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A dream realized: Lee County celebrates 50 years of desegregation

 

WGCUWGCU is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of Lee County schools in the form of “Reading, Writing, and Civil Rights,” a documentary produced by WGCU and hosted by the Office of Community Outreach.

According to the WGCU website, “Reading, Writing, and Civil Rights” is a TV documentary in which “several Southwest Florida residents share their memories of being the first African-Americans to brave one of the most dramatic social experiments of the 20th century.” The goal of the film is to show the dramatic events of the 1950s, 60s and beyond that eventually led to integration in the school district of Lee County, which “may have been one of the last to satisfy the courts.”

Prior to desegregation, states could legally require black students to attend different schools than white students — a result of the Jim Crow ideology of “separate but equal.” Many African-American families were upset by this policy because black students were often stuck with “old books, used uniforms and long bus rides,” according to a News-Press article by Ashley Smith.

Although schools were officially desegregated in 1954 after the famous Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit, it would be many more years before all school districts were truly integrated. Brown v. Board of Education actually refers to five major court cases in 1954 and 1955 that were related to the issue of state-sponsored segregation in public schools. When the Supreme Court ruled racial segregation of schools unconstitutional, it initiated the long process of getting every state to abandon segregation.

Ten years later, the NAACP filed a lawsuit on behalf of Rosalind Blalock, a black girl who “was denied admittance to the all-white Fort Myers High in 1964,” according to News-Press. The fight for civil rights for black students had come to Lee County, and the court case Blalock v. Lee County Schools marked an important victory for activists. This court decision is celebrated today

Nick Wobrock, a senior communication major at Florida Gulf Coast University, believes in the importance of remembering the historic event.

“Desegregation was a really great change, and it honestly should have happened much sooner here in Lee County,” Wobrock said. “I’ve lived in this area all my life. There may still be a rift when it comes to race, but we’ve made a lot of progress.”

“Reading, Writing, and Civil Rights” will premiere at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 25 in the Cohen Center Ballroom. The screening is free to attend. For more information, click here.

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