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Teachers and graduates remember Pinellas Junior/Senior High with love, gratitude

CLEARWATER

As Mary Ann Young stepped onto Clearwater Intermediate School's campus, she was transported back to 1957.

She smelled the homemade biscuits and pizza baking in the cafeteria. She heard her old school's award-winning band. She peeked into classrooms, recalling supportive teachers who, though strict, wanted only the best for their students.

But there were hard times, too.

The school, called Pinellas Junior/Senior High at the time, served black North Pinellas students in grades 7 through 12 from 1934 until Pinellas schools were desegregated in 1968.

Students got tattered, hand-me-down textbooks with racial slurs scrawled on the remaining pages.

Almost all of the equipment inside the school was secondhand.

Students got up long before the sun to board the school's two buses, which picked up students from Largo, Clearwater, Dunedin, Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs and even New Port Richey.

Yet Young and hundreds of other alumni, teachers and community members who turned out last week to remember the school say the toil against adversity was part of what made Pinellas High so great.

"Being an all-black school, it was wonderful in the sense that we were more family-oriented. Everybody knew everybody, and we just worked together," said Young, a 65-year-old retired nurse from Clearwater who graduated in 1964.

"The teachers and office personnel made sure we remembered who we were and to take pride in ourselves," Young said. "We have many people who have gone on to do great things, and it's all because of this here."

A commemorative program was organized by the nonprofit group Bridging the Achievement Gap, which was founded in 2003 by Pinellas High alumni James and Gwen Feazell.

James said it's important for students enrolled in the group, which provides free after-school tutoring and college admissions help to local students, and the community at large to remember their history.

Originally called the Pinellas Industrial Institute for "domestic science and vocational training," the school opened in 1914 on Madison Avenue.

It was later renamed Pinellas Junior/Senior High and graduated its first class in 1934. In 1954, the school moved to Palmetto Street, serving nearly 1,000 black upper Pinellas students annually until schools desegregated in 1968.

"All of the schools have not been the same for 100 years. It's not to be angry. …But it's important that we not forget," said James Feazell, a former Largo High social studies teacher and school district minority recruitment specialist.

"We were able to make it — because of God — through segregation, and what better way to remember that than to come back and remember your classmates?"

And remember they did.

Camera flashes punctuated the laughter of classmates and teachers as they were reunited, some for the first time since graduation.

Gasps, girlish giggles and the yelling of old nicknames filled the air as former teachers and athletes were honored. There was gentle ribbing over which class was the best.

Many people raised their hands high to sing "you're the world to me," the final words of the alma mater.

Much like Gibbs High School, its south county counterpart, Pinellas High offered vocational classes in areas readily available to blacks at the time, including dry cleaning, industrial arts and cosmetology.

The school also offered college prep courses, which led many students to win college scholarships. The school produced many greats, including architects, a physicist and school administrators.

"The system gave us inferior materials and inferior books, but we did not get an inferior education," said Gwen Feazell.

Added 1959 graduate and former Pinellas County Commissioner Calvin Harris: "All those life lessons that our teachers had learned, they imparted to us so we could be better. They allowed us to … know that anything was possible."

Keyonna Summers can be reached at ksummers@tampabay.com.

Teachers and graduates remember Pinellas Junior/Senior High with love, gratitude 03/02/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 5:33pm]
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