Lincoln High School has an important history, and this part of the Gainesville community is fighting to remember it

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Gainesville’s only all-black high school was forced to close in the middle of the semester during the 1969-1970 school year. Public schools in Alachua County had just received the federal mandate to integrate public schools. This is how the community that made up Lincoln High School fought to preserve its heritage.

Barbara Mason Smith, 80, is bombarded with memories every time she walks past Lincoln Middle School in Gainesville.

It was there that she began teaching in 1964. Except that at the time, the building was not a college. It was Lincoln High School – the only all-black high school in Gainesville.

“There are a lot of stories. Lots of stories behind those walls there, ”she said.

She can hear the intercom and make out conversations in the schoolyard from where she lives, down the street from Lincoln Middle School.

She can hear the intercom and make out conversations in the schoolyard from where she lives, down the street from Lincoln Middle School.

“Is Ms. Song going to show up at the reception?” “

“Do you want to send John Joe Jones?” His turn is here.

There will be no staff meeting today.

But in January 1970, this rite of passage was snatched from future students.

In 1954, the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education made racial segregation of public schools unconstitutional. In 1968, the Supreme Court ordered the Alachua County School District to end its dual school system and move to a single, integrated system.

It was in the middle of the 1969-1970 school year, when Lincoln High School was forced to close.

“They won’t wait another week, they won’t wait another month,” Mason Smith said. “We will do it right away. It’s the decision and it’s the mandate, and the doors are going to be closed. “

Everyone was scared, she said. It was like being thrown out of the house. They didn’t know what to expect in the coming weeks.

A few years earlier, students were supposed to be allowed to choose the school they wished to attend. Duncan decided to stay at Lincoln High School.

But in the end, the choice was not his.

Students, like Duncan, were forced to transfer to predominantly white schools in the city. Many black students were sent to Gainesville High School.

Duncan was a senior. She was a promotion major. She looked forward to experiences like prom and graduation with her classmates. Everyone was angry when those rite of passage moments were taken away, she recalls.

“Our hopes, dreams or aspirations didn’t mean much,” she said.

Duncan couldn’t graduate or go to the ball. There was no speech. No great beginning. The only recognition she remembers is her name written in a journal alongside majors from other schools.

The silence – in the hallways, in the empty schoolyard and the training grounds – was deafening.

The bustling activity and music that once filled the building were completely gone.

Betty Stewart Fullwood was very sad to see Lincoln’s football, band and basketball cease to exist.

It was like they cut the heart of the black community, ”she said.

For the first time, the community felt divided, said Duncan. Even if it wasn’t for long.

Alumni quickly recognized that the closure of Lincoln High School was meant to disrupt the black community of Gainesville. So, they came together to keep his legacy alive, even under the worst of circumstances.

“We are determined not to let this destroy us as a group,” she said.

Some would say the Lincoln High School alumni accomplished just that.

It has been more than 50 years since the school closed its doors and the alumni are still determined to keep the legacy of their alma mater alive.

For Duncan, the school’s past serves as a history lesson. She believes that there are generations of people who have no idea of ​​the Black history of the community of Gainesville through historical periods like the Civil Rights era. There isn’t a hub in the region that African Americans can call home, she said.

“A lot of history has just been erased and put on the back burner,” Duncan said.

She thinks it’s important to share Lincoln High School’s lasting legacy; he displays the love and pride that exist for the place and for the community he served. This is especially true when talking about the current student body at Lincoln Middle School.

That’s why in June, Lincoln High School alumni are hosting a symbolic event to pass on their legacy to college students at Lincoln Middle School. It also serves as a high school reunion for the elders.

At the 2021 annual event, a proposal was made to build a wall to commemorate Lincoln High School at Lincoln Middle School, which is in the same location as the high school.

For almost 20 years, alumnus Albert White has led this initiative. The goal is to raise $ 70,000 to make this dream come true. He has made contact with alumni and sells products like t-shirts to help raise money for the idea.

“That would bring him back,” he said. “What we have loved all these years.”

A GoFundMe page was established in July 2020. So far, $ 1,620 of a goal of $ 30,000 has been raised.

“We want to keep Lincoln’s legacy alive for our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren,” he said.

Although the school no longer exists, as Barbara Mason Smith remembers, the community represented by Lincoln High School is still around every corner. She said at least six former colleagues of hers live in her neighborhood, three of whom attend the same church as her. And every time she leaves her home, she sees the familiar faces of alumni and others who were linked to Lincoln High School.

“We often talk about how we enjoyed the days of Lincoln High School,” she said.

There is no escape from inheritance, but she prefers it that way. She enjoys seeing what her former students are like and who they have become.

Despite the school’s closure, its history is forever rooted in the fabric of the Gainesville community.

“This is the spirit, the great red terrier, the spirit is going to live on in the lives of many students,” Mason Smith said.

His world is a mixture of swirling colors – past and present – intertwined tightly to paint a picture of Gainesville’s history.

It is a painting that deals with segregation and integration.

Pain and loss.

And most of all, the pride and joy of Lincoln High School and the community fighting to remember it.


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