Stop 66: The Moore Mickens Educational Center
Named Man of the Year by the Dade City Chamber in 1980, ODELL KINGSTON MICKENS was the Principal of Moore Academy for 41 years as well as the first African-American elected to public office in Pasco County. Born in 1904 in Flemington (Marion County, Florida) he arrived in Dade City in 1933 and was hired as principal of Moore Academy for $60 a month, although the School Board claimed they had no funds to pay him for the first four months. Within a few years he added grades 9 to 12, and graduated the first high school class in 1940.
A scholar with incredible ability to navigate the Jim Crow environment, he had an associate’s degree from Bethune-Cookman, a bachelor’s degree from Tuskegee Institute as well as a master’s degree from New York University. His extraordinary wife, the former Christine Ford of Tallahassee, also taught at Moore Academy and later at Pasco High School. In 1970 Moore Academy became Moore-Mickens.
When Mickens passed on December 7th of 1980, the flag at Dade City Hall flew at half-staff and city hall was closed on the day of his funeral.
The structure of Moore-Mickens remains at: 38301 Martin Luther King Boulevard, but to fully appreciate this edifice that holds so many moments of significant cultural history for Dade City, one needs to examine the tumultuous charting of education for Black students of the community. Before 1887 when Pasco attained county status, records indicate there was only one African American School near Blanton during the 1885-86 school year. By 1888, the list of schools for the county shows only Hernando Colored school with an enrollment of fourteen African-American students.
By 1889, A.B. Brandon was the supervisor for the Dade City Colored School, followed by R.C. Riley in 1890 (as Brandon had resigned to start a Black school on the south side of Lake Buddy.)
In January of 1897, Julius David Moore was appointed a teacher at the Black school in Trilby (then Macon) for 35 students. Considered significant in the development of Black education, Moore was born in 1874 and passed away in 1953, and his formal training was in Biblical and Christian doctrine which was common in early education pedagogy.
The 1919 State Marketing Bureau reported that the Black school was located in a one-room frame building, 30×30 near the end of Cherry Street (7th). With extremely cramped quarters, the board eventually raised the roof and added a second floor. Thus, The Historic Places of Pasco County documented that the three-room school was on 6th Street next to St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church near what is now Martin Luther King Boulevard in a building owned by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Parents were required to purchase their children’s books.
By 1924, Moore was the principal.
In 1927, a new school building was planned on the north of Whitehouse Street on a two-and one-half acre tract. They planned to raze the old grammar school at West Church and 14th and salvage the lumber while the former building was sold to the colored Knights of Pythias as a lodge hall. The contract was given to James Ward for a five-room building with auditorium for $4900. Funds were also contributed from Julius Rosenwald fund, a Sears Roebuck Company benefactor for Black education. Dedicated in 1928 with some fanfare. In 1931, Etta L. Burt, a graduate of Spelman College, was appointed principal to succeed J.D. Moore. Burt was subsequently followed by Mickens as Principal.
An enormous tradegy in 1936 was the arson to Moore’s Academy which was destroyed by fire. Children attended classes at St. Paul and St. John Churches until the school was rebuilt.
Mickens extended classes through 12th grade in 1937. Classes were added and the facility was enhanced largely through parent and teacher efforts with gardens, homemade playground equipment, and expanding services, sports and enrichment.
In 1949, the board purchased an adjoining lot from W.B. Madill; and in 1952, an elementary building to house Moore Elementary School was constructed on the campus.
A football team was added in 1953.
In 1956, Mickens High School was built next to the new elementary school, in the present location of the 2022 building. By 1957, the board decided to combine the names of the influential leaders for naming as Moore-Mickens.
Integration was rocky as a voluntary system was initially in place. When it looked as though the Moore-Mickens campus would be discarded in the fray, the Mickens PTA appealed to the school board in 1969. By 1970, the board agreed on a desegregation plan along with a year-round school system and Moore Mickens was utilized as a middle school with Mickens as principal until 1974. In 1986 the building was closed for renovation and opened as the Moore-Mickens Adult Education Center in 1987 to morph into the Moore Mickens Educational Center. In 2017, the site was leased to the Moore-Mickens Educational and Vocational Center, Inc, a non-profit coalition of civic, community and faith leaders in 2017.
Mickens holds an enormous legacy in Dade City and surrounding. He was the first African American elected to public office. At the 1974 retirement, 150 attended the board meeting to honor Professor Mickens who had just won a seat on the Dade City Commission by a two to one margin, as then School superintendent Raymond Stewart said, “No many stands so tall as one who stoops to aid a child.”
For more research on this history, a display of artifacts has been prepared at the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village, and the fivay.org site has a condensed section to review:
History Moore-Mickens Middle School, Pasco County, Florida (fivay.org)