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Letter on Education and Jim Crow

From: Biographical records on Mary McLeod Bethune, collected by Daniel M. Williams, Series M95-2

The letter included here is an artifact from the age of Jim Crow; an era of legal segregation characterized by violence and discrimination against African-Americans. The author of the letter, Florence Lovell Roane, was a Professor of English at Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona.

Her son Lovell was accepted to a college preparatory school in Niagara Falls, New York, based on glowing recommendations from his pastor, physician, and school principals. When he arrived, he was denied admittance on account of his race.

The headmaster of the school explained to his mother: “I forgot to ask for a picture because I was so sure that Lovell was a white boy.”


Letter from Professor Florence Lovell Roane at Bethune-Cookman College to Daniel M. Williams while he was working on a biography of Mary McLeod Bethune

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Letter from Florence

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P O Box 1124
Daytona Beach
Florida

September 26, 1946

Mr. Dan Williams
Washington, D.C.

My dear Mr. Williams:

A wonder working power has been like magic leaven here at Bethune-Cookman College since school opened. Everyone seems willing and delighted to carry his load. And the loads are heavy. We have five hundred and thirty odd students and everywhere is crowded. The proverbial American lines are prevalent around us when students go for meals, or for books or for any need. All of the classrooms sweat and bulge with eager students. The Lady is a magic worker with administration and students and teachers are delighted. I have written in my notes little paragraphs here and there which I determine to send to you but they just don’t get out.

The $100,000 drive, invitations across the State, Testing, Secondary Education work and Elementary Education Work are mine to think about. My syllabi are still unfinished and my Lady still has no secretary and I am filling in.

My mother heart squeezes in between the professional moments to ache a little. Lovell went to Niagara Falls as was the plan but the Headmaster looked at him and said, “Oh, we didn’t know Lovell was colored.” From April to July they were clearing his eligibility. I met the requirements by filling in blanks of one sort or the other. Since he returned I have had a letter from the headmaster in which he states, “I forgot to ask for a picture because I was so sure that Lovell was a white boy.” Everything was all right, though, and he met requirements until they saw the color of his skin. The Doctor’s certification passed his health on; the Priests’ statements averred his moral character; the Principals of the schools showed his scholarship superior. He was a boy in all those respects; but God gave him a beautiful brown and he was rejected at the Church School. Well, he went into Canada, made pictures of the falls, came back to Philadelphia and saw Joe Louis defend his title via television — then home to Florida. There were compensations and he smiled and laughed and said, “I got mad at the headmaster, mother. He’s just a weak man.” I took him to Fessenden Academy down in Martin Florida, Sunday. It is a little school way out in the open country six miles from Ocala. He didn’t have a bed when I left. They were going to find him a cot. At Niagara Falls he saw the soft bed in the room set aside for him. He ate at the table they had planned for him. He tried on the cadet uniforms they had planned for him to wear. He looked at me in Fessenden and said, “Oh, [begin Page two]