Former classmates send messages to first student to integrate Gainesville school

LaVon Bracy made history when she integrated Gainesville High School in 1965

GAINESVILLE, Fla.LaVon Bracy made history when she and two other students integrated Gainesville High School in 1965.

She called it “a year of isolation,” because she said no students spoke to her, other than calling her the “N-word.”

[TRENDING: ‘Super fog:’ Weather event creates zero visibility along stretch of I-95 | Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis admonishes students for wearing face masks | Become a News 6 Insider (it’s free!)]

Even 50 years later when her classmates invited her to the GHS 50th class reunion in 2015, she declined, saying it would be too uncomfortable.

When News 6 asked her several months ago about possibly doing a Zoom with some of her former classmates, she was curious if any of them would participate.

They did and they had plenty to say about racism and speaking up.

It was Ralph Paige who reached out to Bracy via email to invite her to GHS’s 50th and 55th class reunions, and it was Paige who reached out to classmates via social media to help us pull a Zoom meeting together.

“What did bother me was that LaVon had some unhappy experiences,” Paige said.

Bracy has spoken for years about being among the first three students to integrate Gainesville High School and later being the first Black women to graduate.

It’s historic now, but she says it was painful back then.

Here’s how she described it to News 6 in 2020.

“As I proceeded to go to my class, I was stopped by 4 or 5 students saying, ‘We don’t want you here,’” Bracy said. “They used the N-word quite a bit. Two or three of them spit on me and said this was going to be a year of hell for me.”

We asked the participants how they felt when they heard that.

“It makes me feel like, what could I have done more than what I did?” Paige said.

Another classmate expressed a different sentiment.

“Mostly just a deep sadness that those of us who were attempting to be decent had so little effect,” Karen Jones said.

Like the class reunion, Bracy declined being a part of the Zoom meeting, but we played it for her in its entirety.

“I’m curious to see what they had to say,” Bracy said.

Joyce Perryman said she did not remember Bracy—the graduating class had more than 500 students.

“I was just maybe a product of my time,“ Perryman said. “I don’t remember feeling racist feelings, but it was just, I guess I was just sort of oblivious.”

Marsh Thompson said she felt she was “oblivious” too.

“I regret that the students that made those hard choices, or the choices were made for them, went through what they did,” Thompson said.

News 6 asked the participants how they feel about race relations today, more than 50 years after they graduated high school.

“It is so much different today, and yet it’s not,” Thompson said. “We have not come as far as I would have hoped that we would have come.”

Mel Laite graduated class of 1966.

“That’s the way I feel,” Laite said. “We’ve made baby steps. Okay. But it’s not near enough,” Laite said.

“We need to look at history, not rewrite it,” Thompson said.

“If we continue putting our heads in the sand and saying we cannot talk about racism because it makes somebody uncomfortable. Hello, make people uncomfortable,” Thompson said. “I think we need to be uncomfortable.”

Bracy said she was surprised by her former classmates’ comments.

“I just assumed that those who were intimidating me, those who were harassing me, those who were bullying me, my assumption is they spoke for the whole 550 students, and you assume that when no one will come to your aid,” Bracy said. “I think that’s what happens in America right now. You have the silent majority.”

News 6 wants to thank everyone who took part in this story. It was not an easy conversation to have.

Law enforcement officers say all the time, “When you see something, say something.”

The people in this report seemed to be saying something similar: When we see an injustice, we must speak out about it.

About the Authors:

Emmy Award-winning reporter Louis Bolden joined the News 6 team in September of 2001 and hasn't gotten a moment's rest since. Louis has been a General Assignment Reporter for News 6 and Weekend Morning Anchor. He joined the Special Projects/Investigative Unit in 2014.

Emmy-nominated journalist Kristin Cason joined the News 6 team in June 2016.