By Compiled by staff writer Thomas Tobin and news researcher Kitty Bennett from Times files
Published May 21, 2003
Leon W. Bradley Sr.
His name is on the case that changed the racial makeup of Pinellas schools for more than 30 years. Bradley, a former Clearwater police officer, was convinced his son would not get a good education at all-black Pinellas High School. But the School Board denied his petition to transfer his son to John F. Kennedy Middle School. Thus was born the 1964 lawsuit known as Leon W. Bradley et al vs. the Board of Public Instruction of Pinellas County, filed in U.S. District Court in Tampa by Bradley and five other parents: Charles Rutledge, Alexander Green, Dan Bones, Sam Devine and Emma Lee Barton. The lawsuit's final order is the mechanism that spawned the Pinellas school choice plan. Bradley died in 1989.
Rutledge, now 78 and living in Clearwater, is the only living plaintiff in the desegregation case. His youngest daughter - Janice Mobley, an award-winning Pinellas schoolteacher - benefited from the court fight. She was bused her senior year to newly integrated Dunedin High. Rutledge and his wife, Geleater, celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary last year. He is a retired building contractor.
He was one of the first black students to be bused in 1970, first to previously white Boca Ciega High and then to Dixie Hollins. He remembers the crowds of angry white adults meeting the buses with hostile words, the fistfights and the rumors of riots. He played on the Dixie Hollins football team, whose school song was the Confederate anthem Dixie. "We supported desegregation," Brown said in 1992. But "I think we really felt like we were victims more than pioneers." Brown, 47, is a St. Petersburg Realtor and civic leader.
The Rev. H. Robert Gemmer
After the 1971 federal court order that required busing for desegregation of schools, Gemmer, an NAACP official and civil rights activist, was instrumental in mapping out the plan for Pinellas County students. He died in 1992.
He was the associate county school superintendent who coordinated the busing plan. He kept the district in compliance with the federal court order by adjusting zoning lines and making sure schools didn't exceed the 30 percent black student cap. He took insults from parents and was under frequent pressure from colleagues and School Board officials. He died in 1990. A middle school in Oldsmar is named for him.
James B. Sanderlin
He was the young St. Petersburg lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund who took the Bradley case and won it in 1971. He became a county judge the next year. He was later elected a circuit judge and appointed to the 2nd District Court of Appeal. He died in 1990.
Floyd T. Christian
He was superintendent of Pinellas schools from 1948 to 1965 and typified white officialdom's early resistance to desegregation. But within a few years, Christian had a change of heart. He became state commissioner of education in 1965 and a staunch defender of desegregation. Christian's career ended in disgrace in 1975 when he spent several months in federal prison for income tax evasion. He lived in Sarasota for two decades until he moved to a St. Petersburg retirement community in 1997. He died in 1998 at age 83.
He became deputy Pinellas school superintendent in 1972 during a period of strong anti-busing sentiment. He defended busing, promoted a number of black administrators and met frequently with parents of both races. Members of the local Nazi Party posted a proclamation on the front door of his house and left threatening messages on his answering machine. He retired in 1981 after 31 years with the Pinellas schools. After leaving the schools, he was a consultant for other school systems and spent a year as the interim head of the Juvenile Welfare Board. Sakkis is 81 and lives in St. Petersburg.
He is the lawyer who took up the desegregation case for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund after Sanderlin became a judge. He is 58, and practices law in St. Petersburg.
Joseph P. Lieb
An Eisenhower appointee to the federal bench, Lieb presided over the first desegregation of Pinellas schools and two other counties. He scrupulously followed the lead of higher federal courts when school desegregation cases began to come his way in the middle 1960s, even though his decisions were sometimes at odds with his own conservative leanings. When he died in 1971 at the age of 70, the desegregation case passed to Judge William Terrell Hodges.
William Terrell Hodges
In 1999, he stepped down from full-time judicial status after 28 years on the federal bench. He is still working as a federal judge in Ocala, where he has been involved in an age-bias lawsuit by former Florida Power Corp. employees. Hodges is 69 and lives in Gainesville.
The U.S. District judge overseeing the choice plan, Merryday was appointed to the federal bench in 1992. His order in August 2000 formally ended the 1964 lawsuit. He lives in Tampa and is 52.
Charles J. Crist
He was a prominent physician who served on the Pinellas School Board for 10 years, stepping down in 1977. He threatened to resign rather than approve court-ordered desegregation, and voted to appeal the order to the U.S. Supreme Court. His views moderated considerably during his board tenure. He is 70 and lives in St. Petersburg. He is the father of state Attorney General Charlie Crist.
He was chairman of Parents Against Forced Busing in the early 1970s. The group held rallies attended by thousands of parents, asked President Richard Nixon to investigate the desegregation plan and advised parents on ways to keep their children from attending public schools. The group's slogan was "No! No! Ours won't go." Buice died in 1996 at age 78 in Belleair.