Real Talk, Real Solutions: Black pioneers reflect on navigating racism, segregation while integrating Florida schools

LaVon Bracy, Ingrid Burton Nathan talk about their experiences with racism, hate

ORLANDO, Fla. – Decades ago, miles apart, in the same state, LaVon Bracy and Ingrid Burton Nathan were going through the same struggle.

They are both Black women who endured all of the obstacles of education while withstanding the horrors of racism. Horrors that caused immeasurable anguish but also taught invaluable lessons.

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Ingrid Burton Nathan was born in New York. After being put up for adoption, her new parents brought her to Seminole County, where she was raised.

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In 1964, she attended Sanford Middle School and was the first Black student to integrate Seminole County Schools.

At just 14 years old, the then ninth-grader got a call from a white parent before her first day of school.

“She didn’t know me. She just said tell your parents you don’t want to go. Don’t go to that school tomorrow,” Nathan said.

Ingrid Burton Nathan as a student. She was the first African American to integrate Seminole County Public Schools. (Ingrid Burton Nathan)

That call would not stop her. She persevered.

She said on the first day of school, everyone was nice to her. Students walked her to class and sat with her at lunch, but as time went on, things changed.

She went on to attend Seminole High School, where Nathan said she was bullied and wasn’t allowed to join clubs.

Ingrid Burton Nathan as a student. She was the first African American to integrate Seminole County Public Schools. (Ingrid Burton Nathan)

She said she was isolated.

“When I walked through the halls, the hall parted like the red sea. Nobody wanted to touch me,” she said.

Just 140 miles northwest of Seminole High School, another young woman was living a similar existence.

LaVon Bracy is credited with being the first to integrate Gainesville High School in Alachua County.

LaVon Bracy was the first Black student to integrate Gainesville High School in Alachua County. (LaVon Bracy)

Bracy was a senior in high school when she said she endured isolation, just like Nathan, but her experience was much worse.

Bracy said she was spit on, called the N-word and beaten by white students who did not want the class of ‘65 to be the first to graduate with a Black student.

Bracy had a daily police escort from her house to the school, but that security ended once on campus. She recalls one beating that resulted in her getting stitches from the front to the back of her head.

“They said if you stay here this will be the worst year of your life... and they were true to their word. It was the worst year of my life,” Bracy said.

But like Nathan, Bracy endured.

News 6 anchor Ginger Gadsden is joined by LaVon Bracy and Ingrid Burton Nathan, who helped integrate schools in Alachua and Seminole counties. (Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

“My dad told me I didn’t have to go back and I stayed home about four or five days and I said, ‘Dad, take me back,’” Bracy said.

The reason, she said, is simple.

“I said if don’t go back, they win and I just can’t afford to let them win,” Bracy said.

And she did not.

Through it all, both women persevered, setting an example for what strength and long-suffering can accomplish.

LaVon Bracy would go on to graduate from the University of Florida with a doctorate degree. She is the publicist for a children’s book on integration called A Brave Little Cookie.

LaVon Bracy and Ingrid Burton Nathan (left to right) thumbing through Bracy's book, “A Brave Little Cookie," which reflects on integration. (Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

Nathan graduated in the top 10% of her class and was selected to be a member of the National Honor Society. She went on to become a teacher, spending nearly 40 years teaching Spanish at Lake Brantley and Lake Mary high schools.

On Wednesday, she will be honored for her perseverance in the face of adversity by Seminole County Public Schools. The district will host a building naming ceremony in honor of Nathan at Sanford Middle School.

About the Author:

Robert Brown is the assignment manager at News 6. He joined the team in July 2018 as a producer and was promoted in 2020. Before moving to The City Beautiful, he spent six years in Jacksonville at WJXT-TV. Robert graduated from Florida International University with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism.