POMPANO BEACH (CBSMiami) – Blanche Elizabeth General Ely was born in Reddick, Florida in 1904 and graduated from Florida A&M University.
She began teaching in the early 1920s in South Florida. At that time, Black students were taught through sixth grade only and were in school for about six months a year.READ MORE: Florida, Norwegian Cruise Line Fight Over Site of 'Vaccine Passport' Challenge
Derek T. Davis is the Curator of the Blanche Ely House Museum who explains further.
“During the picking season the school was closed down that time only, the Black children schools that were closed down,” he said.
Ely’s first school in Pompano Beach was one room, all wood. She called it the “juke joint.”
An avid reader and learner, she became principal of what was then Pompano Beach Negro High School. She would later earn a Master’s degree from Columbia University. She was known for her strict leadership style.
“When you talk to [former] teachers, they talk about how hard she was on them. She also led them in prayer. So she was a very forceful, demanding administrator and she always said she wanted the best,” said Davis.
She was insistent on providing the best for her students. An exhibit in the museum showcases items of pageantry including hand-made crowns and ball gowns that were part of a plan to have the students strive for a better life.
“She wanted the children to see themselves as more than just farmers, that that they could strive for more. Some of the pageantry that she had for those things was a way to get to see them that you could be a royal person,” said Davis.
In an oral history documented by the museum, former student Dr. Katherine Collier Gillis recalls Ely’s fondness for her students.READ MORE: Charges Expected Monday Against Miami Beach Officers Following Rough Arrest
“She would call us ‘my children, my girls, my boys’, and she was encouraging.”
Ely worked to gain accreditation for the school and she worked to open five other schools in Pompano Beach. Along with building the curriculum, Ely believed in athletics as a way to overall betterment.
“She actually started basketball teams and later football teams so they could compete with other Black schools in around here, in Broward and Dade County and Palm Beach and when she organized those teams they started calling themselves Blanche Ely High,” said Davis.
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.
“In 1970 they actually closed the school down, but she went there every day, she wrote letters,” said Davis, adding she campaigned to senators and even the Pope to open the school.
She retired in 1974 and remained involved in the community until her death in 1993.
“This house where the museum is, is right across from the school. She could look out, she would sit out front on the porch every morning and see the students, several generations of them,” said Davis.
The Blanche Ely Historical Home is owned by the City of Pompano Beach and is on the Local Register of Historic Places. The city completed the renovations to the historic former home and opened it to the public on March 20, 2019.MORE NEWS: Dolphin TE Mike Gesicki, 2 Others, Go On COVID-19 Reserve List
The Blanche Ely Museum is open for visitors by appointment. You can learn more on the website here.