AN EXCERPT FROM “UNLESS WE TELL IT...IT NEVER GETS TOLD!” and CHAPTER 7-SCHOOL INTEGRATION.
I wrote about a number of School Desegregation cases including the Little Rock Nine and had the honor of meeting recently, one of the Nine, Carlotta Walls Lanier. I met Elizabeth Eckford and Jefferson Thomas here in Jacksonville in 1958 when Mrs. Daisy Bates spoke at an NAACP Mass Meeting. I also wrote about Ruby Bridges, who integrated the New Orleans School system as a 6-year-old.
No one issue produced heroes and achievements—as well as negative and virulent racist reactions—like the fight over school integration. And leading the "charge" was NAACP Legal Defense Fund Chief Counsel,Thurgood Marshall.
When Thurgood Marshall and the Original Dream Team petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to Integrate the schools...and the Supreme Court issued its monumental ruling on school segregation in Brown vs. the Topeka, Kansas, Board of Education on May 17, 1954, with a unanimous (9–0) decision stating that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” ...school integration started its determined journey into public education. The key holding of the Court was that, even if segregated Black and white schools were of equal quality in facilities and teacher’s segregation by itself was harmful to Black students and unconstitutional. Of special note...the Duval County School Board named a high school Nathan Bedford Forrest after this Slave Trader, Confederate General, and one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan as an answer to Brown v. Board of Education.
One of the School Desegregation cases that I wrote about, and one that you do not hear about, is the Donal King school desegregation case. The NAACP Jacksonville School Desegregation was originally referred to as the Braxton case because it was initiated by plaintiff Sadie Braxton on behalf of her children, Sharon and Daly Braxton. It was filed in federal court in 1960 by Jacksonville NAACP attorney Earl M. Johnson. In August 1962, U.S. District Judge Bryan Simpson found that the Duval County school system was segregated, and ordered the School Board to submit a plan to bring about integration. The Duval County School System spent $800,000 (6 million dollars in today’s currency) fighting School Integration.
In September 1963, a year after Judge Simpson issued the order to integrate the Jacksonville school system, Iona Godfrey King ( a friend and a member of the 1960 Youth Council NAACP) enrolled her son, Donal, in Lackawanna Elementary School. Donal was one of thirteen Black first-graders to enter formerly all-white Jacksonville schools that year as a result of the order to desegregate schools. He was the only Black student at Lackawanna Elementary, yet Mrs. King was not part of a concerted desegregation effort. She simply felt that sending her son to his neighborhood school was the reasonable thing to do. “My child had a right to go to a public school that was five blocks away,” Iona said. “He’s an American. Why can’t he go to the nearest school?”
Donal Godfrey remembers his mother walking him to school that first day and the biting comments that came with that walk. “Where do you think you’re taking that little Black boy?” was something Godfrey said he heard from the street. Police detectives would end up later having to walk Godfrey to and from school. Outside the school, a group of ten women picketed Donal for a week after the start of school year. “I can remember the first day where there were a few parents asking questions like, ‘Where do you think you’re taking this little Black boy . . . this little nigger? What do you think you’re doing?’” recalled Donal. “I didn’t understand all the hoopla around it. I took it as something not being right, but I needed to go to school.” In his classroom, Donal sat in the last row.
He remembers his teacher reading such stories as “Little Black Sambo.” But Donal never mentioned any of this to his mother. “I knew nothing of the heckling and harassment to and from school,” Iona later told me. Other than teasing, little else happened to him during the first six months of school. Then the family became a target. “I remember people calling [and] hanging up. [They said] ‘you need to take the nigger out of school or something is going to happen,’” said Donal.
This went on until February 1964, WHEN A BOMB ripped through the Godfreys’ Gilmore Street home. Iona Godfrey King said that they believed that the bomb was intended to be placed near their bedrooms but, luckily, was placed on the opposite side of the house and did not kill or injure them. Donal, who was six at the time, left Lackawanna Elementary immediately after the bombing, but eventually returned to complete fifth and sixth grades.
On March 12, 1964, a two-count indictment was returned against William Rosecrans and five co-defendants. The first count charged that on September 1, 1963, and continuing to the date of the indictment, they, in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. § 241, did conspire “with each other and with other persons to the grand jury unknown to injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate one Donal Godfrey, a negro citizen of the United States, and other persons similarly situated, in the free exercise and enjoyment of a right secured to them by the Constitution of the United States, namely, a right to attend the Lackawanna Public School and other public schools in Duval County.
U.S. District Judge Bryan Simpson sentenced Rosecrans, a member of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan and an associate of the local Klan, to seven years in prison after he pleaded guilty in the bombing. Five Jacksonville men were tried; not surprisingly, one was acquitted and mistrials were declared in the other cases.
Donal King graduated from Robert E. Lee High School and eventually left Jacksonville in 1977, when he joined the military. Donal Godfrey worked for the U. S. State Department for a number of years, retiring in 2015. Iona, who lived with Donald and his family for a while in Africa, now lives in the Baltimore Area.
The Struggle Continues!
Pic 1-Little Rock Nine with Carlotta Walls
Pic 2-Carlotta Walls Lanier and Dr. Rudy Jamison, Charlie Cobb, Me, and Dr. Chris Janson.
Pic 3-Ruby Bridges who integrated the William Sheffied Elementary School in 1960 as the only Black int he entire school.
Pic 4-Norman Rockwell Classic Painting, inspired by Ruby Bridges, entitled, "The Problem We All Live With."
Pic 5-President Obama showcased the painting in the White House Outside the Oval Office...as Ms. Bridges talks with him.
Pic 6- Donal King
Pic 7-Youth Council Members at the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of Ax Handle Saturday, with Youth Council Members...Isaac Carnes, Marjorie Meeks Brown, Connie Chisholm. Iona Godfrey King (Donal's Mother) , and my Wife, Ann Hurst.