Last night I saw We Remember Raines, a very powerful movie for everyone in Jacksonville-- no, scratch that. Everyone in the U.S.
William M. Raines High School is the alma mater of the filmmaker, Emanuel Washington. We Remember Raines tells the story of Raines High School from its start in the early 1960’s until 2011. It proves, without a doubt, that Raines can be a college-prep school because it was one. The movie's hopeful message is that it can be college-prep again.
Until 1971, Jacksonville had two school districts: one for whites and one for blacks. When Raines opened in the mid-1960’s, all black schools lacked the resources and physical amenities of white schools.
In 1958, Matthew Gilbert High was the heart of the Eastside black community. Earl Kitchings, the school’s football coach, recalls:
We had to use a practice field that was composed of sandy soil that was at least 2.5 inches deep. We had no provisions to mark off a field where we could gauge our activities accordingly…so we had to improvise in just about every practice session for everything we wanted to do…[for example, the field had no goal posts]
Separate and unequal school systems were officially in place until 1970. In 1970, there were 20 all-black schools, and another 8 were 90 percent black. 77.6 percent of all Negro high school students went to a school that was 90 percent black.
Jacksonville’s decision-makers felt the pressure of African-American residents who wanted an equal education for their children and the students themselves. Rodney Hurst's personal account of the sit-in demonstrations in Jacksonville and Ax-Handle Saturday is a great picture of the resistance and protests. Since 1954, when the Supreme Court ruled the 2-district system unequal, whites were adamant that they would not attend school with blacks. So in the mid-1960’s white decision-makers came up with a solution.
Build a new $2 million high school for blacks! Less than a mile away from the white high school!
This was also in response to the fact that all Jacksonville high schools were disaccredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in the 1960’s. In other words, at that time, all Jacksonville students were considered less prepared and less likely to succeed in college. The problem was Jacksonville was not spending enough money on educating its children, and the school system needed to catch up with the rest of the nation.
Academics were of utmost importance at Raines, and it was the first school in Jacksonville to regain accreditation from SACS. The athletic program at Raines shined in all sports, and especially football. Within the first 10 years the school was open, six young black men blazed a path to the NFL. School clubs such as the Rainesmen and Ladies of Raines turned out leaders who, today, are engaged in preserving Raines culture and history.
One of those people is Cleve Warren, President and CEO of Essential Capital Finance, Inc. The filmmaker asked him: “Why was Raines so successful?” His reply: "Simple. It hired the best teachers in Jacksonville."
And why did that happen at Raines in the mid to late 1960s? One reason is ironic and the other iconic. Ironically, the two-system school district denied all black teachers from teaching white students; they had to teach in all-black schools. Most black teachers at Raines earned master’s and doctoral degrees at universities in the North (e.g. Columbia, Illinois University) or historically black colleges in the South (Florida A&M, Bethune-Cookman) and chose to return to Jacksonville. The second reason Raines had the best teachers in Jacksonville was a man named Andrew Robinson, who became an icon in Florida’s education community. He hired the very best teachers in Jacksonville, who happened to be black, and brought them all to Raines. And he created a school culture that continued long after he left there.
Andrew Robinson’s influence at that time is unimaginable nowadays. He created a culture of educational excellence and integrity that was the envy of Northeast Florida. One of his frequent sayings was: “What you learn after you know it all, is what counts.”
I love this because it means "after you know it all," (you’ve earned all the degrees that you’ll get), the real learning begins. It also suggests a core principle here at JCCI: knowledge is for getting stuff done, not for having, hoarding, and showing off. It also suggests humility when it comes to education and expertise. In other words, knowledge is really about creating relationships with others and building community. It is not for defining the self apart from others.
Andrew Robinson at University of North Florida, where he was the first African-American president of a Florida university.
Last week I was on vacation in Connecticut, which is where my people come from. I was on the Connecticut River at a family reunion. However, in the North, people have some very odd ideas about the South. It gets me every time. Someone there threw me off: “I imagine it’s pretty segregated down there.” Hmm…perhaps it’s more segregated than where that relative lives-- in Brooklyn, NY. I don’t know-- Spike Lee’s films suggest otherwise.
We Remember Raines has given me an excellent answer to all those folks asking about racism in the South and my choice to live in Jacksonville for nearly 20 years. From now on I will reply with something along these lines: “Jacksonville is home to some of the most accomplished, creative, inspiring, thinkers and doers in the U.S. And that’s because we have an incredibly strong and vibrant African-American community here. I’m proud to live in Jacksonville.”
This screening of We Remember Raines was made possible by JCCI Forward, our leadership development program. For more information about Forward’s amazing work, check out their website. Or better yet, come to their next training: “Leading by Facilitation and Consensus 101.” And if you are interested in the current state of equity between races and ethnic groups, check out JCCI's Race Relations Progress Report.