School Desegregation Began on the Basketball Court
At a time when public spaces, neighborhoods, and classrooms were racially segregated, the basketball court was one of the first places in Pinellas County that integrated Black and White high school students. In 1966, Gibbs High School was the first Black school to join the Florida High School Athletic Association and compete against White schools. Their game against Clearwater High, a White school, garnered the largest crowd to ever witness a Florida high school basketball game.
In front of a racially segregated crowd—with Black people on one side and White people on the other—Black and White high school students played together on one court. Gibbs High School endured racial taunts, discrimination, and bitter opposition to this desegregation effort, and yet this event opened new worlds of competition and paved the way for further desegregation efforts in Pinellas County.
Court-Ordered Integration of Schools
In 1971, courts finally ordered schools to be racially integrated. They accomplished this by busing some Black children to schools in White neighborhoods and some White children to schools in Black neighborhoods. This initiative faced intense resistance for years, but also fostered the friendships and racial understanding among students and teammates that had been seen on the basketball court years prior.
Resegregation of Schools and Today’s Educational Inequities
The Pinellas County school board abandoned integration in 2007. Over time, schools gradually resegregated and the funding and resources available to schools that primarily served students of color declined. Pinellas County schools remain de-facto segregated by race today and schools that serve communities of color continue to struggle to achieve equity in education.