Education in West Ocala

  • <p><em>Photograph by Maven Photo and Film</em></p>
  • <p><em>Photograph by Maven Photo and Film</em></p>
  • <p><em>Photograph by Maven Photo and Film</em></p>

Education in West Ocala

The Ocala Freedmen’s Bureau promoted education among the former slave population and opened 87 schools around Florida. James H. Howard, a former slave owner, donated a parcel of land on the corner of Osceola and Third Streets for the first Black school in Ocala. Financial support for Howard Academy, as well as teachers, came from the North. Up until that time, there had been no public and almost no private education for Blacks in Florida; education for slaves was prohibited by law and free Blacks were made to feel unwelcome and encouraged to leave the state.

Schools for Blacks in Marion County continued to grow and prosper in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. By 1880, Howard Academy was run by Black teachers. In 1886, Wesley Wilkerson was appointed Supervisor of Marion County Negro Schools and served in that post until 1914. Tragedy struck when Howard Academy was destroyed by fire in 1887. A new school was built at the corner of Adams (NW 2nd Street) and Bay (NW 7th Avenue). The two-story building was constructed at a cost of $1,600.00.

By 1891, Marion County had 38 Black schools with a total of 2,476 students. In 1893, the Emerson Memorial Home and School, described as an "Industrial School for Colored Girls," was located at the corner of Madison (now NW 4th Street) and 23rd Street (now NW 12th Avenue). By 1927, it had become the Baptist Theological Seminary.

At Howard Academy, enrollment was up, and space was desperately needed. A separate elementary school was planned and the contract given to Levi Alexander. Students received their textbooks secondhand from Ocala public schools.

Following the Howard Academy Fire, a new school was built a year later at the corner of Adams and Bay, now Northwest Second Street and Northwest Seventh Avenue. Howard became a high school in 1927. In 1935, the building was badly damaged by fire and was torn down. A new brick building was constructed a year later near the site of the old building.

The high school at Howard Academy closed in 1955, when the students were moved to Howard High School, which is now Howard Middle School. That was still more than 10 years before county schools were integrated. The school building is currently the Howard Academy Community Center and houses the Black History Museum of Marion County.

Hampton Junior College, located in Ocala, Florida, opened its doors in 1958. It was one of eleven Black community colleges which were founded, at the urging of the Florida Legislature, to show that a "separate but equal" educational system for Blacks existed in Florida. The Legislature wished to avoid the integration mandated by the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954. At the time, the closest public college that would accept Blacks was Florida A&M University, 175 miles away. It operated under the direction of the Marion County Board of Public Instruction, with support from adjacent Citrus and Levy counties. Three representatives from each county made up the college's advisory committee.

Its original name, Howard Junior College, was changed during its first year of operation to Hampton Junior College in honor of Dr. L. R. Hampton, Sr., a local dentist who had advanced Black education in Marion County.

It began operations using the facilities of the Black Howard High School (today Howard Middle School), which meant classes had to be held in the late afternoon and evening. In 1960-61, its own facilities were completed. They consisted of a classroom building, a library shared with the high school, an industrial building, and an administrative building which housed faculty offices and the student lounge.

The only president of the college was its founding president, William H. Jackson. Like most of the black community college presidents, he was principal of a high school, in this case Howard High School, on whose campus the junior college was located. However, in contrast with most of the other principal/presidents, in 1961 he became full-time President of the college.

Its peak enrollment, in the 1964-65 school year, was 890. A total of 3,905 students studied there during its eight years of operation and 317 graduated.

In 1966, the institution was merged with Central Florida Junior College, today the College of Central Florida, which was also founded in 1958. It was the last of Florida's twelve Black junior colleges to be merged. Of the 778 students during its final year, 207 enrolled at Central Florida Junior College. Ten of the nineteen regular faculty members transferred to Central Florida.