Flordia's Forgotten Jr College System

12 schools existed between 1949 and 1966 and then disappeared

From 1949 to 1966, Florida had two parallel junior college systems. This probably comes as a shock to you. You might know the one that was for white students because it is the predecessor to the current Flordia College System. The system for Black students only existed for 17 years and then disappeared over a three-year period.1

Very little has been written about the individual schools or the system as a whole. The one book on the subject, Magnificent Twelve: Florida's Black Junior Colleges, is long out of print. The Sun-Sentinel ran a story on the college system in 1995. Beyond that, not much else has been written on the subject. Outside of roadside markers, a building at one of the schools in the Flordia College System, or a satellite campus, the Black Junior College System is mostly lost to history.

At the system’s peak, there were twelve junior colleges (seen on the map above). The first, Booker T. Washington Junior College, was founded in 1949. The rest were founded after 1954. If that date rings a bell, that is when Brown v Board of Education was decided, and “separate but equal” public schools were ruled unconstitutional. These schools were mostly founded between 1958 and 1962.

The system was created not in good faith but as a last-ditch effort to thwart integration. The Flordia Legislature thought that the way to get around Brown would be to establish truly “separate but equal” schools compared to the sham that was the schools pre-Brown and show that the old standard was still viable.

The lack of good faith can be seen in the Black Junior College System's lower support compared to the white one. Nearly all of the Black junior colleges shared facilities with a local Black high school. The white junior colleges had campuses of their own. The presidents of the Black junior colleges were mostly also the principals of local Black high schools; the presidents of the white junior colleges did not have comparable split responsibilities.

In 1964, Carver Junior College closed due to low enrollment. The same year, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forcing states to desegregate public education. That sparked two waves of closures. Three of the junior colleges closed in 1965 and eight in 1966. Officially, the schools merged with a white junior college nearby. In practice, the Black junior colleges were closed and a few of the faculty were offered positions at the formerly white one. Only Lincoln Junior College fully merged with Indian River State College.

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To call it a system is an anachronism. I could not find evidence that they shared a board or chancellor like a modern college system. Other sources just call the schools the “Black Junior Colleges”, but I prefer to call them the “Black Junior College System” to parallel the current public college system.