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Pinellas High alumni are forever united by segregation

When the Pinellas High School Class of 1968 graduated, it marked the end of an era. They were the last class to graduate from the all-black high school.

Pinellas High School, at 1220 Palmetto St. in Clearwater's North Greenwood community, was the place for learning for blacks in upper Pinellas County. Students came from Clearwater, Largo, Oldsmar, Safety Harbor, Dunedin and Tarpon Springs.

Built in 1914, the school was originally called Clearwater Colored School and went only to eighth grade. It became a high school in 1931.

Members of the class of 1968 and their teachers will gather this weekend for their 40th reunion. They'll have to rely on their memories and old pictures because the school's name was changed and its mascot, a panther, was done away with.

While the institution may be gone, those who passed through its halls say they are proud to have been a part of such a nurturing institution.

Dr. Karen J. Beard, 57, class vice president, Clearwater resident

"I realized the significance and see it as special and important to be the last class to graduate from the all-black high school. We were very proud of our accomplishment. Our band had a good reputation and a lot of my classmates went off to college. We were the end of an era but the beginning of one, too. In 1968, we were able to go to colleges that probably we wouldn't have been able to go if the times were not changing. I was able to go to the University of New Hampshire."

Samuel Hayward, 74, band director from 1955 to 1968. Retired in 2003 from Countryside High School after teaching

48 years.

"They were the type of kids that didn't mind working and sacrificing to get the job done. I can recall getting ready for football shows. We would work until 9, 10 at night and the kids never complained. They were there for a reason. They had a purpose in mind. They were exceptionally good. The thing I remember about the kids is that they were dedicated. They were there to get a job done and nothing could stop them."

Jerome Jackson Jr., 57, Clearwater.

"There was a lot going on in terms of segregation, but I was content. That didn't bother me at all at the time that (white students) didn't want to go to school with us. At that particular time, I was satisfied with the way things were. They didn't want interrace mixing and at that particular time, I didn't either. They didn't want me there and I didn't want to be there. I was quite content.

It means a lot to me to be able to get together for the reunion. There are so many of us that aren't here today. I always feel real good about seeing those who come back."

Elmo Richardson, 58, of Clearwater, senior class chaplain. He retires June 30.

They had started integrating in 1967, when they brought a couple of white teachers to the school but no students. I never got a chance to attend an integrated school. I was a member of the chorus and as chaplain of the senior class, I would do the scripture and the prayer. I was young and very nervous. Once I did it so much, I got used to it.

We did a lie-in one time ... The buses would bypass the all-black schools, busing the white kids to the white schools. We tried to lie in the street and block the buses. They next year, they integrated and it ended.

This will be one of the first (reunions) I've been to. They called and asked if I'd do a prayer. I have to touch up on my Bible reading."

Demorris A. Lee, Times staff writer

Pinellas High alumni are forever united by segregation 05/24/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 27, 2008 2:36pm]
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