In 2022, Douglas Anderson School of the Arts (DASOTA) celebrates its centennial. The institution has evolved and seen many faces over such an expanse of time, but what do we know about its namesake?
Douglas Anderson was born in South Jacksonville on March 7, 1884, to Samuel and Charlotte Anderson. His father served in the Florida House of Representatives in 1887. Douglas was a carpenter by trade and was educated at the Tuskegee Institute. It was there he met his wife, Ethel Stevens. They returned to South Jacksonville and lived on Anderson’s 22-acre farm with their three children, Leslie, Mary Gwendolyn, and Hezekiah. Anderson was very fair skinned, and he frequently passed for a white man. This enabled him to attend community meetings and political rallies, and no one was the wiser. He then shared what he learned with the Black community so that they would be informed.
Anderson found a new calling when he noticed Black school children early each morning walking great distances to school before dawn. He began picking up as many students as his truck would allow and chauffeuring them to school, often returning to pick up more. He would eventually apply for and receive the first school bus contract in the country to transport Black children. In 1922, seeing a need for a new school to accommodate the many Black communities in South Jacksonville, Anderson and a friend, Walter Thorpe, acquired land and built what would become School No. 107, the first public school in South Jacksonville for Black students. He would serve as PTA president for many years. In 1936, Douglas Anderson slipped into a diabetic coma and passed away at the age of 53, leaving behind an immense legacy of public service, activism, and humanitarianism. To honor that legacy, the school’s name was change to Douglas Anderson in 1945, and that legacy of excellence continues today in its current iteration as the School for the Arts. Douglas Anderson’s contributions to the city of Jacksonville are many, and the impact he made is felt far and wide in the community even today.
Senior Archivist, Jacksonville Historical Society