School Board Votes to Close James Weldon Johnson

Posted on 10 January 2011 by The Florida Star Online

Written by Marsha Dean Phelts

In a meeting of the  Duval County School  Board last week, the  Board voted to close the  James Weldon  Johnson Middle  School. The decision to  close this academic  magnet school purportedly  is due to low student  enrollment.  According to the proposal  those now attending  James Weldon  Johnson will be assigned to Paxon Middle and Paxon’s  students will be enrolled at Eugene Butler. This move  is scheduled to take place next school year beginning  August 2011.

There are numerous questions; foremost is what  school will continue the respected name of James  Weldon Johnson? There should never be a time in this  city that a Duval County public school does not bear  the name James Weldon Johnson. Another question is,  after closing the school what happens to the building  and the site? The school board could give this property  to Edward Waters College as these two properties are  adjoining. 

In a Déjà-vu flashback, many instantly recall a similar  strategy deployed over forty years ago when the  entire school system was ordered to desegregate. Back  in 1969, a major implementation of the integration plan  went into effect. As a result of this plan numerous  schools in black neighborhoods were shut down to prevent  white students from being bussed in certain Black  neighborhoods. Those geographically named schools  in Black communities like West Lewisville/Forrest  Park, Oakland and Jacksonville Beach Elementary  were discarded and reduced to rubbish. Public school  facilities bearing names of prominent role models such  as Isaiah Blocker and A. L. Lewis were closed and torn  down, assuring that those schools never open again. In  closing these schools the names of positive historical  figures were erased from positively imprinting the  futures of the youth that James Weldon Johnson so eloquently  wrote of in his prose, 
“You are young, gifted, and Black. 
We must begin to tell our young, 
There’s a world waiting for you, 
Yours is the quest that’s just begun.” 

For over a century James Weldon Johnson has been one of Jacksonville’s great citizens. 

He was born in LaVilla, spent his formative years in the city and was educated in our public schools as high as the system provided education for Negro students and upon completion of high school and college in Atlanta. It was James Weldon Johnson, former student at Stanton Grade School who in 1894 became principal then added higher grades, (from 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th) while upgrading the curriculum thus establishing the first accredited high school for Blacks in the state of Florida. The contributions of James Weldon Johnson are too significant for his name to be retired from an active public educational institution in Jacksonville .

Jacksonville, Florida is the only place on planet earth that can boast of being the birthplace of James Weldon and John Rosamond Johnson, the brothers who in 1900 wrote the words and lyrics to “Lift Every Voice and Sing while serving as principal and music instruct or at Stanton High School.

Jacksonville appropriately should have a school named in honor of #1 James Weld on Johnson and his brother #2 John Rosam ond Johnson, #3 their mother, Helen Dillet Johnson , Florida’s first Black school teacher and their father #4 Jam es William Johnson, pastor of the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church who came to Jacksonville in 1869.

Upon the closing of James Weldon Johnson at 1840 W. 9t h Street, another public school bearing the name James Weldon Johnson must take pla ce immediately. Whether this is a new school opening or under constructed in 2011, this new facility should be given the name James Weldon Johnson. A second alternative would be to rename LaVilla the James Weldon Johnson L aVilla School for the Arts (if this school has not been named in someone’s honor).

Due to under performance of students enrolled in neighborhood schools in the Black community several of these schools are in danger of being closed by the state. This is not the case for the James Weldon Johnson College Preparatory Sc hool, nevertheless the school is closing.

Please contact school board members and ask them to keep an active public school named for James Weldon Johnson who in the millennium year 2000 was inducted into The Florida Artists Hall of Fame E-Mail and Phone:
• District 1 – Martha Barrett | barrettm@duvalschools.org | 904-390-2371
• District 2 – Fred “Fel” Lee | leef@duvalschools.org     | 904-390-2386

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