Why do they call it that? Middleton High School and Blake High School, Tampa's segregation black high schools

11:33 AM, Feb 1, 2012   |    comments
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Can you believe as recently as the 1970's, black and white students in Tampa went to separate schools?

On this first day of Black History Month, we're looking back at Tampa's two all-black high schools.

Why do they call them Middleton and Blake High Schools?

Step into the halls of these two Tampa schools, and you'll be joining a history that's both wonderful and shameful.

Today, you go to Blake if you're gifted in the arts. You go to Middleton if your passion is science and engineering.

But for generations, only one factor determined whether you'd go to these schools: the color of your skin.

"Before integration -- which really didn't reach Hillsborough County until the early 1970's -- black students and white students went to separate schools," said Rodney Kite-Powell, curator of history at the Tampa Bay History Center.

"And, in a lot of cases, the separate schools were definitely different. There was no 'separate but equal' in Hillsborough County and schools throughout the south."

Kite-Powell says despite that disgraceful segregation policy, education in Tampa's black community managed to thrive.

Committed teachers, dedicated alumni, and mighty sharp students crafted Middleton and Blake graduates into important members of Tampa's society.

At least, the parts of society where they were allowed.

"The first African-American high school in Hillsborough County was George S. Middleton High School, established 1934. Named for a prominent black civic leader, George Middleton," Kite-Powell said.

"In 1956, Blake High School was established."

Howard Blake was a lifelong educator and principal of another of Tampa's African-American schools, Booker T. Washington, for 21 years.

But look at the photos hanging along the walls of Blake High and you'll notice the old pictures of smiling graduates -- stop.

That's because, in the early 1970's as Tampa's black and white students finally integrated.

Students were sent from Blake and Middleton to other schools across the city. And these two strong, storied schools withered away.

"These schools with such tradition were basically erased to accommodate that integration," Kite-Powell said, explaining that both schools dropped down to the junior high level.

"And it wasn't until much, much later that both of those schools were reestablished [as high schools], and the tradition was reestablished with them."

Finally, the school district reestablished Blake High School in 1997 and Middleton High School in 2002.

During segregation, Middleton and Blake had a rivalry that brought the black community together. The interruption of that rivalry lasted more than 25 years.

The alumni who pushed to restore these proud names still come home.

Men and women like Lue Henry Davis -- Class of '58 -- still return to Blake High School every Tuesday.

Here, they volunteer to support a whole new generation of mighty sharp students.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

We feature new "Why do they call it that?" stories each Wednesday on 10 News at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Check out previous editions of the Emmy-nominated series at our "Why do they call it that?" website: wtsp.com/callitthat.

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