While watching the respectful and dignified way in which the officers brought the South Carolina Confederate Flag down, I had a flashback of integrating Dixie Hollins High School in September of 1965 in Kenneth City, a suburb of St. Petersburg.
Kenneth City was unequivocally Klan territory, along with Pinellas Park, Palm Harbor and extreme north Pinellas County.
I never forget it. It was pre-desegregation in my freshman year at Dixie. Desegregation was not implemented until 1971 in Pinellas County.
We entered the student assembly in the school’s auditorium. I watched everyone with extreme scrutiny because I wanted to go to school with all my friends at the traditional historical black Gibbs High School.
The first thing I notice was the Dixie Rebel Flag and the Rebel mascot. The next thing I notice was when everyone stood up they had the cheerleaders and staff lead the entire student body in singing the school song “I Wish I Was In Dixie.”
I guess I went immediately into my Martin Luther King, Jr. civil rights mode and said: “Hell no, I ain’t standing up for that, and I damn sholl won’t be singing Dixie.” Other blacks thought I was crazy. The white students were upset and called Principal Watson and staff telling them: “This nigger won’t stand up and sing the school song!”
Principal Watson and staff came over and stood over me while I stayed seated. They told me to stand up like everyone else. I said, “No, I’m no damn rebel and I will never sing Dixie for you or Jefferson Davis!”
They asked me what was wrong with me. They reiterated their command. Again, I refused. At this point, I was thrown out the auditorium assembly and banned from attending any more assemblies. For the rest of the school year I would sit outside the assemblies while everyone else enjoyed tradition at Dixie in Dixie.
I graduated in 1968 and refused to take a senior photo for the yearbook because I didn’t want it as a showcase for my legacy. I’ve never attended any reunions on general principle since it marked them the worst years of my life. Never heard the word nigger used such much in all my life with all the other characterizations shouted at us!
50 years later, I was drawn like a magnet to see white and black alike stand together to bring down what I could not.
– Sevell Brown –