Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Tales from the Archives: Pearl City Part V

Curator’s note: Black students were not allowed to attend the white school in the early days of Boca Raton, however Japanese American students were.

As Pearl City grew, community activist Alex Hughes recognized the need for a school for black children. He knew the value of a good education, having only completed the first seven grades in school. During the days of segregation, black students were not allowed to attend the nearby school for white students. Alex recalled, “I went to the Board of Public Instruction in West Palm Beach. They told me that if I could find eight children, they would provide a teacher. I came right on back and mustered up eight children and they sent a teacher down, Miss Robinson…” For a building, the School Board provided the former school for white children. Frank Chesebro’s workers moved the two-room wooden building from its original site, just west of the FEC Railway tracks on Palmetto Park Road, to a new site on Dixie Highway and Eleventh Street in 1920 on rollers. It took eighteen days to complete the move. 

The little school building was badly damaged by the 1928 hurricane. That same year the old building was replaced with a new wooden structure known as a “Rosenwald School,” located just east of Dixie Highway and in the middle of what is now Glades Road. The Rosenwald Rural School program was part of a major effort to improve the quality of public education for African Americans in the early twentieth century South, funded by philanthropist Julius Rosenwald. Irene Demery (Carswell) recalled one of her teachers at the school named Mrs. Ashley. “She wasn’t mean, she was strict. You just had to get your lesson and she was the one teacher in the school and had about 52 students, and she had from first grade to, from primer to ninth.”

The local Pelican newspaper reveals that business owner and councilman Frank Roadman was a regular benefactor of the little school. Roadman died suddenly in 1953 at the youthful age of 42, and the school’s PTA petitioned the Palm Beach County School Board to rename the school after him. A 1956 issue of the Boca Raton News announced that ”the Palm Beach County School Board approved the request of the Boca Raton Colored School to change the name to Roadman School. The request to change the school name was made because of the confusion created by two schools identified as Boca Raton School, one white and one colored.”

The small school (with only 175 students) was phased out in 1965 with the advent of desegregation. The building burned in 1966.

To be continued…

Missed the last Tales from the Archives? Check it out here.

Now on display at The Schmidt Boca Raton History Museum…

BLACK PEARLS: The Story of Pearl City, Boca Raton’s Historic Black Community, July 19 to Dec. 15, 2023

The Schmidt Boca Raton History Museum is pleased to announce a new temporary exhibition entitled Black Pearls: The Story of Pearl City, Boca Raton’s Historic Black Community, on display through December 15, 2023.  This exhibit features photographs created by artist Reginald Cunningham on loan from the Boca Raton Museum of Art that document the current and past residents of Pearl City, Boca Raton’s historic black community platted in 1915. These images are supplemented with historic maps, photos, documents, and artifacts from the Schmidt’s Pearl City collection as well as items on loan from a Pearl City pioneer family. 

For more information about the Boca Raton Historical Society and Schmidt Boca Raton History Museum, visit their website here.

Susan Gillis
Susan Gillis
Susan Gillis is the curator of the Boca Raton Historical Society and Schmidt Boca Raton History Museum. Her "Tales from the Archives" series is inspired by her work with the Society and Museum, and covers all corners of Boca Raton history.

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