By Wesley Martin
“My father wanted us to go to public schools, but he wanted us to have an education equal to the segregated white schools,” said Karen Augustus.
On Tuesday, the Escambia County School Board honored Dr. Charles Augustus by dedicating a wing in his honor.
“We received several proclamations and acknowledgments from [organizations like] NAACP, the Escambia County school board and from Kapppa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.,” said Karen.
In 1960, Dr. Augustus filed a desegregation lawsuit against the Escambia County School Board. In 1962, at the age of 10, Karen Augustus became the first black student to integrate the Escambia County Public Schools at O.J. Simms Elementary School.
“When you’re a child, you don’t really think much about it,” said Karen. “My parents had said that it was going to be different …you’re going to be going to school with some white kids and they may not be happy to see you, but it’s going to be okay.”
Though no major altercations/disputes arose, Karen says there were some “nasty” moments.
“The whole integration thing extended beyond the classroom,” she continued. “We would go home and they would shoot our windows out in our house … they hung a dead cat on a tree in our yard.”
Vera Evans, former schoolteacher, says she was very moved by Dr. Augustus and all of the positive changes he implemented in Escambia County.
“I’m a product of segregated schools,” Evans said. “We had inadequate books that had had been previously used by white children and were passed down to us. We had to write letters to the school board explaining that we thought we should have better [materials].”
Evans, who used to babysit Karen, said the Dr. Augustus was an advocate for children to receive a quality education.
“My father’s agenda was just to keep everybody on track,” she said. “‘You’re here to get an education. This is why I did this,’ is what he would say. That was the priority.”
Still, Karen says that her father’s dream wasn’t just for his children.
“It wasn’t just about us,” she said. “It was about all black children in Escambia County.”