When the Miami Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority celebrated the organization’s 100th anniversary at a gala luncheon last weekend, a lot of nostalgia was served up with the meal.
The sorority chose to spotlight the six Miami-Dade County’s historic African American high schools. The audience laughed, applauded and some even cried, as sorority members remembered their alma maters by telling a brief history and often funny stories about some of their teachers.
Cecelia Jones recalled her days at Arthur and Polly Mays High School, while Dr. Mona Bethel Jackson fondly remembered her school George Washington Carver, fondly. Then came Roberta Daniels, who told the audience that the 87-year-old Booker T. Washington High School is "more than a center of education, it is a landmark of history."
But as the school system was integrated, all-black high schools were ordered closed and reopened as junior highs, later becoming middle school.
But Booker T. alumni and teachers like the late Marian Shannon wouldn’t give up the fight to reopen Booker T. as a high school. The battle was won in 1999, when a brand new Booker T. Washington High School opened it’s doors.
While the room was steeped with nostalgia as Daniels told the story of Booker T., the loudest laughter came when Naomi D. Porter spoke of Northwestern High, telling stories about one of her favorite teachers, the late Dorothy Maxwell Newton, and what a tough, loving teacher she was. Porter told of the time when her class received new language arts books, and how Newton lovingly caressed the books as she took them from the box.
"Then she had someone pass the books out to each of us. She told us not to open them until she said so. When it was time, we opened our "new books" and on the inside cover there was another school’s name stamped there: Coral Gables High School.
"Mrs. Newton spoke softly as she asked us to pass the books back. She placed them back in the box and sent them back to the school board. For the next two years, we didn’t use text books in her class."
Alstene L. McKinney, of the class of 1955, the last graduating class from Dorsey High School, remembered and honored the late Dana Albert Dorsey, the son of a sharecropper, who donated the land at Northwest 71st Street and 17th Avenue in Liberty City, where the old Dorsey High School building still stands. Since closing its doors as a high school, the building has been used for several purposes, including an adult education center.
"How could we forget the Dana Albert Dorseys of the world, who thought it not robbery to donate land for a black school?" she asked. The school was opened in 1937, and in 1939, it first graduation was held in St. James AME Church in Liberty City.
For 18 years, Dorsey High School stood as a beacon in the Liberty City area. Students were bused in from as far north as Hallandale, as far south as Railroad Shop (now known as Allapattah), and as far east as Ojus (near what is now Aventura), and from other areas, including Opa-locka and Bunche Park. McKinney said that in those 18 years, more than 1,500 students graduated from the school and became contributing citizens to South Florida and to the country.
Althea King remembered the youngest of the six pioneer African American school — North Dade High School in Bunche Park. Established in 1957, King said, "there was shouting in the streets, when we learned we would get our own school [in Bunche Park]." Shirley Gibson, the first mayor of Miami Gardens, was in the first graduating class of North Dade. The Rev. Dr. Walter T. Richardson, head of the Dade County Community Relations Board, was in the last graduating class — 1966.
"Our teachers told us we could do anything, and we believed them," King said. “And some of North Dade’s graduates went on to do great things.”