My Goal: Seminole Schools Honors the First African American Student to Integrate Schools

My Goal: Seminole Schools Honors the First African American Student to Integrate Schools


Sanford, Florida. – SANFORD, Florida – After decades of making history, a woman from Seminole County is being honored for her sacrifice as the first African-American student to incorporate Seminole County Public Schools.

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Ingrid Burton Nathan was born in New York. She said her mother had put her up for adoption. Ulysses and Edna Burton adopted her as a newborn and brought her to Seminole County. They owned and operated the Burton Funeral Home.

“My organ was transplanted here and that was clearly my goal,” Nathan said.

Nathan’s adoptive mother, Edna Burton, died before she was six years old. Years later, her father married her stepmother Cleo.

Nathan remembers that her godfather was a member of the district’s bi-racial committee, which was tapped to select the first African-American student to integrate schools. The group chose Nathan.

“When he asked if I wanted it, I answered yes without hesitation. I didn’t think to get past that moment,” said Nathan.

Ingrid Burton Nathan as a student. She was the first African American to incorporate Seminole County Public Schools. (Ingrid Burton Nathan)

“Don’t go to that school”

Nathan was told that she was chosen to be the first student to integrate schools because of her fair skin.

“And they felt that I wouldn’t have a hard time like a dark-skinned child,” she said.

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She attended Sanford Middle School in 1964. She was 14 years old in the ninth grade. The night before her first day, she remembers getting a call from a white father.

“You didn’t know me. She just said tell your parents you don’t want to go. Don’t go to that school tomorrow,” Nathan said.

Nathan said she didn’t let that stop her. She remembers that her father drove her to school.

“The police took me inside the building,” Nathan said.

She said on the first day of school everyone was nice to her. She said the students took her to class and sat with her over lunch.

“After that I was alone,” Nathan said.

Nathan described her time at Sanford Middle School as lonely. Then things changed when I went to Seminole High School the following year.

Nathan said she was bullied, not allowed to join clubs, and students accused her of cheating.

“When I walked in the halls, the hall split like the Red Sea. Nobody wants to touch me,” she said.

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Ingrid Burton Nathan as a student. She was the first African American to incorporate Seminole County Public Schools. (Ingrid Burton Nathan)

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Through it all, Nathan persevered. She graduated in the top 10 percent of her class. She was also selected to be a member of the National Honor Society.

She credits a guidance counselor for helping her get accepted to Florida Southern College, where she studied Spanish.

“I thought since I didn’t get full A’s and didn’t get the highest SAT I couldn’t get into college, but she showed me I could,” Nathan said.

Nathan married her childhood sweetheart. After living in Virginia for a few years, her family moved back to Seminole County.

Becoming a teacher, she spent nearly 40 years teaching Spanish at Lake Brantley and Lake Mary High Schools.

The 72-year-old said at the time that she did not realize that her decision to be the first to integrate the schools would have a lasting impact.

“The grandeur of that, the enormity of that, no, it never shocked me. She said.

Honoring her legacy

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The Seminole County School District is now working to make sure Nathan’s story is never forgotten.

On Tuesday, the school board unanimously approved the naming of Building 2 at Sanford Middle School in her honor. District officials said they hope to register by February.

“I know kids will look at this building with my name on it, and those who know me will be proud of it. Those who don’t know about my legacy, my character, what I’ve done and my accomplishments,” said Nathan.

It is a sign of how she has changed history and a symbol of hope that future students will never give up.

She said, “Such negative beginnings and I have achieved, so that anyone can achieve them.”

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