Garth Reeves

End of Interview

Christian Hospital in Colored Town served blacks since blacks were not admitted to the county’s Jackson Memorial Hospital.

“That reminds me of another struggle you had, to integrate Jackson Memorial. R: That is right. My mother had diabetes, and she was losing a leg. I went out to the hospital to see her. There was no air conditioning in this west wing where they put all the blacks. It had an electric fan that was doing a poor job. I had to do a sit-in outside the administrator’s office. They kept me out there all day…. I made some phone calls to some politicians and things like that. The next day, they moved my mother to a ward in the wooded building. A couple of black nurses came up to me and told me, that is the first 22[time] a black person has ever been in that building. She said, I have been working here twenty-two years. I said, well, things change after a while. If nobody could test it, you see, nothing would get done. Everybody seemingly would go along with the status quo. My newspaper never protested it…, but it hit me right at home that my mother was about tolose her leg and, Jesus, look at the conditions. Segregation is such a terrible thing, and it is senseless…”[1]Dunn, Understanding Our Past.

It was a difficult balancing act for Collins. The real base of power in the state, meaning in the legislature, still resided with very conservative Floridians in the northern section of the state. As civil rights actions erupted in the state, Governor Collins walked a tightrope between the conservatives who were based in North Florida and the growing moderate white population in South Florida.

In his first race for governor in 1954 against the ultra-racist Charley Johns, Collins declared his commitment to segregation. He triumphed over Johns. Collins recognized the probability that segregation would need to end but, for political reasons, he did not state his evaluation publicly. Compared to other Deep South governors, Collins was a moderate leader who faced the challenge of not pushing too far beyond the political realities in Florida. In the aftermath of the Brown Decision, Collins declared that “Florida was just as determined as any other Southern state to maintain segregation.”[2]Dunn, Black Education in Florida, p.60.

Members of the Euclid High School football team, DeLand, Florida, 1956

Since I was considered a “smart” student, I was used by teachers to assist the school in various ways such as being sent across town to the white high school, Deland High School, to collect their used textbooks and old science equipment for our school. New books and lab equipment went first to white schools. Doing this task made segregation real for me. Given the place I lived and the age in which I was living, I had accommodated myself to Jim Crow, but this felt different. It hurt. I felt like a beggar going to the white school for their used junk. It also undercut some of my admiration for my teachers who sent me to do it. But what I did not realize at the time was that they had no choice.

Black public education stressed mechanical and agricultural skills for black boys, and home economics for black girls. Given these were the educational goals for black children, used textbooks and broken test tubes should suffice. John Glover graduated from Miami’s Booker T. Washington Senior High School in 1957, the same year I finished at Euclid. He went on to become a teacher in the all-black Miami Northwestern Senior High School. He noted the same practice in Dade County schools that I experienced in Volusia County. He said in a recent newspaper interview that when he attended Booker T. Washington, the textbooks were secondhand and his championship football team played in hand-me-down leather cleats with spikes that poked through the soles.[3]Dunn, A History of Florida through Black Eyes, p.30.

One of the whites willing to stand in support of blacks, even as the state dug in its heels against desegregation, was John B.(Jack) Orr, Jr. of Miami. According to historian Howard Kleinberg, the Miami born Orr was the member of the Florida House who stood alone on the floor of the House to vote against the legislature’s attempt to preserve racial segregation after the Brown Decision.

On 25 July 1956, the Legislature had gathered in special session to preserve segregation and voted eighty-nine to one in the House to resist the High Court. In a twenty-minute speech that left the chamber tense and silent, Orr, the lone dissenter, told his colleagues, “I believe segregation is morally wrong. The existence of second class citizenship is repugnant to our great democratic principles. For us to set an example of hypocrisy and deceit, of disregard for our laws will surely do more harm to our children than will result from their being seated in a classroom next to one whose skin color is of a different hue.”

Although his speech was not subjected to derision in the House, the response in Miami was another matter. One politician warned Orr that he would not get enough votes at the next election to serve as pallbearer at his political funeral. Letters poured in calling him an anti Christ, a traitor and public enemy number one, and his family was threatened. Having already won the Democratic primary for re election, Orr faced only token Republican opposition and was returned to Tallahassee.

Orr paid the price, however, when his words came back to haunt him in 1958. In a nasty campaign, Orr was defeated by a Democratic challenger who supported segregation. Orr was later redeemed when the citizens elected him to be Dade County Mayor in 1972. Miami Historian Howard Kleinberg notes; “Orr was not without human frailty. He had a history of marital and drinking problems. He was elected mayor of Dade County but the wars -both public and personal- took their toll.” Orr’s life came to a painful end at a relatively young age of 54 when he died of cancer in 1974.[4]Dunn, Black Education in Florida, p.63.

Chief Justice Earl Warren the most hated man in the South]

Handed down on May 17, 1954, the Warren Court’s unanimous (9–0) decision stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” As a result, de jure racial segregation was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. This ruling paved the way for integration and was a major victory of the Civil Rights Movement,[1] and a model for many future impact litigation cases.[2] However, the decision’s fourteen pages did not spell out any sort of method for ending racial segregation in schools, and the Court’s second decision in Brown II only ordered states to desegregate “with all deliberate speed”.

The Court ruled that even if all factors were equal race segregation itself is detrimental to black children. For the first time the Court cited psychological data in rendering its decision. This has led many in the South to believe that the Court went beyond its constitutional limits. . The data cited was collected by Dr. Kenneth Clark, a black psychologist who had shown that race separation causes self esteem issues for black children. He was the first black psychologist to serve as president of the American Psychological Association.[5]Dunn, Black Education in Florida, p.48.

Booker T. Washington Senior High School was the first high school for African American students in Miami. The original building was located at Sixth Avenue and Twelfth Street. Its construction started in 1926, however, because of the hurricane that hit South Florida in September of that year, the almost-completed structure was severely damaged.

The school’s grand opening was held in February 1927. Prior to the school’s opening black children only received an education, public or private, through the eighth grade. Parents either sent their older children to Jacksonville, Daytona, or out-of-state boarding schools to receive higher education. Many Bahamian parents sent their older children to Nassau to be educated beyond the eight grade. Booker T. became competitive with Stanton and Jones, the two other great black high schools in Florida during the Jim Crow era. Although most black high schools from the segregation era have been demolished or downgraded to middle schools, these three schools are still in operation. Booker T.’s colors are orange and black.

These were the largest black public schools that were built by Florida. Despite the Jim Crow conditions under which they existed, they, and other black high schools in the state, including Matthew W. Gilbert in Jacksonville, prepared the descendants of slaves for the twentieth century and in so doing, produced thousands of black doctors, attorneys, preachers, nurses, businessmen, and most important, many thousands of black educators.[6]Dunn, Black Education in Florida, p.34.

The University of Florida

As the end of my tour of duty aboard Saratoga loomed, I started to think about graduate school. I ultimately made the decision to get out of the navy and attend graduate school to become a psychologist. I wanted to understand racism. I wanted to understand why people do the things they do. From sea, I applied for admission to the University of Florida graduate school in psychology. It was important to me to attend graduate school in my home state. This was more than ten years after the Brown Decision that ended segregation in public education. It never occurred to me that there would be a problem. But there was a problem.

A few weeks after I sent in my application, a letter from the University of Florida reached me aboard ship. I remember the day it arrived. I had come down from the bridge after a long and arduous afternoon of flight operations. I had seen the mail plane land on the flight deck but of course, had no idea that my much- awaited letter was onboard the flight. I rushed to my stateroom and opened the letter. It read: “Dear Lieutenant Dunn: The University of Florida does not accept Negro students in the graduate program in psychology, however, if you are admitted to a graduate school outside of Florida, the State of Florida will pay your tuition at that institution”.

I was devastated. Self-pity set in quickly. There I was in the uniform of the United States Navy defending my country on the other side of the planet, and I could not enter my own state university. I still have the letter buried somewhere in a box I rarely open.

The reason that Florida was willing to pay for my graduate education in another state was because the state was still operating under the old separate but equal doctrine in which the United States Supreme Court had ruled in Plessey v Ferguson in 1896 that states could maintain separate educational institutions for whites and blacks, but they must be equal. The State of Florida did not have a separate graduate program for blacks at Florida A& M University, the state’s black university, therefore the state was required to provide it elsewhere for black students. What is incredible about this is that it was long after the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 1954 Brown Decision that supposedly ended racial segregation in public education. The University of Florida rejected me in 1967. “Go Gators” [7]Dunn, A History of Florida Through Black Eyes, p.27.

Was Miami Northwestern Senior High School originally meant to be a white school? I was surprised to hear this from a member of the Bendross family (which is from that area) whose comments I have re posted here. What he says makes sense when you consider that the school was built on the white side of the segregation wall that runs north to south along 12th Avenue. The area east of the wall is where the school is located and that was the white area but the whites moved out in droves after the Carver Village bombing which later today. I learn something new every day. Here are his remarks:

“Derrick Adderly Bendross I realize many decades ago, this is the reason downtown give Northwestern so much hell and continually try to find ways to close it down. Northwestern, a community school represent all that they lost in Liberty City. Now, we have an attendance problem that no one is talking about. We have no feeder school. Charles R. Drew middle was close without notice to the community and neighborhoods that were in our district now go to Hialeah, Miami Springs, and Beach High where they have more than enough of students. That’s how they are getting us back, by using our children to integrate their schools, but do not send any of their children to Northwestern. That is not integration, that’s assimilation. That’s what they did to all the another black schools and still trying to finish us off. We never had integration only assimilation. If so white kids should have been sent to BTW, Carver, Mays, and North Dade High Schools instead of closing them. I love my Alma mater, Bull for Life!”[8]Dunn, Black Miami History, p.69.

Dr. Kenneth Clark, Psychologist

The Court ruled that even if all factors were equal, race segregation itself is detrimental to black children. For the first time the Court cited psychological data in rendering its decision. This has led many in the South to believe that the Court went beyond its constitutional limits. The data cited was collected by Dr. Kenneth Clark, a black psychologist who had shown that race separation causes self-esteem issues for black children. He was the first black psychologist to serve as president of the American Psychological Association.

He asked black children in his experiment to choose between a white doll and a black doll. Almost all of the black children chose to play with the white dolls.[9]Dunn, Understanding Our Past, p.6.

The ACE Theater on Grand Avenue in Coconut Grove. This is where blacks in the Grove attended movies during the segregation era. Early on as movies came out some white theaters allowed blacks to sit in the balcony however, when the lights went down sometimes items from above would rain down on the white folks. That led the white folks to open theaters for the colored folks such as this one. Overtown had several black theaters. I am not sure if any were owned by a black person. [10]Dunn Collection, FIU


1 Dunn, Understanding Our Past.
2 Dunn, Black Education in Florida, p.60.
3 Dunn, A History of Florida through Black Eyes, p.30.
4 Dunn, Black Education in Florida, p.63.
5 Dunn, Black Education in Florida, p.48.
6 Dunn, Black Education in Florida, p.34.
7 Dunn, A History of Florida Through Black Eyes, p.27.
8 Dunn, Black Miami History, p.69.
9 Dunn, Understanding Our Past, p.6.
10 Dunn Collection, FIU