Bogie, Bradley and Busing
The Story of Pinellas County School Integration: A nine-part series exclusive to the Gabber
By James A. Schnur
Part 2: Separate and Increasingly Unequal
Last week, we remembered a brief moment more than 130 years ago when the first and only integrated classroom on the Pinellas peninsula existed in what would become Gulfport. This week, we revisit the customs and traditions that reaffirmed racial segregation long before officials approved the creation of a place provisionally known as “58th Street High School” in early 1952.
Dixie M. Hollins, the first superintendent of Pinellas public schools, made school facilities improvement a priority when he took office in 1912. Students attending the county’s four Black schools witnessed marginal improvements, but nowhere near those offered to their counterparts at other schools. White schools received more funding than Black schools; Black schools taught students for six months or less while white schools offered classes for eight months.
Hollins embraced the views of Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Washington, whose father was a white man and mother was a slave, grew up as the Ku Klux Klan terrorized the South and white supremacy surged. In that environment, Washington believed that Black people should focus on industrial education and eschew activism, placing moderate economic gains above political engagement.
Hollins corresponded with Washington, accepting his focus on domestic science and manual training. The superintendent hired graduates from Tuskegee to teach in Pinellas schools. In an expanding local economy with strong agricultural and hospitality-based roots, Hollins wanted Black students in Pinellas schools to become literate laborers rather than intellectuals.
County leaders did require all Pinellas teachers to have some training or education, a standard higher than that demanded by the state’s superintendent of public instruction, William Sheats. However, segregated public schools in Pinellas offered Black students – who sat in secondhand desks and read used textbooks – no education beyond the ninth grade.
Even if Hollins had wanted to improve Jim Crow schools, he would have faced stiff opposition. A January 1915 editorial from the now-defunct Largo Sentinel painted a sad-but-accurate image of the majority mindset at that time, stating that offering advanced educational opportunities to Black students denied them time “that could be used with far greater profit in teaching them to use tools and implements of the farm, the shop and the kitchen. . . . Not one in a hundred thousand of them is ever going to have any use for algebra, geometry, Latin, Greek and similarly advanced studies.”
These harsh words defined segregated education in the Sunshine State. Hollins tried to take his relatively progressive platform statewide, resigning from his county position in a bid to unseat Sheats. The incumbent’s supporters circulated handbills showing and telling rural Floridians about the improvements Hollins had made to Black schools in Pinellas.
The race-baiting worked. On November 2, 1920 Sheats was re-elected, ending Hollins’s political aspirations.
Riding ‘The Blue Goose’ to Gibbs
Pinellas had no school buses in the 1910s. Children walked to school, rode horses or sometimes hitched a wagon ride. Private “jitney” services offered occasional, unreliable service, but never to Black pupils. The county purchased its first fleet of five buses for $11,240 in August 1923. None of them served Black schools.
Black students attending Pinellas Junior-Senior High in Clearwater boarded their first bus in August 1946. Pupils riding that bus from their homes in the groves south of Largo or as far north as Tarpon Springs passed many neighborhood schools they couldn’t legally attend. No such vehicle existed for Gibbs Junior-Senior High School in St. Petersburg, opened in 1927 in a structure built as a white elementary school.
These inequalities forced educators to find alternatives. Lacking county support, Gibbs Principal George W. Perkins, two teachers, and a business leader in the African American community said they’d use their salaries to offset costs, if necessary, to secure a bus for Blacks in south county. They encouraged students who could afford it to pay a few pennies to ride the bus.
The bus that served Gibbs High School stood out. As a way of making a statement and showing pride, community members painted their bus with a vibrant blue hue, rather than the uniform yellow. They called this bus “The Blue Goose.”
Old Rivalries and New Residents
An on-again, off-again organization lobbied for white residents who lived south of Central Avenue since at least the mid-1920s. Known as the Southside Improvement and Protective Association (SIPA), this body demanded St. Petersburg leaders offer equal resources for their neighborhoods to keep them on par with places north of Central Avenue. SIPA’s leaders howled about areas such as Old Northeast and Snell Isle receiving preferential treatment.
These southsiders embraced segregation. In September 1929, SIPA condemned plans to open a narrow sliver of sand along the shore of Bayboro Harbor as a beach for Black people. Leaders called for the relocation of Black communities to areas north of Central Avenue as a way to preserve their neighborhoods. By the 1940s, SIPA members vigorously protested against any Black people who tried to move south of Jordan Park or west of 34th Street.
Newcomers flocked to Florida in growing numbers after World War II ended. White residents filled ever-expanding subdivisions of St. Petersburg, including neighborhoods such as Childs Park, Fairmount Park and Lakeview, areas where Black people could not live.
In 1952, aside from St. Petersburg High School, the closest public secondary school for white students was in Largo. To meet a growing demand, the school district selected nearly 37 acres in Gulfport, south of Lincoln Cemetery, as the site of a new campus and allocated $1.56 million to build classrooms.
Next week, we examine Boca Ciega High School’s early years and retrace how segregationists spurned a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
James A. Schnur graduated from Boca Ciega High as a member of the inaugural class that experienced Pinellas school desegregation from first through twelfth grades. To comply with court-ordered busing, he rode the bus for four of those years. He’s written five books about Pinellas communities and has also lectured and published about Florida and Florida education history.