Sarasota School Desegregation

By: Sarah Kroth |

School desegregation in Sarasota County was a long and arduous process fraught with court battles, inaction, and boycotts. It started with the passage of Brown vs. Board in 1954, and took nearly two decades and several legal cases before Sarasota County could begin to claim to be an integrated school system. After the Supreme Court handed down the decision, which mandated that schools boards must desegregate their school systems, there was nothing notable done to change the school system in Sarasota. Nothing that is, until The NAACP filed a lawsuit against the school board in 1962, forcing the school board to take some steps to desegregate. The lawsuit had several demands of the Sarasota School Board: prohibit the county from operating “compulsory biracial school system”; prohibit setting school zoning lines based on race; prohibit assigning pupils, principals, teachers, or staff, based on race; and to prohibit the county from approving contracts that perpetuate racism and segregation.

During the course of the trial, the school board was quick to point out its efforts to integrate Sarasota schools at Nakomis school, where both white and black children attended. The Sarasota Herald Tribune, reporting on the trial, called it a “Token Mix in Schools” with good reason: though it was all one school, the white children and black children were in separate buildings 2 miles apart. Yet another slam in the trials was The NAACP’s lawyer Fransisco Rodriguez inquiring why the curriculum in black schools included hotel training courses at Booker High. Herbert Field, the school board president’s response was that there were “no jobs in management and construction” for these students.

The court ordered Sarasota Schools to desegregate after the trial, but progress was still slow. In 1963, according to the school board, only about 80 students qualified to transfer schools, because of where they lived in the district. A total of 10 schools were now desegregated. In 1967 desegregation was finally shoved into the forefront when Federal funding was tied to desegregating schools, but Sarasota’s response was to start a phase out of Booker schools, and bus black students to white schools. It caused such a backlash within the Newtown community that parents pulled out over 85% of the school population in protest. Churches in the community set up “Freedom Schools” so that children could still be in school, and there were even a dozen white students from local schools facing suspension for joining the boycott. The boycott’s lasted for about a week, when the school board resubmitted a desegregation plan that included keeping the Booker schools open, and instituted voluntary integration. The schools did close briefly that year, but reopened in 1970.

Sarasota County Schools delayed the desegregation of schools for almost 20 years, but even after integrated schools were up and running, integration in the late 80s/early 90s still only hovered around 48% at primarily white schools. Now the segregation has come back around, with Sarasota schools becoming segregated by economic status, as the Sarasota Herald reported in 2003. There is still a long way to completely desegregate local schools from socioeconomic, and racial perspectives.

Sourced from Herald Tribune articles and other local papers, thanks to Jeff LaHurd at the Sarasota County History Center.

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