About the same time Principal C.H. Lander arrived in Delray for the 1913-14 school year, five blocks away Principal Clarence Walker came to School #4. This was in the time of school segregation. It is believed that African Americans settled in what later became Delray Beach before pioneers of European descent. The small community on the west side of town had petitioned the Dade County School Board for a school (before 1911 Delray was in Dade County) and had established churches and civic clubs in the late 19th century. However, the school started with such high hopes, had become disorganized and dispirited because of the hard life of pioneer days and because School #4 was only in session 6 months each year so that African American students could work in agriculture. Dade County Board of Public Instruction minutes of February 12, 1907, reveal that the superintendent reported that he had suspended School No. 4 in Delray on account of attendance having fallen below the requirements.
A brief review of Principal Walker’s life before coming to Delray, according to a pamphlet in the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society archives, reveals that Clarence Walker, born in 1880 in Ohio, graduated from Wilberforce College and taught a year in Georgetown, Delaware. In 1906 he was appointed an instructor of English at a Teachers’ College (then called a “Normal School”) in Alabama. In Alabama he observed the problems of the rural South. At this time the United States Cooperative Demonstration Agents were beginning to extend the work of Tuskegee Institute to black farmers so that they might be prepared to withstand the ravages of the boll weevil. Walker took a very active part in this project because it gave him opportunity to study the rural education problem at first hand and to know just what should be the type of teacher needed in the rural districts. Walker trained teachers and sent them into neglected districts to establish schools. Dr. Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee Institute visited the college where Clarence Walker was teaching and observed that the activity there seemed too circumscribed for this creative teacher. Dr. Washington thought Walker should have more outlets to develop his own ideas and decided to find another job for him.
About the same time these thoughts were occurring to Dr. Washington, William Robinson, a leader of the Delray African American community, was thinking about how the languishing Delray school could be revived. He decided to write to Booker T. Washington and ask for his advice.
When Dr. Washington received the letter, he thought of the work of Clarence Walker. In February 1914, he wrote to Walker stating that the people at Delray, Florida, desired to have their school improved and that he, Clarence Walker, had been recommended for the position. Delray was so small then (about 1,000 people) that the new principal had a hard time finding it on a map. He consulted the railroad agent and learned that it was three hundred sixteen miles south of Jacksonville on the lower east coast.
Upon arriving he found a dilapidated old school house, surrounded by a campus that was grown up in palmetto scrubs, the schoolhouse unpainted and unsealed. (Unsealed means that there were only exterior walls and bare framing with no interior walls.) Some citizens had been using the schoolhouse as a place for gambling. Here, he thought, was an opportunity to do a day’s work in education. With a large grubbing hoe he led the crew to clear the campus, threw away litter, cleaned and painted the school- house inside and out. He secured locks for the doors and fastened the windows so the schoolhouse could no longer be used for anything but education.
In Delray Walker built the first county training school in Florida called Smith Hughes Vocational School (the schools were named for the Federal law which established the program.) The field agent of the General Education Board appropriated the first money they had given to the rural schools of Florida. Principal Walker realized that he must sell the school to the people and that the students must be the salespeople. He introduced Manual Training. The students began by making rolling pins and breadboards to give to their mothers for bread making. His students also built furniture for their homes. Female students were taught home canning and Domestic Science by Mrs. Walker, using a wash tub for a canner. In those days, before super- markets and refrigerators, this kind of knowledge was important to parents so that they could provide food for their families. Although some families in Delray had electricity after 1914, the electricity was available only three hours each evening; therefore, refrigerators were not practical for anyone until the mid to late 1920s.
A collection of 1919 newspaper clipping from the Palm Beach Post about the Delray County Vocational Training School show that C.C. Walker did not hesitate to write to the Palm Beach County School Board to advocate for additional funding, teachers and an extended school term. Principal Walker also worked to raise funds from local people and foundations for the improvement of the school.
Walker encouraged the people of the community to grow year-round crops and to save their dry lima beans and onions and to dry their okra, etc. In addition he instructed the community in better ways of raising cattle. It is said that when Principal Walker left Delray that the people cried. He left behind an enlarged and remodeled school house and a community that believed in the education of its children. He was replaced by another outstanding principal, S.D. Spady. The Delray school continued to grow, attract excellent teachers, and offer a good education to its students.
Clarence Walker spent the rest of his life teaching in other Florida towns. He established the state’s first accredited black high school in Palatka. In Palatka and later West Palm Beach he fought against opposition for spending more money on the segregated black schools. In 1937 he moved to Ft. Lauderdale. In 1941 he organized a successful boycott to protest the practice of closing the black schools so students could work in the fields and hotels during the winter.
Clarence Walker, the man who greatly improved School # 4 in Delray and motivated the people of the community was fond of saying, “It’s not when or where you were born, but who you prove to be. The measure of a man is what he thinks of himself.”
By Dorothy W. Patterson, Delray Beach Historical Society