In this final article in our Black History Month series, we continue with the topic of achievements made by local African-Americans in the areas of education.
Following our split from Hernando County in 1887, Pasco County’s very first African-American School was established in Dade City.
From its inception, this little school made a significant impact in our community.
So, this week we trace the beginnings, history, and contributions of the Dade City Colored School through the years.
The Early School
According to school board records, the school was conceived October 1, 1888, when Freedtown resident Alec Brandon presented a petition to the school board to establish a school for the African-American children of Dade City.
By motion, the rules were waived and the matter referred to the superintendent with instructions to grant the school if the need demanded it and the first African-American school in Pasco County was granted.
However, by February 1889, the school was struggling to keep up its enrollment figures and the superintendent was instructed to suspend the school, unless an average of eight or nine students could be maintained.
The Dade City School continued in this manner until 1894 when it seems it may have been discontinued, apparent by its absence from school board records.
But, by 1909, the school had clearly been re-established with teacher L.L. Roberts.
And, it’s here where we pick up the research trail again, following the school’s history into desegregation.
Situated at the corner of today’s Martin Luther King Boulevard and 6th Street, children gathered in a small lodge hall owned by the local African-American chapter of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) — this, a temporary location for the school until 1911.
According to “Historic Places of Pasco County,” the school board paid the teachers' salaries, but parents were required to buy books.
Within two years, enrollment figures had outgrown the little lodge hall and from there, according to Pasco County land records, on April 22, 1911, William and Anne Jackson sold a small Dade City lot, measuring 50 feet by 85 feet, to the Pasco County School Board.
This lot fronting Lime Street, now 6th Street, was located behind the IOOF lodge and became the new home of Dade City’s Colored School.
Here, children, grades first through sixth, gathered in a more spacious, wood frame, schoolhouse with three classrooms.
According to school board records, during the 1912 scholastic year, Reverend Junias D. Moore, teacher of the Trilby Colored School, was assigned to Dade City.
While Moore’s background was in the Baptist Church, he symbolized education for the African-American community and became and ardent supporter of the Dade City School.
By 1924, he was appointed to the position of principal, but still maintained his role as a teacher within the school.
But, this early school’s success was dependent upon much more then a good faculty, it also needed the support of its community.
On February 15, 1924, the Dade City Banner reported the colored citizens of Dade City had been working hard to raise funds to keep the school open for three months longer than the term provided by the school board.
But, more impressive was the amount of financial support in this effort by the local white community, who contributed more than $200.
This move not only afforded more education to the area’s African-American children, but it also showed the community’s initiative, both black and white, in advancing their schools.
By 1927, growth once again necessitated that the school be expanded.
Following J.D. Moore’s donation of a lot on Whitehurst Avenue and with aid from the Julius Rosenwald Fund, a Chicago-based philanthropic foundation, a new building was constructed for Dade City’s African-American children.
Rosenwald, president of the Sears Roebuck Company, was a benefactor of education for African-American people.
According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, “By 1928, one in every five rural schools for black students in the south was a Rosenwald school, and these schools housed one third of the region's rural black schoolchildren and teachers, who served 663,615 students in 883 counties of 15 states,” including right here in Pasco County.
As part of the local contributions to the new school project, on February 6, 1928, the school board ordered that bids be advertised for the wrecking of the old Dade City grammar school, the materials from which would be used in construction of a new school for African-Americans.
After six months, on August 6, 1928, the school board inspected the new school on Whitehurst Avenue, and accepted it as complete—the new era of the Dade City Colored School was born.
From Dade City Colored School to Moore Academy
Reverend Junias D. Moore continued in his capacity as the school’s principal until 1931.
According to school board records, on June 15, 1931, a petition presented to the school board by Dade City resident Lillie Nance, on behalf of Dade City’s African-American residents, requested the removal of Moore from his position.
Although it remains unclear what prompted this action, the matter was deferred to the July 30, 1931 meeting, when Spellman College graduate Etta L. Burt was appointed principal—the first of the school’s faculty to hold degree.
In honor of Moore’s commitment to the school and the advancement of education among the black community, the Dade City Colored School was renamed to Moore Academy.
The academy’s new principal, Etta Burt, was subsequently succeeded by 29-year-old Bethune-Cookman graduate, Odell Kingston Mickens, who arrived to Dade City in 1933.
With his new associate’s degree, according to the St. Petersburg Times, Mickens was hired as principal at Moore Academy for $60 a month, although the school board couldn’t afford to pay him for the first four months.
In his new position, the young Mickens not only moved the school into a new direction, but he was also faced with many challenges, including a devastating fire.
According to school board minutes, on the night of July 6, 1936, the Moore Academy was totally destroyed by a fire of unknown origins, leaving faculty and students in a state of utter loss.
Within a month, according to the Dade City Banner, the school board had directed the superintendent to make arrangements to replace the destroyed school building.
By September, plans were already beginning to materialize.
According to Historic Places of Pasco County, temporarily, classes were held at St. Paul and St. John churches, and in a building located on Main Avenue, now M.L.K. Boulevard.
Mickens organized a School Aid Club, headed by James Irvin, to provide furnishings and materials for the new school.
The group raised money through the African-American churches and, for 35 cents each, purchased 900 used seats from Blessed Trinity Catholic School in Ocala.
Eventually the Dade City Colored School reopened in a new facility on Whitehurst Avenue, and, according to the Tampa Tribune, Mickens was able to extend classes through the twelfth grade, by adding a grade each year beginning in 1937.
In 1940, four years after implementing his plans, Mickens witnessed the first graduation when three students, all girls, received their diplomas.
Those three girls, Lillian Arnold-Calhoun, Mozell Thompson-Ford, and Lila Thompson-Roach, became the first African-American students to earn a high school diploma from the Pasco County public school system.
Through his effort, Mickens eventually added new courses to the curriculum such as home economics, taught by his wife, Christine, as well as agriculture and industrial classes.
During their courses, agriculture students planted gardens behind the school, which were harvested and prepared by the home economics class as lunch for the student body.
Those students enrolled in the industrial class made seesaws for playground equipment, built new sidewalks, and made repairs to the school building.
By 1950, the success of Moore Academy was evident. Even after the addition of a new classroom in 1947, the building on Whitehurst Avenue was becoming too small for its growing student enrollment.
Eventually, the decision was made to break the elementary grades away from the advanced high school students and, in 1952, construction commenced on the building of the new Moore Elementary School on East Main Avenue.
The Moore High School remained in the Moore Academy building on Whitehurst Avenue until 1956, when students moved into the brand new Mickens High School, also on East Main Avenue, next to Moore Elementary School.
With O.K. Mickens as principal, the new high school employed 24 teachers to handle the increased curriculum and enrollment.
On May 14, 1957, the school board took up the matter of renaming the schools. The decision was to retain the Moore name for the elementary school and change the name of the high School to Mickens.
Combined together the campus was known as the Moore-Mickens School complex.
By the times of desegregation, Dade City’s African-American community had grown extremely proud of their schools and fought to integrate instead of being phased out of the school system.
According to the Dade City Banner, Julia Harrell, chairman of the Mickens P.T.A., appealed to the school board stating,
“…the school[s] must be integrated, and not the Negro schools phased out. The Negro community is proud of their school and don't want to lose the identity. Why can't Mickens be integrated? We don't have nothing but that school and now you're going to take that away. It gives our young people joy and it is our social as well as our academic center."
Their request was granted and, according to the Dade City Banner, on January 20, 1970, the school board agreed on a desegregation plan to eliminate a dual system by Sept. 1, 1970.
The plan called for consolidation of Dade City’s sixth grade students into classes held at the Moore-Mickens School complex, a decision determined by a limited number of classrooms.
Those African-American students still enrolled at Moore-Mickens were distributed among other Dade City schools.
In 1981, Moore-Mickens officially became a middle school and served in this capacity until 1987, when the facility became an adult education center, with the name Moore-Mickens still retained.
Today, the Moore-Mickens Adult Education Center still serves its community proud and is one of only a hand full of segregated-era school buildings that outlived the days of Pasco County’s desegregation.