Portrait of Emma E. Booker, the namesake of the Booker Schools
Booker High School’s History
The Booker Schools were named in honor of Emma E. Booker, a pioneer Black educator who taught at the “Sarasota Grammar School,” Sarasota’s public school for Negro children, in the 1910s. By 1918, she had become the principal of the school, which was housed in rented halls. The students would sit on orange crates in lieu of proper desks, and they used books that had been discarded from the area’s White schools.
The Julius Rosenwald Fund was used to build a permanent school at Seventh Street and Lemon Avenue, which opened in the 1924-25 school year matriculating students grades 1-8. Later, under principal J.R. Dixon, more grades were added, and in 1935, the first senior class of Booker High School graduated.
The only namesake of three Sarasota County Schools, Emma E. Booker spent her summers taking college classes, and after 20 years, in 1937, she earned her bachelor’s degree. She is considered to be a hero for justice and equality—providing access of education to students of color, and motivating and inspiring those students to become empowered and successful.
In 1939, the school was relocated to its present location on Myrtle Street and Orange Avenue. In the footprint that Booker High School currently occupies, the Booker elementary, middle and high schools operated for many years, until the late 1980s. In 1989, Emma E. Booker Elementary opened on Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard, and in 2003, Booker Middle School opened its new campus on Myrtle Street. By the turn of the century, Booker High School had overtaken the three smaller campuses.
Integration of Sarasota Schools-the 1960s
As the only school offering educational opportunities for the area’s African-American students, Booker High School faced some turbulence in the wake of the 1954 Brown vs. The Board of Education Supreme Court case that ended legalized segregation in schools. At first, change came slowly—in 1963, Booker High students Bill Clyburn and Wilhelmina Armstrong enrolled in classes at the all-white Sarasota High School. Three years later, only 36 of the county’s Black students were enrolled in what had been all white high schools. In the 1967-68 school year, the district shut down Booker High School, forcing its students to attend the all-white schools, sparking a backlash of resentment in the Newtown community. Many boycotted the Sarasota district schools and began attending “freedom schools” in local churches to protest of the beloved Booker School.
The Inception of the VPA
The school re-opened in 1970, and the Visual and Performing Arts program, the county’s first magnet program, was established at the school in the 1970s to attract students from around the county. For many years, students could take their academic classes at their districted school, riding a bus midday to Booker’s campus for their VPA classes in one of five areas: art, dance, music, theatre, or radio and television, which has evolved over time into the Digital Film and Motion Design Department. In the early days, most performances were in the school’s small Roland W. Rogers auditorium, and the school rented the Sarasota Opera House for the spring musical; a new theater building was constructed in the late 1990s, giving performance majors a professional and high-quality performance space.
The ‘New’ Booker Campus
Booker High School went through a total rebuild from 2010-2013 (all buildings except the theater, gymnasium, and administrative offices were razed—those three were spared, as they were the newest buildings), and the new campus, as it currently exists, opened in the winter of 2013. The $60 million project brought together a campus that had previously been a patchwork of three campuses, unifying the classroom buildings and facilities around an amphitheater known as “The Eye of the Tornado.”
The current Booker campus is replete with key-card entry for employees, and the campus is closed from the hours of operation, 7:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. Additionally, there are hundreds of security cameras on campus that help provide a safe and secure learning environment for students. The campus has a beautiful, comprehensive sports complex including a state-of-the-art gym and workout room, football field, track, baseball fields, tennis courts, and JROTC climbing tower. Along with traditional academic courses, classroom buildings house programs such as the Law Academy, which has the only mock courtroom in the district; as well as the Engineering facilities, with computers, 3-D printers, drone navigation courses and more.
Additionally, classroom buildings house the VPA studios and spaces:
- 9,000-square-feet of art studio space (with indoor and outdoor facilities), large sculpture lab, and individualized work space for students in our Art Department
- Three dance studios with double-sprung wood floors for our Dance Department
- TV studio, private editing suites, a stop-motion lab and digital design labs for our Digital Film and Motion Design Department
- A band room, orchestra room, piano lab, guitar lab, chorus room, and theory classrooms for our Music Department
- A vocal studio for our Theatre Department (that department’s classrooms are mostly housed in the theater building)