Volusia’s ‘Guiding Lights’ through segregation

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B-CU Women’s Advisory Board honors pioneer Black teachers

BY JOY S. JONES
SPECIAL TO THE DAYTONA TIMES

The Bethune-Cookman University Women’s Advisory Board paid tribute to 74 living Black educators last week at a fundraiser for its endowed scholarship fund.

Recognized as an unsung hero, Mary Fears (left) is presented a plaque for her teaching efforts during segregation by president of B-CU Women’s Advisory Board Betsey Hardeman.(DUANE C. FERNANDEZ SR. /HARDNOTTS PHOTOGRAPHY)

Recognized as an unsung hero, Mary Fears (left) is presented a plaque for her teaching efforts during segregation by president of B-CU Women’s Advisory Board Betsey Hardeman.
(DUANE C. FERNANDEZ SR. /HARDNOTTS PHOTOGRAPHY)

The event with the theme, “Honoring Our Unsung Heroes: The Black Teachers of Volusia County – Our Guiding Lights through Segregation,’’ was held Dec. 12 at B-CU’s Michael & Libby Johnson Civic Engagement Center.

“Black teachers imparted knowledge that imparted good citizenship and racial pride. Despite discrimination and neglect, Black teachers were on the front line of the civil rights movement in promoting education as a means of liberation,” said Daytona Beach Zone 6 City Commissioner Paula Reed at the event.

Many sacrifices
Nearly 275 attendees gathered to pay tribute the 74 educators, 38 of whom were in attendance. All were men and women who educated generations of students during segregation and “who built the foundation that helped our community safety navigate the turbulent times of integration,” said Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry.

“We, in many of our endeavors, are the fulfillment of the towering sacrifices you have made on our behalf,” Henry said. “You opened minds and instilled old-school discipline. And in spite of long hours, unfair pay and undeserved insults, you forgave anyway, embracing the dream that Dr. (Martin Luther) King foreshadowed.”

Heads held high
These were dyed-in-the wool teachers, whose entire lives up to that point had been mostly segregated, the majority, educated at historically Black colleges and universities, many at Bethune-Cookman when it was still a college. They not only taught reading, writing and arithmetic, but consistently encouraged and inspired their students to hold their heads high, keep their backs straight, make eye contact when they spoke, banish their fears of public speaking, manage a home, make a living, raise a family — and even when to applaud when attending a symphony.

Weaving humor and coming-of-age stories during a time when everyone knew everyone and “no matter where you were, you wanted to be sure there was a good report,” Crescent City native Harry Burney, acclaimed singer-actor, remarked. Burney served as master of ceremonies, sharing that Volusia County Council had designated Dec. 12, 2014 as Black Teachers of Volusia County Day.

Burney recounted how his father, Harry Burney, Sr. had ceded his presidency during his tenure of the Florida State Teachers Association, the Black membership organization for teachers statewide, in order to merge with the Florida Education Association.

Dedicated to Loretta Wright
The name of Loretta Osgood Wright, a former Bonner Elementary School librarian and interim principal, was invoked, as the night’s program was dedicated in her honor. Mrs. Wright died this year.

Emcee Harry Burney is flanked by some of the Unsung Heroes.

Emcee Harry Burney is flanked by some of the Unsung Heroes.

According to Wright’s daughter, Janice Wright-Walton, it was her mother’s dream to convene a formal event that brought together a larger group of Black teachers who taught in Volusia County after having sponsored a successful “Bonner Day” in 2012.

The elder Wright was remembered for her vision, creativity and caring spirit and ensuring that her students read at least 20 books each year in order to be honored at the end-of-the-year school program.

Added Wright-Walton, “We could read, write, comprehend, spell well and we knew how to handle mean tongues and actions because our parents and you taught us well. We also knew our social graces, pledged allegiance to the flag and God was never left out.’’

Mrs. Hyde attend at 91
Librarian (Mrs.) Larry Hyde, at age 91, was recognized as the eldest of the living pioneers in attendance. Margaret Dawson Wallace was the honoree who had traveled the farthest distance – from Pelham, Ga. – to attend.

“We were prepared because you cared. You made certain that we would learn,” said Betsey Hardeman, president of the board.

The teachers’ dutiful resourcefulness, their conscientious care for students that extended beyond the classroom and role model-behavior that imbued the self-contained, segregated communities in which they all lived, was echoed throughout the evening.

‘Seasoned citizen’
Jack Watson, now a “seasoned citizen” himself, shared the indelible memory of Bonner Elementary School Principal LeRosa Smith writing him a check as a Christmas present when he was in sixth grade. Smith’s former secretary, Willie Mae Church, remembered her for providing a scholarship that allowed her to return to school and earn a life-changing degree.

“It doesn’t have to be everlasting to be eternal,” said Burney, quoting former B-CU President Richard V. Moore, on the many ways the trailblazing teachers taught and touched, palpably embodying Dr. (Mary McLeod) Bethune’s head, heart and hand legacy.

“All that love and brain power in one room at the same time,” reflected Julius Sessoms, who, between the years 1959 -1971 was a student at Bonner, Campbell Jr. High, Campbell Sr. High and Mainland Sr. High Schools. Sessoms benefited from many of the honorees’ tutelage, including his father, Julius Sessoms II, a beloved teacher, coach and mentor.

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Tribute to deceased pioneers
“Our teachers told us if you could read an old book, you can read a new one, “ said Dr. Evelyn Bethune, managing director of the Mary McLeod Bethune Educational Legacy Foundation, Inc., granddaughter of B-CU’s founder and member of the Bethune-Cookman University Women’s Advisory Board. “We worked together and you made it work with what you had — hand-me-down furniture, equipment and books. We have paid your teachings forward. We have been successful because of you.”

The event follows tributes held for teachers who taught during segregation at Turie T. Small and Campbell Elementary schools.

A memorial tribute concluded the evening, with reflections in a souvenir program. The names of nearly 150 deceased pioneers are included.

Finally, each guest upon leaving was given a mini sweet-potato pie, baked by Desserts & More by Harriet Nelson, in homage to B-CU’s founder who sold sweet potato pies to keep the doors of her then all-girls school open.

Unsung heroes
The Unsung Heroes honored were Gloria Barnes, Beadie Baisden, Betty Bates, Oretha Bell, Elliot Michael Bennett, Lillie Awilla Black, Willie Frank Bolden, Frank Boston, Eddie Ruth Browning, Lawrence Broxton, Mildred Broxton, Lee Bryant, Ethelreda Burton, Vivian Charles, Julia T. Cherry, Willie Mae Church, Ollye Collins, Samuel “Rip” Collins, Jr., Alice Cook, Tom Cruise, Sally Shelton Culver, Willie Mae Culver, John Cummins, Garlon Davis, Miriam Davis, Rudean Davis, Mary Fears, Edna Fields, Walter Fields, Willie Fields, Lilla Fleming, Romanger Fredricks, Vivian Golden, Fannie Guyton, Norma Hankerson, Edward “Creamy” Hayes, Joretha Hayes, Patricia Hamilton Heard, Larry Hyde, Bernard Irving, Jacqueline Brown Ivey, Geneva Jackson, Montez James, Robert Johnson, Inez Kennick, Elsa Keyes, Charles Long, Geneva Loper, Arthur Lovett, Harold Lucas, Benjamin Martin, Margaret McClairen, Ruth Meeks, Jeanette Merritt, George Mims, Dorothy Moore, Richard Moore, Shirley Moore, Lindsey Morris, Minnie Barker Moten, Brunette Paul (Jones), Tyrone Presley, Free Love Pride, Marian Rivers, Harry Robinson, Delores Robinson Oliver, Nettie Ryan, Viola Sampson, Donald Scarlett, Ernest Sheffield, David Staples, Billye Staples, John Stevens, Lawrence Temple, Willie Mae Thames, Margaret Dawson Wallace, Elisa Washington, Mildred Washington Albert Williams, Daisy Hamilton Williams, Dorothy Flynt Williams, Naomi Williams and Madeline Young.
Members of the Bethune-Cookman University Women’s Advisory Board are Vera Barragan, Dr. Evelyn Bethune, Terrie Bethune, Logean Billups, Rhenda Brodnax, Coretta King Butler, Julia T. Cherry, Jouella Peniston Cochran, Katie Curtis, Lucy Desmore, Lerosa Dixon, Edna Fields, Delores Gibson, Carol Gorham, Betsey Hardeman, Patricia Hamilton Heard, Marva Hopkins, Edison O. Jackson, Florence Jackson, Azalean Jenkins, Glynnis Johnson, Trudie Mae Johnson, Senorita Locklear, Clemmie Minter, Juanita Minton, Melinda Morais, Harriet Colston Nelson, Merceda Micholson, Frances Patterson, Betty Prince Williams, Jimie Rhinehart, Marian Rivers, Elaine Smith, Mary Alice Smith, Margaret Symonette and Madeline Young. Members Emeriti are Agnes Fair, Bettye Hardeman, Cleo Higgins, Freddye Moore, Delores Philips and Ava Williams.

The Bethune-Cookman University Women’s Advisory Board is a charitable, not for profit organization whose nature and purpose is to provide scholarships and financial aid to B-CU students and to lend support to activities sponsored by the University.

The board has a history of providing support to Bethune-Cookman. From its early days as the school’s superintending board, a name accurately representing its hands-on work, it later became known as the Ladies Advisory Board and then the Women’s Advisory Board.

For more information on the board, call 386-767-6487. To make a tax-deductible contribution to the B-CU WAB endowed scholarship fund, mail to P.O. Box 11723, Daytona Beach, FL 32120-1723.

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