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New Scholarship Honors Florida High's Integration Pioneers

mahlon rhaney with sky background
David LaBelle
Mahlon Rhaney

A newly-created scholarship celebrates the historic accomplishment of two Tallahassee students who were the first to integrate Florida High. It was initiated by Shauna Smith, a retired TCC professor and proud graduate of Florida High (Florida State University Schools) in Tallahassee.

"I came into Florida High about 3 or 4 years after Keith and Mahlon came and did their historic effort. I've been a graduate since 1972."

Keith Neyland
Keith Neyland

The "Keith" she refers to is Keith Neyland and "Mahlon" is Mahlon Rhaney. More on them in a moment. First, we'll flashback to February of last year for a special event at Smith's alma mater.

"I was fortunate enough to be invited to a Black History Month program put on by Florida High and open to the community. And got there not knowing what the context of the Black History Month event was going to be. But, being in awe of this marvelous program that was put on by one of the students, Miss Asia Alexander."

Alexander was a Florida High junior and already a community youth leader as founder of the Building Incredible Generations organization and member of the NAACP Youth Council.

"She had done such an excellent job of researching, looking into who were the first two who integrated Florida High. Now, this is 50 years later!"

Those two pioneers were the aforementioned Keith Neyland and Mahlon Rhaney. In the late 60s, they transferred from the all-Black FAMU High School to all-White Florida High. They were the focus of Asia Alexander's Black History Month program.

"She invited family, the Neyland family who came in from Texas. Mr. Neyland's been deceased I think maybe 4 or 5 years now. Mr. Rhaney who lives here was invited and he was there. A lot of Florida High alumni were there."

Smith said she was beyond impressed with everything she experienced.

"It moved me so much and I wondered why, in all of this time, has there not been any ongoing recognition of their significant place in history as it relates to Florida High?"

Smith admitted she's never been the kind of person to say, "Somebody else should do something."

"I thought, what better way? Let's establish a scholarship. So that's what I did. And I'm so happy to see that Miss Alexander was chosen as the first recipient of this scholarship, of course well-deserved for sure. But to now know that there will be forever every year recognition and acknowledgement of their role at Florida High."

The final step, said Smith, is to make sure that tribute can continue in perpetuity.

"We are trying to get it to an endowed status so we welcome any community partners, individuals, groups, alumni who would be interested in adding to the scholarship so we can get it endowed."

Of course, the folks at Florida High or the FSU Foundation would be happy to help.

Follow @flanigan_tom

Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

Find complete bio, contact info, and more stories. here.