SANFORD, Fla. – Seminole County Public Schools is naming Building #2 at Sanford Middle School on Wednesday in honor of the first African American student who integrated schools nearly 60 years ago.
It’s an honor decades in the making for Ingrid Burton Nathan.
“I never dreamt this would happen in my lifetime,” Nathan said.
Nathan returned to Sanford Middle School on Wednesday nearly 60 years after she became the first Black student to integrate Seminole County Public Schools. She spoke to News 6′s Ginger Gadsden during the latest episode of Real Talk, Real Solutions.
She recalled the night before then 14-year-old was set to attend Sanford Middle School in 1964. She said she got a threatening phone call from a white parent.
“She told me not to go to the white school. ‘Tell your parents that you don’t want to go to that white school. Don’t you go to that white school tomorrow,’” Nathan said. “And I said, ‘Yes ma’am. I will’ and I hung the phone. I said nothing. I just went to bed.”
The next day she said her father drove her to school. The ninth-grader was escorted by police. She remembers on that first day everyone was nice to her, but after that she said she was on her own. She described her time at Sanford Middle School as lonely.
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“My experience at Sanford middle was one of just being on my own, alone, not associating in groups,” she said.
Nathan said things changed when she went to Seminole High School the next year. Nathan said she was bullied, wasn’t allowed to join clubs, and students accused her of cheating.
She didn’t let any of that stop her. Nathan graduated in the top 10% of her class and then she went to Florida Southern College to study Spanish.
She eventually returned to Seminole County to teach Spanish for nearly 40 years at Lake Brantley and Lake Mary high schools.
She told Gadsden she shares her story so it’s never forgotten.
“After we’re gone there will be no more witnesses to what happened,” Nathan said.
“Which is why it’s important that we have this conversation now so it’s on the record so people will remember it and it will not be forgotten,” Gadsden said.
SCPS is honoring Nathan’s bravery and sacrifices on Wednesday during a building naming ceremony at Sanford Middle School.
Superintendent Serita Beamon said she changed history.
“I want to thank you for your courage, for being among the first to take those steps that ultimately led our entire district to being deemed unitary for all students,” Beamon said.
Nathan said she knows the building will last longer after her. She hopes it will serve as a symbol of hope for all students to never give up.
“People and students understanding that my name going on the wall was the effort of many people, of a whole community, and my people who believed in me. That means unity and that means love, that means working together,” Nathan said. “It shows that there is a good future possible in spite of everything.”