A young mans face symbolizes the emotions that reeled out of control on Oct. 12, 1971, at Dixie Hollins High School. Almost 30 years later, a reporter sets out to find the man.
[Times photo: Ron Pinner 1971]
By BILL DURYEA
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 19, 1999
When racial violence erupted at Dixie Hollins High School in 1971, a Times photographer captured an image of a young man in all his defiant fury. Who was he? Did he learn anything from what happened? Did any of us?
He's shirtless and that makes him seem a little wild, especially next to the cop with the Brylcreem hair and the short-sleeve dress shirt.
He is not named in the caption. He's just "Another Unidentified Youth," somehow perfectly symbolic of America in the early 1970s. Some kid was always raging about something, getting arrested for something.
A few months ago, editors at this paper began looking through the archives for photographs to put in an exhibit about the past 100 years of Tampa Bay history. This one stood out.
It was taken at Dixie Hollins High School, in Pinellas County, about 1 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 12, 1971, and appeared in the Times the next day. The photograph represents the thinnest sliver of time in a centuries-old saga of racial conflict. At that moment, racial harmony was taking a licking in the sun-beaten parking lot of the Home of the Rebels.
Earlier that year, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that busing was an acceptable means of ending the intractable problem of school segregation. White parents at Dixie M. Hollins High School didn't like it, but there wasn't much they could do.
But when the administration banned the Confederate flag, for 11 years the unofficial banner of the school, the parents took to the streets in outrage. For weeks, defiant whites circled the school in protest.
Then, the explosion. On Oct. 12, a small army of riot police formed a line between black students and a crowd of white people, both sides frothing with hate and fear. Whites still can summon indignation at the memory of rocks raining down on them, cutting heads, denting new station wagons. Blacks, none of whom lived anywhere near the school and still don't, remember being taunted with slurs and football cheers: "Push 'em back, push 'em back, waaay back." They felt hot spit landing on their backs.
The one thing nobody remembers is the name of the blond kid in the photograph, the one who seems like he was the angriest of all.
Chances are he's out there somewhere.
He's probably about 44, with kids of his own.
His hair is shorter.
He is likely a little heavier around the middle.
What you wonder about, though, as you look at the photograph, is whether he has changed in ways you cannot see.
You want to know what he thinks about the young man he was, because the answer may tell you about the man he has become.
Does he wince in shame as looks at a face that seems to embody a century's worth of Florida's twisted feelings about race?
Symbols don't change. But men can.
You just want to know if this man did.
If you walk into the office of Dixie Hollins High School asking questions about a photograph from 1971, one of the first names you will be given as a source of institutional memory is Sue Whaley.
Whaley, an assistant in Dixie Hollins' media center, has the youthful outlook of a woman who has spent most of her life at a school she loves. She went to her first Rebel football game when she was in elementary school. When she entered Dixie Hollins in the 10th grade she wasted no time joining the "Reb-belles."
"Basically a pompom girl," says Whaley. "It had a uniform that was neck-to-waist Rebel flag. It was gorgeous."
She graduated in 1973 and never moved from the neighborhood, a few blocks from the school, where she grew up. She still goes to the football games.
For Whaley, the history of Dixie Hollins High is not about conflict and hatred and violence. It's about the way a neighborhood knits itself around a school. It's about the way a neighborhood celebrates when the high school wins two state championships in basketball and goes to the playoffs in football, as the Rebels did when she was a child. That's the history you cherish, not that brief moment when some outsiders tried to take your heritage away.
"Our band still plays Dixie. There's not a time that that song is played that I'm not on my feet," she says.
You show her the picture. The Country Music Channel is playing on the TV in her living room as she compares the photo to the ones in her yearbooks.
"I'd swear that's John Humphrey," she says.
John Humphrey says the racial strife ruined my education. Yet hes now an education professor at Arkansas State.
After a few calls, you track down Humphrey in Jonesboro, Ark.
"It was a pretty unfortunate time, but I was never in trouble with the cops," he says. "Most of the time when these things happened, I'd head to the beach."
School was just plain dangerous.
"In one hallway there would be a group of redneck white guys beating up any black guy they could find. And in the other hallway there would be a bunch of black guys trying to beat up every white guy they could find," Humphrey says. The whole experience "ruined my education."
But only temporarily. These days, Humphrey is an education professor at Arkansas State. One of the subjects he addresses with his students: "What do we do about violence in the schools?"
You took a wrong turn in Arkansas, but you keep looking.
In a file cabinet in the records department of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is a folder of waxy yellow typing paper held together by rusty staples.
This is the somewhat jumbled official narrative of the incidents grave and small that occurred at Dixie Hollins from the moment the first busload of black students arrived at the beginning of the school year.
Everybody knew things were going to be tense, even before school started. Pinellas Park, which along with Kenneth City was the major feeder of students to the school, was not the most integrated of communities. The 1970 census listed only one black person among the 22,287 residents of Pinellas Park. Maybe it was the street sign on Park Boulevard that said: "No niggers after dark."
The real trouble started in the middle of September, when a biracial student committee recommended that the school stop using the Confederate flag as its unofficial banner. To this day, some Dixie Hollins parents maintain that blacks barged into the school and summarily dispatched this treasured symbol without regard for its history or the rights of the majority.
It is doubtful that the black students -- in a student body of 2,507 they were outnumbered 14-1 -- could have achieved this even if they had wanted to. In truth, superintendent Nick Mangin temporarily banned the flag only after the first protest from parents. But instead of sticking by an unpopular decision, he handed off the responsibility to the Dixie Hollins student council and let the nine students take the heat. Their vote on the flag issue was scheduled for Oct. 11.
All that the white parents knew was that the flag was threatened. They massed at the Kmart shopping center near Dixie Hollins, then lined up their cars -- 60 and 80 at a time -- and cruised down 62nd Street, honking horns and jeering at the black students. Hour after hour, these motorcades circled the school. Men took extra-long lunch hours. When they went back to work, their wives sat their young kids in the back seat and carried on.
The motorcades stopped for about 10 days in early October, after white and black students called for a cooling-off period. Then the racially mixed student council voted to eliminate the Rebel flag from consideration as the school's official symbol.
When the school banned the Confederate flag, for 11 years its unofficial banner, white parents took to the streets in outrage. For weeks, they circled the school in protest. Things boiled over on Oct. 12.
[Times photo: Ron Pinner 1971]
The next morning the cars lined up again at Kmart.
Sheriff's officials asked the protesters to disperse. But before they could do so, students began to emerge from the school on their lunch break.
There was shouting. There were scuffles. Some black students fired rubber bands at the cars, an absurdly mild act by today's standards of school violence.
Then pebbles flew.
Followed by soft drink cans.
And chunks of concrete.
Sheriff's deputies, state troopers, local police and school security officers formed a barrier between the blacks and whites.
The whites pushed through, and deputies wrestled some to the ground.
"Hell, no, the flag won't go," whites chanted.
By 1:15 p.m., officials decided to send the students home early.
As the black students gathered to board their buses, two long-haired blond girls yelled: "Nigger lovers! Nigger lovers! Police are pigs. We'll ship you back with them, too."
Rocks shattered bus windows as the buses lumbered out of the parking lot. Eggs splattered against the windows and oozed down the sides.
And a boy with stringy blond hair had his picture taken.
For Harlan Heshelow, class secretary-cum-historian of the class of 1973, what stands out about the violence is the irony of it.
"Dixie Hollins, who the school is named after, was the school superintendent, or the principal or something," he says. "(The school's name) had nothing to do with the Dixie flag."
That's not even the half of it.
Dixie Maurice Hollins was born in Pattonville, Texas, in 1887. His son would later tell the story that Hollins' mother named him Dixie so he would never be mistaken for a Yankee. He grew up in Kentucky, which had sided with the Union during the Civil War even though it was rich in slave-holding tobacco plantations.
The man who was tagged with the archetypal Southern name was made of similar contradictions.
Hollins was 24 in 1912, when he was named the first superintendent of schools in Pinellas. There were 3,174 students in the county. The two high schools -- in Clearwater and in St. Petersburg -- did not accept black children; the public would not have tolerated it.
But Hollins was a strong believer in equal facilities for blacks and whites. That stand lost him the statewide election for superintendent of schools in the 1920s.
"People felt he was trying to make the Negroes -- they weren't called blacks then -- equal to the whites," his son Maurice said in a 1991 interview. "He believed so strongly in education for everybody."
Hollins was 71 when the county named a new high school after him in 1959. It was a comprehensive school, the first of its kind in the state, offering vocational and technical instruction as well as the standard curriculum. Quickly, the school came to embody the working-class ethic of the concrete block communities that sent their children there.
Hollins died in 1962, nearly a decade before he could have seen the full realization of his educational vision. He never witnessed a meeting of the 1971 student council, of which four of nine members were black. And he never saw John Humphrey standing next to a black student in printing class.
He was also spared seeing an angry black girl wound a sheriff's deputy with a knife outside a school bearing his name.
The headline in the Oct. 13, 1971, St. Petersburg Times said, "Hollins Hassle Flares Anew." The paper reported that two adults and two juveniles were arrested. It did not name the teenagers, did not identify the grimacing boy in the picture.
The official police log of the incident, still on file at the Sheriff's Office, lists four people:
You look at the list and think: This has to be the boy in the photograph.
Finding him is not all that difficult. He lives in East Point, Ga., just outside Atlanta.
He was at school that day. And, yes, he got into a fight. But he isn't the guy in the picture.
Willie Gaskins is black.
Though he had always attended black schools, being bused to Dixie Hollins in 1971 did not frighten him, he says. And he wasn't all that bothered by the Confederate flags everywhere he looked. "I really didn't understand it," he says.
When did he realize he was not wanted there?
"Probably when they started throwing rocks at me."
[Photo: Michael A. Schwarz]
Youve got to give people a chance to change in life. ... Because theres one thing for sure were all going to leave here equal.
On the morning of Oct. 12, he was walking with a couple of black classmates when someone in a group of white students called him "nigger." He tried to ignore it.
It was the spit on his back that he couldn't abide.
He wheeled around and slapped the first person he saw. That person happened to be a white girl. Thus, the suspension.
The next year, he looked up in an art class and saw a girl smiling at him. "That's the girl I popped," he said to himself. Her name was Mary Baldwin.
"Yo, I didn't mean to hit you," he told her. She said she wasn't the one who provoked him.
"Some way we connected," he says now. "We became good friends. I went to her house a couple of times. She came to my end of town."
Their separate peace, though, could not overcome the hatred he felt at the school.
"I even quit the basketball team behind that," Gaskins says. "You look at things and you say to yourself, 'Why am I playing? Nobody wants me at this school.' "
He went to Boca Ciega High School his senior year, then left St. Petersburg for good.
Why? "White people."
He laughs, perhaps to take the edge off such a blunt statement.
Now 45, Gaskins lives by a "people is people" standard, which he has attempted to instill in his three children, one of whom is a police officer in East Point. Yet he acknowledges that he sent his children to all-black schools. Sometimes, Gaskins says, it's easier for the races to live apart.
"Integration? I don't know if it was good or bad," he says. "But some way this country has to come together. I don't know how it's going to happen, but we're going to have to find some kind of way."
Every name in the newspaper, every name in the sheriff's reports is a possible lead. You call these people and ask a simple question: "Do you remember the boy in the photograph?" The answers are not always what you expect.
Betty Newby remembers a different picture in the Times -- the one she was in. On Oct. 12, she was photographed screaming for help as her daughter was carried away by three deputies.
On Oct. 12, Betty Newby yells for help as daughter Audrey, 16, is carried away by deputies. Betty Newby seethes at the recollection that only whites were arrested.
[Times photo: Ron Pinner 1971]
Her daughter was never charged, but Newby still seethes at the recollection that authorities arrested only white people. "There was not one black student in that paddy wagon," she says.
It wasn't because she disliked blacks that she protested, she says. She simply did not want her children bused to another school. In the end she took them out of Dixie Hollins anyway.
"Most of my children ended up going to church schools after that," Newby says.
Ray Samec couldnt tolerate blacks in high school, but now, I get along with them great because we talk about Jesus, man.
Back then he was a rough, long-haired kid who didn't have much use for blacks. They didn't fit in.
"They didn't want to," he says. "They hung in little packs."
After high school, Samec fell into a life of drinking and drugging. "Brought me to my knees," he says. For a while he lived in a crack house, surrounded by blacks.
He's clean now and has something in common with the black customers at his tile store.
"I get along with them great because we talk about Jesus, man. The spirit's moving in here some days."
Then there's Ghale Thomas. He was so angry that day, nothing was going to stop him from getting to that black kid who hurled a concrete chunk "as big as a bowling ball" and dented the fender of his new Mercury station wagon.
"That was like spitting on me," he says.
He rushed at the line of deputies, grabbed the nightstick from one of them and cracked the deputy in the helmet with it. He was charged with aggravated battery. Later the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor and the judge ordered him to pay a fine.
He's 70 now and living in Brooksville.
"I'm sorry I done it now -- reacted so aggressively," Thomas says. "I realize now I was setting a bad example for my kids."
They have their regrets. But they don't give you what you want. They don't know the name of the boy in the picture.
You've called every person mentioned in the newspaper clippings, talked to the injured and the arrested, tracked down alumni and combed over hundreds of class photos to no avail. One last time, you look through the Sheriff's Office documents, looking for the name of a witness you overlooked before. Maybe somebody who was questioned by deputies but never arrested.
You come across the name Joel Faulkenberry, then 16, who was among a group of kids yelling at the buses transporting black students. You check the yearbook. No resemblance at all. One Friday evening, you call him anyway.
"The only guy with long blond hair I ever saw get arrested was Frank Fyock," he says.
It is, thank goodness, an unusual name. A couple of minutes later you have a number for a Frank Fyock living in Hernando County.
[Times photo: Lisa DeJong]
There were so many fights, after a while we kind of forgot the flag was the original issue.
You drive just across the Hernando County line to see him at his house, a comfortable one-story at the front of about 17 acres of pasture.
Fyock has a deep voice that rumbles out of the side of his mouth and absolutely no apprehension about reliving the day of his arrest. His unruly hair is neatly trimmed, front and sides, but long in the back. He's thick through the chest and his hands have the nicks and gouges of a man who doesn't fuss with Band-Aids.
"It's an interesting story," he says. "I wasn't really involved in the riot."
On the afternoon of Oct. 12, Fyock says, he was trying to escort his older sister to her car on the other side of the line of deputies.
"We tried to skirt the outside of the line," he says. "The crowd pushed us into the deputies. This deputy pushed my sister down with his baton. So I shoved him in the (face) shield and he went down."
The next thing Fyock knew, he was on the ground, too, and deputies were swarming him.
"They beat the crap out of me with their nightsticks," he says. He figures he had it coming and never claimed police brutality.
His mother came to pick him up at the Juvenile Detention Center. The authorities never pressed charges, Fyock says. His mother wasn't angry, he says, but she would have been if he hadn't stood up for his sister.
This is not to say that Fyock, then 16, was utterly uninvolved in the ongoing controversy.
He shared the belief that the school administration caved in to pressure from black students. And he mimicked what he heard at the dinner table -- that the blacks came in and took over, just like that.
"My parents were very racially biased, outwardly so. They didn't call them blacks. They used the n-word," Fyock says. He remembers the hateful sign on Park Boulevard.
"You got to school to ninth grade and there are no black people. You never play sports with black people. All of a sudden there are a bunch of blacks at your school."
There were so many fights that Fyock says they forgot what they were fighting for. One sickening incident sticks with him. On Oct. 11, the day before he was arrested, there was as an unusual number of fights in school. In a noisy hallway between classes he turned to see a black girl on fire. Someone had walked up behind her and doused her with lighter fluid. She rolled on the ground and smothered the flames. She wasn't badly hurt.
Fyock quit school before the end of 1971. He joined the Army for two weeks, hoping to become an underwater welder, but it didn't work out and he quit.
By 161/2 he was home and getting married for the first time. Soon he was living in Philadelphia, doing ceramic tile work like his father. He worked side by side with black men, sometimes at job sites in black neighborhoods.
"The whole thing at Dixie Hollins, those feelings I had just faded in the background," Fyock says. He realized how much he had in common with black people. "We were poor, too. We had a lot of the same problems at home."
He divorced and married again quickly. He started his own tile business, pledged to himself he would retire by 30 and nearly made it. He bought 20 acres in southern Hernando County and moved his family there.
He has carved out exactly the life he wanted. One year ago, at 43, he officially retired.
He and his wife, Sherrilyn, spend their days home-schooling their two sons, Jake and Hank, 11 and 9. The couple worry about kids' misbehaving at school, but ultimately, they will let the boys join the public school system, just like their older sister, Alexis, who goes to Springstead High School. She has her license, but her dad likes to drive her to school.
The rest of the time?
"I sit at home and watch my computer all day, checking my investments," Fyock says. "I day-trade sometimes."
One thing he does not do is dwell on the subject that preoccupied so many of his friends and family nearly 30 years ago.
In some ways, that's a good thing. As a symbol of our changing attitudes toward race, Frank Fyock shows how much ground one man can cover in his lifetime.
Gone are the mindlessly parroted bigotries of his upbringing. Gone is the inclination to violence. In their place, a forward-thinking man without a college education has built the kind of life for his family that he always yearned for.
His daughter goes to an integrated high school free of racial violence. Without going out of his way, Fyock has befriended a dark-skinned Puerto Rican man from New York, one of his daughter's former gymnastics coaches. Clearly, Fyock's children do not share the same prejudices he had as a boy.
If there is a failure to ascribe to Fyock as a man, it is one many of us share.
We had hoped to have come further by now. Integration of schools was supposed to provide a better education for black people, but wasn't it supposed to teach us all how to live together, too?
You look around and you see schools slowly resegregating -- with a predictable lack of agreement between whites and blacks -- as school districts dismantle their busing programs. At home, if you're like most people, you look to the house next door and you don't see a person of a different color living there. Then you remember something Willie Gaskins said:
"When was the last time you had a black person to your house for dinner? Well, same goes for me with white people."
So great. We're not in the parking lot of Dixie Hollins anymore. But we're not exactly on the mountaintop either.
The opening page of the yearbook from 1971-72 acknowledges the racial strife that plagued Dixie Hollins that year, but only after offering a brief paean to the beloved Dixie and the Confederate flag:
"These symbols cemented a diverse student body into one unified group that shared the spirit of Dixie. Each graduate left with the spirit that each symbol held, but the essence of each tradition remained behind for future Rebels."
Around the text are arrayed these photos: a tiara on a blond head, a white student with a Confederate flag draped like a stage prop on his desk; two white hands linked and a white couple holding hands in the surf at sunset.
No black people are pictured.