CBS4's Lauren Pastrana shares Ely's incredible story, which was built on providing the best for her students. Read more: https://cbsloc.al/2Naz43q
LAUREN PASTRANA: Craig, thank you. CBS4 is committed to celebrating Black History in a series of special reports all this month. Tonight, the spotlight is on Blanche Ely, who has a high school in Pompano Beach named in her honor. Ely is an educator whose career spanned 70 years. We visited her former home, which is now a museum, to learn more about her life and impact on the community.
LAUREN PASTRANA (VOICEOVER): Blanche Elizabeth General Ely was born in Reddick, Florida in 1904, graduated from Florida A&M, and began teaching in the early '20s in South Florida. At that time, black students were taught through sixth grade only and were in school for about six months a year.
DEREK T. DAVIS: During the picking season, that the school was closed down. But that time, it was only the black children that would close down.
LAUREN PASTRANA (VOICEOVER): Her first school in Pompano Beach was one room, all wood.
DEREK T. DAVIS: Which she called the juke joint.
LAUREN PASTRANA (VOICEOVER): She became principal of what was then Pompano Beach Negro High School. She and her husband, a fellow principal, JA Ely, would earn their master's from Columbia University. The avid reader and learner, Ely was known for her strict leadership style.
DEREK T. DAVIS: When you talk to the teachers, they talk about how hard she was on them. She was a very forceful, demanding, administrator and she always said that she wanted the best.
LAUREN PASTRANA (VOICEOVER): And she was insistent upon providing the best for her students.
DEREK T. DAVIS: She wanted the children to see themselves as more than just farmers, that they could strive for more. And some of the pageantries that she had for those things was a way to get them to see that you can be a royal person.
KATHERINE COLLIER GILLIS: She would call us my children, my boys, my girls, and she was encouraging.
LAUREN PASTRANA (VOICEOVER): Ely worked to gain accreditation for the school. And she would work to open five other schools in Pompano. Along with building curriculum, Ely believed in athletics as a way to overall betterment.
DEREK T. DAVIS: She actually started a basketball team and later, a football team so she could compete with the other black schools around. And when she organized those teams, the teams started calling themselves Blanche Ely High.
LAUREN PASTRANA (VOICEOVER): Later, the school would be officially named for her. She remained principal until 1970 when the school closed during desegregation, which she opposed. She was reassigned, but refused to go.
DEREK T. DAVIS: In 1970, they actually closed the school down. But she still went there every day and you have letters that she wrote. She wrote letters to, to the Pope. She wrote letters to actors. She wrote to senators. She had this campaign, help us to get this school open back up again.
LAUREN PASTRANA (VOICEOVER): She retired in 1974 and remained involved in the community until her death in 1993.
DEREK T. DAVIS: This house where the museum is, is right across from the school. So she could look out there. And she would sit on the porch every morning and see the students going in there. And most of the students, because many of them were like, this like third generation, she had been the principal for 50 years, so their great grandmothers had been taught at Blanche Ely High School.
LAUREN PASTRANA: Quite a history there. The Blanche Ely Museum is open for visitors by appointment. You can get more information on our website. We're your source for Black History Month information, from-- everything from videos, to events around town, to slide shows. Just go to cbsmiami.com/blackhistory.