Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fighting Crime Also Fights Urban Blight

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fighting Crime Also Fights Urban Blight

Article excerpt

Byline: Tonyaa Weathersbee

In the 1960s, Wendell P. Holmes was swimming against a tide of intimidation and indifference.

But his desire to improve the education of African-American children in Jacksonville was too strong to let it pull him under.

That desire propelled him to fight that tide to push for school integration amid the tensions of 1964 - a decade after Brown vs. Board of Education and two years before he and Rutledge Pearson, the legendary head of the Jacksonville NAACP, began to push the School Board to improve black schools.

That was the year when a Ku Klux Klansman, William Sterling Rosecrans Jr., dynamited the home of an African-American family whose son, 6-year-old Donald Godfrey, was the first black child to attend Lackawanna Elementary School, at a time when avowed white supremacists, such as J.B. Stoner, were visiting Jacksonville to speak at Klan rallies.

But Holmes, who died recently at age 94, kept swimming.

He kept swimming in 1966 when as head of the Citizens' Committee for Better Education and the education chair of the Jacksonville NAACP, he consistently faced the hatefulness of members of an all-white Duval County School Board.

Those members would turn their backs to him and toss wads of paper into the air as he demanded that they do something about the deplorable circumstances of the schools that black children were forced to attend.

"They [black children] had used textbooks, there was a lack of equipment in science labs, a lack of sports equipment," Holmes told me in 2009. "Black children were being treated like second-class citizens ...

"I had two children, and I didn't want them going to unequal schools ... somebody had to stand up and say, 'You're not going to continue to do that to black children.'"

He also had to summon courage because his demands led police to arrest him and Pearson on charges of contributing to the delinquency of minor children when in 1966 more than two-thirds of black children boycotted the schools to protest their second-class status. …

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