Making History, Living History

Yvonne Odom

““If we lose love and self respect for each other,this is how we finally die”
― Maya Angelou, who would have been 90 today.

Last week, civic rights icon Linda Brown passed away.

She was the historic figure and namesake in the landmark Supreme Court case “Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas” which overturned school segregation in 1954.

When I heard the news, I immediately thought of my friend Yvonne Odom.

Mrs. Odom was the brave student who integrated Seacrest High School seven years later in September 1961. Seacrest would later become Atlantic High.

Mrs. Odom was in 10th grade that year when she walked into that school alone. It’s hard to imagine, from the vantage point of 2018, what that must have been like.

When Mrs. Odom went to Seacrest on her first day, a white stranger reached out and took her hand. That stranger was Paula Adams, a student council member. She wanted to help Yvonne cope with the stares of students.

As we remember the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s Assassination today and this week, much is being written about the civil rights movement and how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go.

Race is clearly still a major issue in America—our schools, neighborhoods and many institutions remain segregated—despite the 1954 ruling. And yet there’s been progress.

Back In 1961 Delray, the school’s administration was so worried about Yvonne’s safety that they asked her to use the faculty bathroom.

They didn’t know her well. She insisted on using the student’s restroom. She was not afraid.

Mrs. Odom paved the way for future African students at Seacrest/Atlantic.

And she walked away from a lot to be a leader–people give up a lot to be “the first.”

At Carver High School, she was a standout in many ways. Her basketball coach was the legendary C. Spencer Pompey who had identified Ms. Odom as a leader. He was right, as he always seemed to be.

Writing the name C. Spencer Pompey gives me an opportunity to tell you how wonderful he was—a gentleman, an historian, a mentor, a leader, a teacher and a pillar of strength not only in this community but throughout Palm Beach County and the state. People like the Pompey’s (including his wife H. Ruth), Elizabeth Wesley, Solomon D. Spady and others are important. They become important people because of the impact they make, the legacies they leave, the lessons they impart and the lives they mold—positively.

Yvonne Odom was and is a leader. She is an important person.

The year she left for Seacrest to make history was going to be her sophomore year at Carver High School. She had been chosen by Mr. Pompey to be captain of the girls basketball team. She was also slated to be part of Carver’s Homecoming Court, which was a big deal and a major honor.

But she left for Seacrest for a more important mission….and because she was African American, school officials thought it best to minimize her contact with the white kids. That meant: no sports, (impacting her ability to earn a college scholarship), no physical education classes and no rides on the school bus.

According to Sun-Sentinel archives, Palm Beach County desegregation began with a lawsuit filed in 1956 by West Palm Beach attorney Bill Holland, who objected to school officials’ refusal to let his son be admitted to a West Palm Beach elementary school.

 

A committee, which included Holland and Odom’s father, the Rev. Randolph Lee, went to black families’ homes to recruit black students to attend white schools in Jupiter, Lake Worth and what was then Palm Beach Junior College.

 

Lee, a minister who worked with Holland and the attorneys, decided his daughter fit the profile of what they were looking for.

 

Mrs. Odom was one of five students who were used in the group’s plan to integrate. She fit the bill: a top student who exhibited strength and character.

Mrs. Odom’s father, Rev. Lee, worked hard to ensure his daughter’s safety, working with administrators to make sure she was OK.

In my own prior interviews with Mrs. Odom she said she was never physically abused but was called derogatory names on two occasions.

She went on to a distinguished career in education, including teaching at Carver Middle School.

She has also been involved deeply in the Delray community for decades.

Linda Brown also remained involved in the “movement”. She was an important person.

As was MLK.

A single bullet changed the world 50 years ago in Memphis.

A half century later we continue to mourn the death of MLK—but the work continues. It always does. We are nowhere near the mountain top. To some, that may be a depressing prospect and truth be told there are sad elements to this journey, but to others the dream is so compelling, so valuable and so important that they are willing to keep on going. Thank goodness for their commitment.

We are lucky to have people like Yvonne Odom in our midst—living testaments to history but like others she is not merely a relic of the past. She remains hard at work in the community. As it should be. As we all should be.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Ron Gilinsky says:

    An Incredibly Sensational Woman & Community Leader!!!

  2. Kerry koen says:

    I was a student at Seacrest High School when Yvonne Lee joined our student body. She exhibited strength of character then – as she does today. We were all better people because she joined us that year and Delray Beach is a better coummunity in so many ways because she took a risk and walked into unfamiliar halls and classrooms.

    Kerry Koen
    Class of 1962

  3. Sharon Painter says:

    Yvonne is a strong community leader and advocate for youth sports as a way to keep kids engaged in positive activites. I respect her immensely and appreciate her love and dedication to the youth in Delray and to the City.

  4. Frances Bourque says:

    To see Mrs. Odom stand in the face of negativity and present her optimistic determined stature on issues that better mankind has always been one of personal pride. I can say “I know her”. She makes us reach for our best selves! Then and now!

  5. Paula Adams says:

    I am that “white” girl who took Yvonne around Seacrest in 1961. And to this day I struggle with what turmoil she must have endured. Yes, we are in touch, see each other occasionally and share remembrances. Actually she just called to tell me of this article! She is the most phenomenal girl/woman I have ever had the humbling experience of knowing in my (almost) 74 yrs!
    Paula White Adams – class of ‘62

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      Hello Ms. Adams. So wonderful to hear from you.
      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. It’s great to see that your relationship continues. Makes for an even better story. Best always, Jeff

  6. Rasheema Owens says:

    Awesome! I’ve had the pleasure of working with Mrs. Yvonne Odom at Carver Middle School. I didn’t know I was walking among an elite pillar of Boynton Beach / Delray Beach. Her father’s wife, Mrs. Lee, taught me in the 2nd grade at Galaxy Elementary. I’m so excited, honored, and humbled to have met Mrs. Odom!

  7. What an honor it is for me to know Mrs. Odom. Every time I hear her story, this History, I say to myself, “yep, I can see why she was chosen for that task. Yvonne is smart for sure but her biggest gift is her fearlessness”. Glad to know her and Mrs. Wesley and of course my Bible Study buddy C. Spencer Pompey. I LOVE Delray!!

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      Dorothy, Delray loves you too.
      I never knew you were in Bible study with Mr. Pompey. That must have been amazing. He took me under his wing when I was a young reporter and taught me a lot about local history. Mrs. Wesley was beyond nice to me…I have no words to describe how special she is.

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