Well-known educator, activist dies after stroke

By NICOLE HUTCHESON, Times Staff Writer
Published November 21, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - She was a warrior who attacked the inequalities in education from many battlefronts.

School. Politics. Business. And safety.

Her ultimate goal was an education system that treated everyone fairly, from students to teachers and everyone in between. That was the only way to ensure learning took place, she said.

Adelle Vaughn-Jemison died at Kindred Hospital on Monday night after suffering a stroke. She was 77.

As news of her death spread throughout the city Tuesday, city leaders and educators spoke of her lasting legacy.

"Adelle devoted her life to equality, children and education," said St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis. "She made a big difference."

For almost 40 years, the Ocala native worked in public roles helping children. She started as a school social worker in the 1960s and worked her way up to assistant superintendent.

"She's one of the people who has made a profound impact on the lives of children," said superintendent Clayton Wilcox.

Described as a sensitive soul and a stickler for proper English, her compassion extended beyond the schoolhouse walls.

"I was a shy child, so there were times I didn't want to talk," said Rita Wesley, 39, who had Vaughn-Jemison as a babysitter from 4 to 7 years old."But I always remember her home being safe, warm and very inviting."

In 1968, after a St. Petersburg sanitation workers' strike, Vaughn-Jemison and others founded the Chamber's Community Alliance organization. The diverse group was charged with bridging the gap between the city's white and black residents.

"She really looked at education as a comprehensive responsibility of the community. ... What role did the family have? What were teachers doing? And what were other leaders in the community doing to hold those who had the specific responsibility accountable?" Wesley said. "Her passing is a great loss."

In 1978, Vaughn-Jemison became the district's assistant superintendent for the office of equal opportunity.

While tackling inequality in the school system, Vaughn-Jemison also became active in public safety. In 1979, she joined the St. Petersburg Police Department's Community Police Council, where she remained an active member until her death, said Bill Proffitt, a Police Department spokesman.

She retired in 1991. Seven years later she made an unsuccessful bid for the School Board.

Fast facts

A time line

1960s: Adelle Vaughn-Jemison's first job in Pinellas County was as a child welfare worker for the city of St. Petersburg.

1966: She became a county social worker for Pinellas County schools.

1978: Vaughn-Jemison became the district's assistant superintendent for the office of equal opportunity.

1988: Ran unsuccessfully for the Pinellas County School Board.

2002: Helped form the group Concerned Organizations for Quality Education for Black Students (COQEBS.)

Education: Talladega (Ala.) College, bachelor of arts in psychology.

Florida State University, master's of social work.