‘Here I am, send me’: First Black graduate recounts integrating Gainesville High School  

Photo montage of LaVon Wright Bracy
LaVon Wright Bracy integrated Gainesville High School in 1965.
Courtesy of LaVon Wright Bracy

When the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously decided Brown v. Board of Education, it found that state-sanctioned segregation of public schools was unconstitutional—but it was only the beginning of desegregation in schools. 

In the years following the decision, early interpretations of Brown v. Board allowed dual Black-white school systems to remain in place, as long as Black students could choose to attend white schools. 

In Alachua County, most Black students did not make that choice to leave their school. 

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In 1964, plaintiffs represented by NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. sued to desegregate Alachua County Public Schools. That fall, three Black students entered historically-white Gainesville High School. 

LaVon Wright Bracy was one of those students. As the oldest of the three, she would go on to become the first Black student to graduate from GHS. Her father, Thomas A. Wright, was president of the Gainesville chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) at the time and was committed to integrating the schools. 

Bracy said the idea was to start with high school students so there would be Black GHS graduates almost immediately. The NAACP found a 10th grade student and an 11th grade student who were willing to be the first, but Bracy said her father insisted on finding a senior. 

Bracy had skipped the fourth grade to join the same grade as her brother, so they were both going into their senior year. Bracy said she tried to convince her brother that they should both go to GHS, but he was invested in too many activities to willingly leave Lincoln Junior/Senior High School, the town’s Black school. 

So Bracy went alone. 

“I anguished over it,” Bracy said in a phone interview. “I just told Dad, ‘Here I am, send me.’ My mother did not really want me to go to Gainesville High, but my dad said he couldn’t ask other parents to do what he was not willing to do.” 

Several weeks before the start of the school year, when Wright was still working to convince his wife to let their daughter go to GHS, he added the burden of convincing the FBI of the same thing. 

Bracy said the FBI had done a survey of the area and decided the atmosphere in Gainesville was “toxic” and unprepared to accept integration. The federal agency asked Wright and other proponents to postpone the plan for three years. 

LaVon Wright in the seventh grade.
Courtesy LaVon Wright Bracy LaVon Wright in the seventh grade.

Wright told the FBI it had had 10 years to prepare the area and had not done anything, so the plans would continue on schedule, according to Bracy. 

As a compromise, Wright had to drop off and pick up all three Black students from GHS every day, and the students could not participate in or attend any school events or activities. 

The night before the first day of school, Bracy hardly slept. She was ready two hours early the next morning and was too nervous to eat breakfast. Bracy’s mother sent her off after a glass of orange juice and a prayer. 

“She told me that they may not be nice to me, but I need to kill them with kindness. Be nice to them,” Bracy said. 

Two police cars escorted Wright’s car with the three students on their way to school, one in front and one behind. 

Bracy said when she walked into her classroom, she was surrounded by about seven white students who stood up and moved to the other side of the room when she sat down in the first row. 

“They told me that I was not welcome, that I was not going to make history and turn their all-white school into having a Black person in our senior class, I would not ruin their yearbook, I would not ruin their year, and that I needed to go back to where I belong,” she said. 

Bracy recalled that the other students spit on her and called her the n-word, and the teacher told them they did not have to sit by her. 

“I had a year of isolation,” Bracy said. 

While her brother played in the Lincoln band, sat on the student council and went to his senior prom, Bracy spent her senior year controlling her liquid intake so she could plan bathroom breaks strategically to avoid going to the bathroom while others were using them. 

If she sat in the cafeteria, she said other students would move to the library. 

“It was the learned behavior of hating,” Bracy said. “Their parents did an excellent job of teaching them that, this is a Black kid who has done absolutely nothing to you, but because of the color of her skin, treat her [badly] and let her know that she’s not welcome. And they did a very good job of that.” 

One day, six or seven boys beat her up, and she had to use a pay phone to call her father. She told him she was not going back, and he told her she did not have to. After about a week of staying home, Bracy said she asked to go back to GHS, because “if I don’t go back, they win.” 

From then on, Bracy said her treatment at school only got worse, and that while students made her feel unwelcome, teachers tried not to let her graduate. 

Bracy’s graduation was set for the same day as her brother’s, and she tried to get out of walking the stage, but her parents told her after “all the hell you’ve been through, you are going to march.” 

There were police everywhere for the graduation, which was held at the University of Florida. Bracy said she did not know if the police presence was normal, or if it was related to the rumor that some students were planning to kill her at graduation. 

LaVon Wright Bracy
Courtesy of LaVon Wright Bracy LaVon Wright Bracy

In spring of 1965, Bracy became the first African American graduate of Gainesville High School. She chose to attend Fisk University instead of UF because she needed to “heal” after her senior year at GHS. 

Bracy went on to get her master’s degree from the University of Miami and eventually circled back to UF for a doctorate in higher education administration. She now lives in Orlando and has written a book about her senior year to educate elementary school students. 

Bracy said she has devoted her life to speaking up for those who cannot speak up for themselves, but she worries that Florida wants to “turn back the clock” with the elimination of DEI funding and changes to African American history education standards for K-12. 

She said America should be a “welcoming reservoir for the world,” and that today’s youth should understand that racism is a learned behavior they should not allow in themselves. 

Throughout her senior year, Bracy said she felt she could not afford to quit. 

“I told myself that what I am doing will benefit those who are coming afterwards,” Bracy said. “If I am able to endure this, I can set myself as an example for those that will follow, that they will be able to do things that they will be confronted with.” 

In May 1968, the Supreme Court handed down another decision in Green v. County School Board of New Kent County, ruling that schools needed to eliminate their dual systems or Black students would not choose to integrate. 

In September 1969, four years after Bracy graduated, only a third of Gainesville’s Black students were attending GHS—the rest chose to remain at Lincoln. The all-Black school was forced to close mid-semester in February 1970 after the Supreme Court ordered Alachua County to fully desegregate students and faculty, according to Michael Gengler’s 2018 book, “We Can Do It.” 

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Kris Pagenkopf

Thank you for this story

Gary Nelson

Thank you, Mainstreet and Glory Reitz, for this and other important work you do.

CL Guy

I am going to have my middle school granddaughters read this article.

Real Gainesville Citizen and Voter

Looking back on that period from the the Gainesville of 2024, the fact that Dr. Bracy had to endure such treatment, such hateful spite, such reluctance, is astounding and unforgivable.