BY JEFF GILL
GAINESVILLE — The National Alliance of Black School Educators has presented a lifetime achievement award to a pioneering black educator with ties to Gainesville’s segregation past.
The National Alliance of Black School Educators, which is based in Washington, D.C., honored Ulysses Byas during its 35th annual conference Saturday in Nashville, Tenn.
"I consider the selection of me to receive the ... recognition a very high honor," Byas said in a letter to the group’s executive director, Quentin R. Lawson. "I will gladly and humbly accept this award with eternal thanks."
Byas, who couldn’t be reached for comment, was principal of Fair Street and E.E. Butler high schools, leaving the Gainesville school system in 1968.
Butler, which replaced Fair Street as the city’s all-black high school, closed in 1969 with the end of segregation in Gainesville. Black students then began attending the formerly all-white Gainesville High School.
Byas went on to become a superintendent in Macon County, Ala., and was believed at the time to be the first such black school chief in the Southeast. He also served as superintendent in New York.
He helped form the National Alliance of Black School Educators in 1970. Byas now is retired and living in Macon.
Although nearly four decades separate Byas’ service in Gainesville, he still wields much influence.
"Six years ago, we invited Dr. Byas to speak to our student body," said Merrianne Dyer, principal of Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School in Gainesville.
"When he came for the program, I was surprised to see over 100 of his former students — they came with just word of mouth that he was here. They worshipped him, it was obvious.
"... I thought to myself at that time, if you can have that kind of impact on people’s lives after all these years, what a special person he was."
Beverly T. Robinson, instructional coach at New Holland Core Knowledge Academy in Gainesville, said Byas was her principal at Butler.
"His trademark were those bow ties of his with numerous colors and designs," she said. "What I noticed most about him during those days was his stature. He is not a large man, but he seemed larger than life to me."
Robinson added that he was "a great disciplinarian."
"He was firm but fair, and we all knew of his expectations for self-control and the consequences that would follow for the lack of," she said. "I would often see him standing in the halls during the change of class, smiling just as a potter would smile after he created his finest work."