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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Gainesville native’s book chronicles the integration of local schools


In fall 1961, then-17-year-old Michael Gengler took a poll for his high school’s newspaper.

The poll asked Gainesville High School students if they were in favor of desegregation. Sixty-two percent of the student body said no.  

“I was disappointed,” Gengler said. “Being from Gainesville and having a strong connection to the community, this was something I wanted to investigate.”

Now, more than 50 years later, Gengler, 74, who was born and raised in Gainesville, wrote a book called “We Can Do It: A Community Takes on the Challenge of School Desegregation.”

His first book analyzes the history of Gainesville’s battle with school integration and is available to purchase Tuesday.

Gengler began his research six years ago, focusing on how Gainesville faced the national conflict of desegregation in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s and the integration of Gainesville High School and Lincoln High School. The two high schools did not integrate until January 1970, which was the middle of the school year, said Ryan Morini, associate program director of UF’s Samuel Proctor Oral History Program. Many of the interviews Gengler used for research were from the history program.

“There was a lot of protest and conflict over that,” Morini said.

The oral interviews, with more than 80 retired teachers and alumni, focus on how the integrations affected people, because students had to begin at new schools in the middle of the year, and how they adapted to these circumstances, Gengler said.

The retired lawyer also used information like archived The Gainesville Sun newspaper articles.

Gengler said he hopes the book will help the community gain a better understanding of desegregation.

“I hope what people get from this book is a good understanding of the facts,” Gengler said.

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