HISTORY OF HERNANDO COUNTY SCHOOLS
Emphasis on Public Education Came Early
This article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on Nov. 27, 2006.
By ROGER LANDERS
Steal not this book
For fear of shame
For in it wrote the owner’s name
And God will ask on judgment day
Where is that book you stole away?
James Durston, Feb. 1, 1846
This note is written on the flyleaf of a book of ciphers and grammar rules found in the 1960s in the personal effects of a retired Hernando County schoolteacher. While it remains unclear what relationship this leather-bound volume might have to education in Hernando, it does remind us of the early emphasis on the schooling of children.
The Florida Territorial Legislature recognized the importance of a literate population. It set aside one section (640 acres) of every township for the support of education.
By 1845, the desire for a state system of common schools prevailed, providing a “good English education” for all children. Support came from the sale or lease of a specified section of state-owned land. The county judge of probate was the de facto superintendent of schools in each county. His responsibility was to report the number of school-age children (ages 6 to 21), request funding and make an annual report.
Initially, however, Hernando County families—known to be an independent lot—chose to provide formal education without the help of public funds. Many families of means employed private tutors for their children. s
One such family was that of Gideon Tyner of Fort Dade (now Dade City). He hired a down-on-his-luck soldier of fortune, F.C.M. Boggess, to teach his children in late 1850. Boggess taught for two four-month terms in a small log cabin school.
The best known of such school arrangements was that of the Fredrick Lykes family of Old Spring Hill. Lykes employed a young Theodore S. Coogler of South Carolina to teach his children and others living nearby. Coogler taught two terms of school at Spring Hill before returning to South Carolina to study law.
In 1857, Hernando had 269 school-age children. That same year, 16 of the state’s then-32 counties made no report of common schools to the state superintendent. Hernando was one of the 16.
A subscription school opened in the newly established town of Brooksville in 1857. Classes were in Union Baptist Church, where the SunTrust Bank employee parking lot is currently located on W Jefferson Street. In 1858, the Brooksville Academy got a new home next to the church. The two-classroom school brought great pride to the community. But the principal, William E. McCaslan, left the school in October 1860 after passing the Florida Bar examination.
When the Civil War broke out, many of the academy’s young men volunteered for Confederate service. Shortly thereafter, the school closed. The trustees later sold the building and land.
In 1863, with C.T. Jenkins captured and imprisoned in Boston, his wife, Eliza, turned to teaching school at Bayport to support their family.
At war’s end, teaching the newly freed slaves to read, write and cipher became a priority. Before emancipation, slaves were prohibited by law from receiving any schooling. Even though exceptions did exist, the majority of the former slaves were illiterate.
Embracing the importance of literacy for the freedmen, the state in 1866 established a system of “Common Schools for Negroes.” In Hernando, the Brooksville School Society organized a school in 1867, and Morgan Chapman of Jacksonville became teacher of the Brooksville Colored School.
By the time the Freedmen’s Bureau was operational in Hernando, the school was in trouble and could not pay the teacher. All male freedmen between the ages of 16 and 45 were required to pay a $2 tax to support education. In September 1867, the school closed for lack of funds; Chapman left the county and went back to Jacksonville.
In early 1868, another school opened with James H. Roberts as teacher. He was a disabled Army veteran (U.S. Colored Troops) and a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church. He found himself at odds with the trustees—all Baptist—of the Brooksville Colored School. Although he tried hard, at one time having 45 students, the lack of funds also caused that school to fail.
In May 1868, A.T. Frierson sold land on S Lemon Avenue to the trustees of the colored school. With support of the Freedmen’s Bureau, a building for the school was constructed. The school also doubled as the home of the Bethlehem Baptist Church.
The new Florida Constitution of 1868 called for the establishment of free public schools open to all school-age children. The county had to have a board of education and a superintendent, both appointed by the governor.
In 1869, the state superintendent requested of probate judge and superintendent P.G. Wall an explanation for the lack of an organized school system in Hernando County. Wall responded that he was not able to organize a board. After Henry Roundtree of New York became superintendent, he too was unable to organize a school board.
In 1870, the county had six teachers, all in private schools.
Finally, Theodore S. Coogler accepted appointment as superintendent and successfully organized a board on July 5, 1871.
The new board reported three schools in Hernando County. The location of two of them is unknown.
However, in his 1872 annual report, Coogler writes: “We have but one school in this place (Brooksville), a colored one. … It is the largest and best-attended school in the county. And is taught by a white southern lady (Mrs. Eliza J. Cary). … I am convinced that all they (the students) need is half an opportunity, and they will develop as much mental caliber any race.”
Thus began publicly supported education in Hernando County.
Roger Landers is the historian for Hernando County’s Heritage Museum, historical adviser to the new Hernando County Historical Advisory Commission and a member of the Florida Historical Society. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Early Schools in Citrus County
The following is taken from Back Home: A History of Citrus County, Florida, by Hampton Dunn.
The Gerock and Loennecker families, pioneers in the lumber industry, also had part in developing a school for this coastal town. Hillyard Lashley’s wife, Katy, a teacher by profession, has researched the school from the early 1800’s to the present. Some of the information came from interviews with Mrs. Mollie Albritton, who came in 1903, and Mrs. Verlia Trotter, born in Homosassa, nee Verlia Gerock, in 1891.
The first Homosassa school was not actually in Homosassa as it is now known, but on an island about two miles down the river. This island, now known as Gordy Island, was then called South Island and the bay surrounding it is still known as “School House Bay.” It was on this and other islands around, that the Gerock family, the Loenneckers and others who migrated from Germany and from other parts of the United States, grew sugar cane and other crops which were transported up the river by boats pushed along by slaves. The sugar cane was taken to the Yulee sugar mill for processing.
Messers Gerock and Loennecker made sure their children and some of the slaves received the necessary “three Rs,” by building a school and teaching in it themselves.
With the advent of the cedar mill in 1882, more families began moving in and a one-room school was built on the mainland location where, at this writing, one finds Juanita’s Beauty Salon and boutique. The school took care of community needs for many years until about the turn of the century, when a two-room, frame building was constructed on the site of the present school on Cherokee Avenue.
The one-room school was first taught by Miss Bardy Garrett of Inverness, followed by Mamie McLear who later became Mrs. George Loennecker. The first male teacher in this school was Bailey Willis from Williston. Others included Mr. Edwards and Bessie Waddell.
After the two-room school was built, Maude Vincent Alien came from Lecanto to teach with Lillian Stevens Edwards, followed by others including Florence May, daughter of Judge E. C. May, and Miss Anne Thompson.
Soon after World War I, Miss Rosa Campbell, the teacher most remembered by all native Homosasseans, as well as many others, came up by boat from Ozello to begin a long career in helping children and parents get started on the royal road to learning. She later moved into the house which is still standing across the street from the school. During the years until her death in 1941, she dedicated her life to starting children, their children and grandchildren in school, as well as helping many less experienced teachers—like Mrs. Lashley to understand and help children.
Teachers continued to come and go, as did the cedar mill, the fishing industry, which had grown with the advent of the railroad in 1888, and the increasing tourist business which brought more families to the area and necessitated the employment of more than one teacher. Still there was not always sufficient money for the schools, especially in this little remote fishing village, and there were times when one teacher would find herself with upwards of 50 students, ranging in age from five to 15 years, in grades one through eight. However, attendance was erratic and not many finished the “grammar school” course, since it was not uncommon for boys to stay out of school to fish during the “run” season and soon quit altogether.
By 1926, the community had completely outgrown the old building and a new brick school was erected with room enough to house eight teachers and a principal. These principals were, for many years, male. Included in this group were Mr. McClendon, Joe Strickland, Mr. Chambers and the present Citrus County Superintendent of schools, Roger Weaver. The first lady principal was Mrs. Ruby Montague, whose husband, Jesse, was County School Superintendent at one time.
In 1969 the brick building burned down and was replaced by a modem, open-space type building equipped for 480 students in grades K-6.
This article appeared in Hernando Today on Jan. 19, 2008.
By LINNEA BROWN
BROOKSVILLE – A year after Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, enforcing desegregation and making it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, religion or national origin.
And in 1967 and 1968 — through much behind-the-scenes work by locals — King’s dream finally began to take shape in Hernando County’s previously-segregated school system.
‘Separate but equal’
Things were pretty different in Hernando County in the ’60s.
Like most small rural southern towns, Brooksville was long overdue for change. The races was dubbed “separate but equal,” but they weren’t. Inequalities ran rampant.
“A lot was difficult then — still is, and always will be — but we made due as best we could,” said retired school teacher and administrator Lorenzo Hamilton, 69.
Through the mid ’60s, people of different races did not speak unless they knew each other. A “whites only” sign remained posted above the water fountain at the Hernando County Courthouse, just as a “colored entrance” sign could still be seen on the side of the defunct Dixie Theater.
If a black family in Brooksville wanted to go out to dinner, they were expected to trek to Tampa or Lakeland to black-owned restaurants. If on a road trip to Tallahassee, they were expected to pack lunches and stop on the side of the road to use the restroom.
“The only place that even offered (take-out) to black families was the Cottage Dinette, located on what is now the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Broad Street in Brooksville,” said Brooksville resident Roger Landers, 66, also a retired school teacher and administrator.
Perhaps the sharpest divide was in Hernando’s schools.
Children from across the county were either sent to the all-white Brooksville Junior High (now Brooksville Elementary) and Hernando High, or the all-black Moton School (now Mid-Florida Head Start).
“It was like night and day,” Hamilton recalled.
Now a Spring Hill resident, he taught physical education and driver’s education at Moton. He was also athletic director and coached the school’s top-notch football, basketball and track teams, among other titles.
“I did it all,” he said. “Everything you can name.”
Landers, meanwhile, taught math, science and social studies at Hernando High.
But in the turbulent years that followed the passage of the Civil Rights Act, everything changed.
When two become one
With school districts across the south scrambling to comply with federal law, Hernando officials submitted the district’s desegregation plan in 1966.
In preparation for the plan’s implementation, they hired three white teachers and an administrator — Landers — to fill vacancies at Moton.
The following year, Moton’s older students, football players and Hamilton were moved to Hernando High.
“Football was the transitional medicine,” Hamilton said. “It was the glue that held them all together, and made for a much smoother transition.”
In fall of 1968, Moton closed, forcing the rest of the school’s students to leave the only school they’d ever known.
“It meant leaving everything they were familiar with and having to compete with people who were already homesteaded and entrenched,” Hamilton said.
Landers — who came with the students as Hernando High’s new principal that year — recalled the first day of school, when less than 200 new students walked into the school of more than 1,000 for the first time.
“It was tense,” he said. “All eyes were on the kids, and the faculty had been advised to be vigilant and mindful because this would be difficult for everybody. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for some of (the students), coming into this strange school and trying to graduate and fit in.”
There were whispers and racial slurs, as well as inevitable tension, but the students tried to adjust.
“Like anything else, it was two groups of people placed in an environment where they did not request to be together,” Hamilton said. “There were problems with acceptance and people doing things differently, and because Hernando was the main school, Moton had to take a back seat.”
Then football season started.
The infamous walkout
Like most high school football games, the school’s students were known for bursting into a spirited rendition of their fight song with the band each time a touchdown was scored.
But it wasn’t just any fight song.
It was “Dixie,” a southern song perceived by many to have racist undertones. The school’s white students also whipped out the confederate flag and waved it around as they cheered and sang.
The school’s black students were horrified.
“For 100 years, they’d had their own schools, and here they were in this school, hearing this song,” Landers said. “There were also black students on the football team, and suddenly there was all this pressure for them not to play, not to go to practice.”
The white students didn’t understand, either.
“There was never any thought given to the song — it had been that way for years,” Landers said. “When we tried (discussing the issue), they got offended and thought, ‘It’s because they don’t like our fight song.’”
In mid-October, the school’s black students walked out in protest.
“The walkout was something the community had never experienced, and nobody would want to go through it (again),” Hamilton said. “It was really a tense time, full of misinterpretation and misunderstandings.”
Landers arranged for the students to be bussed to the Dixie Theater, where the students discussed their frustration. Negotiations took place over the next several days, with administrators ultimately banning “Dixie” from the school and promoting Hamilton to assistant principal to give the students more representation.
They returned to school after one week with no academic penalties, and a human relations committee was formed to aid future communication.
“There was a lot of hard work among leaders of both black and white communities to make sure those early years went smoothly,” Landers said. “And there was a lot of soul searching that went on with these kids. I particularly have to credit the athletes for rising above the fray, so to speak.”
Desegregation vs. Integration
So has King’s dream been realized locally?
To some extent — but its still in the process of fulfilling itself, the two men said.
“Desegregation is a legal term,” Landers said. “Integration is a sociological process, and that process still goes on. We desegregated the schools here.”
But one thing’s for sure: it’s an improvement from 40 years ago.
“As time has gone on, we’ve eventually gotten to a population that had never known segregated schools,” Landers said. “Now, when things happen (between students), they’re viewed by adults as racial issues, but not so much by kids.”
While Hamilton said he thinks the process would have been easier if it had started with younger students, he said better resources have helped level the playing field.
“Before, it was not ‘separate but equal,’” he said. “There was disparity between schools. At Moton, we didn’t have a gym or bleachers, and all of our textbooks were secondhand.”
The desegregation discussions are far from over. Ongoing issues include the merits and pitfalls of the district’s racial bussing plan, as well as neighborhood schools and equal resources between schools.
But today, many of the graduates of those tumultuous years at Hernando High have thrived.
Hamilton, who went on to become co-principal of the school (and later at several other schools throughout the district), has retained hundreds of photos and news clippings of former students who became successful.
They include doctors, lawyers, professors and professional athletes. One particularly recognizable face is Brooksville’s own “hometown hero” Ricky Feacher, a 1972 graduate who went on to professional football for the Cleveland Browns.
Another athlete, Freddy Hudson, who graduated in 1971, is a well-known teacher and coach at Springstead High School.
“The school grew to be a representation of modern civilization,” Hamilton said. “Most people seem to accept people on their own merit, just like Dr. King — not by their color, but by the content of their character. But it’s been an evolution from then until now.”
Hernando County Principals (1999)
This list was taken from the district web site in 1999.