Reminiscing back on her high school days, Harriet Myers shuffles through old records of Dunbar High School as she recalls the memories of being a student at Dunbar when it was a segregated public school.
Myers is a native of Fort Myers, Florida, and is a board member for the Lee County Black History Society. She was a former student at Dunbar High School back in the 60’s.
“Our education was good as we knew it,” Harriet Myers said. “We got the books from the Fort Myers high School, which was an all white high school, with a lot of derogatory things written in the books…but we still learned.”
Dunbar High School was founded in 1926, and was named after the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. It was a segregated school for African Americans only, until it was closed in 1969. It is now reopened for all students in grades nine through twelve.
“Growing up with segregation was…different, different from what it is now,” Myers said. “When I was growing up here, we still had the white water fountains and the colored water fountains.”
Prior to Dunbar, there was no public education available for African American students past eighth grade in Lee County. Students from all over the county were bused to Dunbar everyday to receive their high school education.
“You knew that if you acted out, you were gonna get in trouble and gonna get your butt spanked back when I went to school,” Myers said. “The education really wasn’t as bad as people seem to think it was. We’ve had doctors and lawyers come from a segregated school.”
Two of the original classrooms from the Williams Academy, which became a part of Dunbar in 1935, are preserved with the original desks at the county-owned Clemente Park. The words previous students carved onto the desks from back when Dunbar was segregated are still visible.
“Back then, I enjoyed the education because teachers made sure you learned,” Myers said. “All that you have now, with kids being suspended from school, we didn’t have that going on cause you knew not to go to school and act crazy.”
Myers does not recall going to a segregated school as a bad thing. Instead of discussing the downsides to the segregated facilities, she spoke about the positive outcomes it has had.
“We went to school and enjoyed it,” Myers said. “The thing about it is in our school, everyone was like a family…everyone knew each other and everyone lived by each other. We always interacted with each other cause that was all we had.”
Myers has played a big role in the LCBHS. She works there as a volunteer to help plan and organize events, as well as to help manage the museum.
The museum is run by volunteers that help organize fundraisers and events to bring awareness to the museum. Jarrett Eady, the chairman for the LCBHS, actively goes around and gives speeches to schools and college campuses about the role they play with the organization, as well as the history behind it.
Eady helps manage what historical events they consider to be relevant to document, as well as what they put into their records. He feels as though the Dunbar community has played a huge role on the history of African Americans in Fort Myers.
“A lot of our history with racism in this country shows that when people don’t feel like they’re a part of something, they’ll find a community they feel comfortable with,” Eady said.
The LCBHS provides records of historic events that have occurred here in Fort Myers, and its significance to where we are now.
“History is relevant,” said Eady. “It shows us who we are and how we got to be here, so I think everything that happened in the past is still very relevant today.”
Dunbar was the center of activity for the African American community in Lee County. Everyone lived in proximity within one another, so they were constantly around each other growing with their community.
Myers has experienced the direct effects of segregation on her life. She looks as segregation not entirely as a negative thing, but as a significant point in our history that brought an entire community together to fight for what is right.
“We had events going on in our neighborhood all the time for us to go to,” Myers said. “I don’t like integration because of that…cause everyone is separated from each other now. But if we had not had integration, then we wouldn’t have been able to progress the way we have.”