche Park,” McKinney said. “In those 18 years, more than 1,500 students graduated from the school and became contributing citizens to South Florida and the entire country.”
Althea King remembered the youngest of the six pioneer African American schools: North Dade High School in Bunche Park. Established in 1957, King said, “There was shouting in the streets, when we learned we would get our own school (in Bunche Park).” Shirley Gibson, the first mayor of Miami Gardens, was in the first graduating class of North Dade. The Rev. Dr. Walter T. Richardson, head of the Dade County Community Relations Board, was in the last graduating class in 1966.
“Our teacher told us we could do anything, and we believed them. And some of North Dade’s graduates went on to do great things … North Dade is well represented in Miami and the country,” King said.