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Sunday, May 22, 2022

Lincoln High alumnus talks desegregation, school’s closing

When Albert White attended Lincoln High School, east Gainesville’s school for black students during segregation, he never paid for a single school lunch.  

It was an agreement the 72-year-old alumnus and author made with the school’s then assistant principal, John Rawls, in 1959 when he dreamed of joining the junior varsity football team, White said.

If White, then in eighth grade, kept his grades up while on the team, Rawls told him he’d never have to worry about lunch money in his pocket — in exchange for hard work.

“The teachers at Lincoln teached and preached,” White said. “They were getting us ready for this mean world that was outside waiting for us.”

White recounted his memories of Lincoln High in front of about 200 Gainesville residents Thursday inside Matheson History Museum, located at 513 E. University Ave. His story was the first speaking event of Matheson’s exhibit, which debuted Nov. 8, called “Liberating Learning?: The Story of Desegregation in Alachua County Schools.”

White based his lecture on his book, “Lincoln High School: Its History and Legacy,” which he co-authored with retired UF English professor Kevin McCarthy.

All residents should be aware of the county’s history of desegregation, particularly because of national racial tensions, Matheson Executive Director Peggy Macdonald said.

“We can only learn of today by looking to what happened then,” Macdonald said.

For White, Jan. 30, 1970 is a date he’ll never forget, when the all-black high school he graduated from seven years prior shut its doors for good. After the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, Lincoln High students thought white schools would simply open their doors. Instead, they lost their own school, he said.

“When you take something that you love away, you know it’s going to hurt,” White said.

As former Gainesville Mayor Jean Chalmers admired the museum’s exhibit, with a timeline of county desegregation and prominent Lincoln High faculty, she was taken back in time.

Chalmers, who served as mayor in 1985, said she remembered walking on West University Avenue to protest with hundreds of other young adults and Lincoln High students in December 1969 when it was announced the high school would be closed.

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“Lincoln was the cradle of black culture back then,” Chalmers said. “They loved that place, we all loved it, and we fought for it.”

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