Remembering school integration in Charlotte County

Published 9:11 am Thursday, February 11, 2016

February is Black History Month, and the integration of Charlotte County Public School’s marked an important milestone in the lives of local residents.

According to Drakes Branch resident Eugene Wells, Jr., the integration of Charlotte County’s schools began during the 1965-66 school year with volunteer compliance. “Several students from the all-black Central High School chose to break the ice and enroll in the fall of 1965,” he said.

Two of those students were Mary Dews and Lottie Venable, both rising seniors from Central High School at the time.

Venable said she was told on a daily basis that she would never leave Charlotte County, go to college or be a teacher. However, those words served as motivation, according to Venable.

In addition to Dews and Venable, a group of eighth-graders also made the transition from to Randolph-Henry during the first year, said Wells.

Students included Kenneth Brown, Vera Butler, Caroline Flood, Bettye Forest, Robert Harris, Ronald Johns, Clarence Johnson, Annie Lovelace, Earnest Pannell, Marilyn Randolph, Mack Reid, Vivian Robinson and Sylvia Yuille. “These students came from the minority elementary schools located in the county,” wells said. “There were no ninth-, tenth- or eleventh-grade students willing to make the transition that year.”

Venable said most of the students agreed the transition was hard, however, they persevered.

While attending Randolph-Henry, Wells said many of the first-year African-American students participated in activities such as the glee club, choral, 4-H and JV basketball.

According to the Charlotte County Public School’s website, “financing was secured for Randolph-Henry and Central High Schools by David K.E. Bruce, who had a home at Staunton Hill in the Aspen area of the county.”

In addition, Central Elementary, Bacon Elementary and James Murray Jeffress Elementary were built for African-American children.

Today, the old Central High School houses the Central High Museum in the former library of the historic school.

Venable said she went on to graduate from Norfolk State University.