Wherever Georgia Jones-Ayers went, she carried the yellowed deed to her grandmother’s home.
The narrow strip of paper was a physical reminder of that rainy day in August 1947, when police dragged her grandmother and dozens of other black families from their homes to make way for a school for white children.
The injustice of it, when Jones-Ayers was just a teenager, sparked a lifetime of activism. Among the things she fought for: renaming the school, now called Allapattah Middle, to honor the displaced.
It never happened in her lifetime. She died in February at age 86. But on Wednesday, the Miami-Dade County School Board finally granted the late activist’s wish, moving to rename the school Georgia Jones-Ayers Middle.
“For the young ones who didn’t go through what she went through, they will know the history,” said her son, George Jones. “It was important for her that they not forget where they came from.”
Kenneth Kilpatrick — who heads The Alternative Program, which Jones-Ayers helped launch to steer first-time offenders away from the criminal justice system — called the renaming “poetic justice.”
In 1918, the Ayers family built themselves a home in a section of the city then called the Railroad Shop Colored Addition. It was one of the few areas where blacks could own land, and a neighborhood was carved out for railroad workers like her father. Years later, Jones-Ayers would reminisce about the bountiful mango trees that grew in her family’s yard.
Some families had lived in the Railroad Shop for decades by the time the local school board decided to build a school there. The board swiftly got a condemnation order for the whole neighborhood, even as a number of families tried to block their evictions in court.
They lost. About 35 families who refused to leave were forced out by police. Their belongings were thrown onto their front lawns. The doors were padlocked, the windows were boarded, and “No Trespassing” signs went up. It began to rain.
A newspaper account at the time quoted one woman, Alean Johnson, cradling her 6-month-old and crying, “Where am I going with this baby? God isn’t pleased with this, I know.”
The lucky ones were able to spend the night with family nearby. Others spent the night outside, surrounded by their soggy belongings.
For years, Jones-Ayers organized reunions every summer for the families who were evicted. She pushed back against calling the area Allapattah, as it’s now known, and led efforts to rename local streets and landmarks after the families who first called the neighborhood home. She succeeded in getting Allapattah elementary local school named after the first African-American Florida teacher of the year, Lenora B. Smith. On Wednesday, it was Jones-Ayers’ turn.
“We will never right the wrongs that were done to those families, but this is a big step in trying to heal the community,” said public defender Carlos J. Martinez.
The family of school board member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall was one of those who lost their home to make way for the school. On Wednesday, she voted to rename the school after Jones-Ayers.
“It’s come full circle. No one on this board has any disagreement. No one. That’s the beauty of where we are now,” Bendross-Mindingall said.
In other business, the board approved regular attendance boundaries for three Coral Gables elementary schools: Coral Gables Preparatory, George Washington Carver and Sunset. The decision does away with a lottery system that was in place, which was originally started as a way to racially integrate schools.
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