Ulysses Byas, an iconic educator during Gainesville’s era of segregation, died Friday after a long illness, according to the Fair Street-Butler High Schools Alumni Association.
“Let’s all just remember how Mr. Byas impacted our lives and helped us to get where we are today,” states a news release from the Fair Street-Butler High Schools Alumni Association.
A funeral service is set for 11 a.m. Friday at Holsey Temple CME Church in Macon. Visitation will take place Thursday night at Glover Memorial Mortuary in Macon, according to the alumni association.
Byas’ death also was announced on the association’s website, which states: “We are all saddened by his transition but so happy to remember the impact he had on our lives. ... We will all miss him much.”
A funeral home obituary providing more details, including Byas’ age, was not available Monday.
Byas was principal of Fair Street High School and then E.E. Butler High School until leaving the Gainesville school system in 1968. E.E. Butler 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 later retired and settled in Macon.
Merrianne Dyer, superintendent of Gainesville schools, said Monday that Byas was principal of E.E. Butler when she was at Gainesville High.
“I was a senior when integration occurred and the schools were merged,” she said. “At that time, I had seen him but never really met him.”
Years later, during an anniversary celebration at Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School, Byas spoke to students. Dyer was the school’s principal before becoming superintendent.
“He was just so inspirational to students and faculty, not only from a historical perspective but just his views on educating children and what learning is really about — not just academics in school, but applying it to things in life,” she said.
Byas visited Fair Street twice after that occasion. Dyer kept in touch with him.
“He was just very special in his message to me at that time as a principal and going forward,” she said. “I just really feel the loss. He was a very important part of this community and a part of moving people forward.”
Jerry Castleberry, the school system’s transportation supervisor, remembers Byas from his days as a student at Fair Street and E.E. Butler, graduating in 1965.
When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, “I was in driver’s education and when we came back to the school, Mr. Byas was in the office crying like one of the students,” Castleberry said.
“I’ll never forget that scene. He was just one who showed a lot of emotion about that.”
Byas also cared deeply about his students.
“He was a person who shaped a lot of lives,” he said. “He was very, very demanding, accepting no excuses. Everybody respected him.”
Stepping out of line was never a good idea under Byas’ watch.
“If you’d play hookey from school, he’d come and find you,” Castleberry said. “He was a principal, a truant officer, your daddy and your best friend most of all. He was a fine person.”