vera-rolle-farrington-web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

DELRAY BEACH — You may now know the story of how Mr. B.F. James left his home in the Miami subdivision then known as Lemon City and took a row boat down the Intracoastal Waterway to teach “colored” children at the first known black school in Palm Beach County.

The year was 1895 and the settlers in Delray, which was then actually part of Dade County, convinced the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the Intracoastal, making it possible for passage for the determined educator to row his boat to provide an education for the colored children.

Their school was called simply “#4 Colored” and was the first black school in Delray. 

When Palm Beach County became incorporated in 1906, the name of the school was changed to “County Training School Delray.”

That is the kind of history you get when you visit the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum in Delray Beach, the only museum of African-American history in Palm Beach County. The 10-year old museum is rich with stories and photographs of early black settlers who came to the area from the Bahamas to a place they named Frog Alley for its many frogs and to another section of town they called The Sands which was known for its white-sugar sand. Both areas are where the “coloreds” made their home.

The museum was the brainchild of Vera Rolle Farrington, a retired long-time educator and Delray resident who was determined to make known the rich history of African Americans in Palm Beach County.

In 1992, Farrington set out to put the record straight, after discovering that others were telling that history “the way they wanted it to be,” said Farrington. She gathered with friends at her home weekly and, eventually, daily to compare the black history notes they’d discovered and collected about Palm Beach County’s early “colored” residents.

After collecting data, pictures and artifacts, Farrington convinced the city of Delray Beach to purchase a permanent home for their collection. She wanted the Spady House, a two-story, three-bedroom Spanish style home where pioneer black educator Solomon D. Spady lived until his death in 1966.

Spady was a beloved teacher and principal at Delray’s all-black Carver High School, from 1922 to 1957. He was regarded as a visionary teacher and mentor to hundreds of black children.

The city bought the property and, in 2001, it became the Spady Museum and Cultural Heritage Museum.  The city has also purchased a house next door that will become Spady’s  Kids Cultural Clubhouse, servinge as a permanent home for the Spady Museum’s youth programs. It is projected to open at the end of March, 2011.

The Black Chamber of Commerce of Palm Beach County, no doubt bearing this background in mind, has tapped the Spady Museum as Non-Profit Organization of the Year, with the recognition coming during the chamber’s second annual Ascension Awards slated for Dec. 2 at the Palm Beach County Convention Center.

“They’re such a well run organization,” said Paul Nunnally, chairman of the chamber.
“They’ve done such outstanding work over the years. Although there were numerous non-profits being considered, we felt Spady was worthy of this honor.”

Farrington is proud of the recognition. The work she started nearly two decades ago has made a contribution to the community – and that was her aim.

“I feel good,” said Farrington, who is now 80 years old but continues to work on behalf of the museum.

Farrington, who holds a bachelor’s in Home Economics from then Tuskegee Institute and a master’s in Education from Florida Atlantic University, is like a walking encyclopedia for black history in the area.  

“I feel that I have made a contribution but I did not do it alone. I may have planted the seed. I sold the idea but I couldn’t do it alone,” she said during a recent interview at the museum.

Her daughter, Charlene Jones, is head of Educational Programs at the museum. The museum is offering a variety of youth programs off-site while the Clubhouse is under construction. When it is completed, youth programs will take place there, said Jones, and the youth programs will be available for all community youth, from third grade and up.

“The goal is to teach children our culture, through teaching them skills,” she said. The museum provides intergenerational programming in which children learn skills from adults and senior citizens.

“Those skills are always related back to the African-American culture and how it relates back to Palm Beach County,” said Jones.

The current exhibit at the Spady Museum highlights Carver High – now a middle school – prior to desegregation. Also on display are exhibits of residents who have gone on to prominence in various fields.  

Museum hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mondays through Fridays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 seniors; students get in free.

Photo: Vera Rolle Farrington