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50 years later, graduates remain grateful to caring teachers

June 23, 2017

PALMETTO, Fla. (AP) — The textbooks might have been second-hand, but the education was first-rate, say grads of Lincoln Memorial High School.

Members of the all-black Lincoln Class of 1967, one of the last classes to pass through the school, gather this week for the 50th anniversary of their graduation.

They’ll remember the 42 classmates who have passed on, and no-nonsense administrators like Carlos Haile, James Gant, James Tillman, and Joseph Bivens who insisted on academic excellence, and who fought to give them a fighting chance in life.

“We had 131 graduates and I hate to say this but a lot of them have gone to the great beyond,” Betty Lou Sailes Rhodes said. “We have a lovely memorial service planned for them.”

With the arrival of integration, Lincoln Memorial High School closed down after the 1969 school year, and became a middle school.

Lynette Edwards came to Manatee County as a ninth grader and enrolled at Lincoln.

“The embrace that I had from teachers and students made me feel real welcome here,” Edwards said.

“I had a wonderful education here, especially in English. We had an English teacher named Pop Brown that made sure that we were developing — it was almost like he was teaching college in high school. As I went on to college I really learned the value of that,” she said.

“In high school I was saying, ‘Oh he’s so tough.’ But those teachers really were concerned about us. They wanted to make sure that we were learning something that would take us into life,” said Edwards, who became a teacher, and principal, before retiring as Manatee County’s first African-American assistant superintendent of schools.

Joann Thomas Surrency also became a career educator.

“The teachers taught us, cared about us and made sure that we were prepared to go out into the world. I grew up in a segregated school system, and went to a segregated college, but my first teaching job was at an integrated school, and I was amazed at how much more I was advanced than my co-workers, all from my education in Manatee County at Lincoln Memorial High School,” Surrency said.

One of the most notable members of the class was Ray Bellamy, who went on to become the first black football player at the University of Miami. He also became Miami’s first black student body president.

Alex Bullock Jr. was drafted into the Army in 1968, and spent a hard combat tour in Vietnam as an infantryman.

Asked to reflect on his alma mater, Bullock said: “I just loved my classmates. I am glad they were in my life. I feel truly blessed by that.”

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