Fighting Segregation in Florida/Miami Ruth Greenfield

Fighting Segregation in Florida/Miami Ruth Greenfield

4th Grade Florida History

Fighting Segregation in Florida/Miami – Ruth Greenfield

Essential Question

How does society benefit when citizens work to defend the rights of others, and what are some of the ways that a citizen can make sure that change happens?

Fighting Segregation in Florida/Miami – Ruth Greenfield

Florida Literacy Standards Alignment:

LAFS.4.RI.1.1 Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.

LAFS.4.RI.1.3 Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.

LAFS.4.RI.3.9 Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.

NGSSS - Social Science Standards Alignment:

SS.4.A.1.1Analyze primary and secondary resources to identify significant individuals and events throughout Florida history.

SS.4.A.6.3 Describe the contributions of significant individuals to Florida.

SS.4.A.8.1 Identify Florida's role in the Civil Rights Movement.

SS.4.C.2.2Identify ways citizens work together to influence government and help solve community and state problems.

Topic: Fighting Segregation in Florida/Miami – Ruth Greenfield

Essential Question

How does society benefit when citizens work to defend the rights of others, and what are some of the ways that a citizen can make sure that change happens?

Learning Goals

  1. Students will be able to review various forms of texts.
  2. Students are to write a letter to the appropriate authorities and identify the deep divisions between minorities and local leaders and argues for a solution. Students are to support their position(s) with evidence from research.


Students will gain an understanding of the contributions of a significant individual (Ruth Greenfield) in Miami to the fight against segregation in Miami.

Background Information

This lesson broadens the study of the ongoing struggle for racial equality in educational opportunities beyond Brown v. Board of Education through an examination of the judiciary’s role in safeguarding the rights of diverse communities to a quality public education. It accompanies an excerpt 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause and details of one unlikely soldier in the fight against segregation.

Ruth Greenfield was born in Key West, Florida, in 1923, and grew up in Miami since she was six months old. While growing up, she was unaware of the segregation of the time, except when visiting her grandparents in Spring Garden. Across the railroad tracks from there was the neighborhood then called Colored Town, and now called Overtown. This town seemed like a strange other world, in which black people had a servile role, doing laundry for white people.

She began studying piano at age 5. She graduated from Miami Beach High School in 1941, then studied for two years at the University of Miami, then obtained her bachelor's and master's degrees in music at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

She later left Miami for Paris, France, in 1949, in order to study music composition. Paris of that time was refreshingly integrated, with integration considered as the norm. She married Arnold Greenfield there, who was an attorney and friend of her brother's from Miami.

Upon returning to segregated Miami, she wanted to do something about the situation. She founded the Fine Arts Conservatory in 1951 along with Tally Brown. The school moved between black and white neighborhoods, holding classes in such locations as private homes, a Masonic lodge, a YMCA and the most notorious location, a storage room for caskets in an Overtown funeral home.

Finally in 1961, the conservatory had raised enough money to buy a building that served as its permanent location until it closed in 1978. This was in Liberty City, a black neighborhood around Miami's 60th Street. The conservatory eventually expanded to six branches throughout Miami. Overtown resident Mary Ford Williams helped found the school, while her son James Ford studied piano at the school.

Ruth Greenfield also continued to teach for 32 years at what is today Miami Dade College, Florida's first integrated college. In the fall of 2011, the college rededicated its Wolfson Campus auditorium in her honor.


  • Handout- The Fight for Racial Equality Summary Activity
  • Pictures -Fine Arts Conservatory 1951-1978
  • Reading Passage – In 1950s Miami, music bridged the racial divide

Activity Sequence

Introduction (5 minutes)

Teacher will conduct a Discussion:

  1. What details allow you to guess the time period of this photo?
  2. What do you notice about the students? How are they dressed and what does that tell you (are they people from one ethnic/racial group? What are they doing? Why?)
  3. If the students in that photo could speak to you--what do you think they would tell you about why they are in school? Their hopes and dreams for the future? Do you think their hopes and dreams could be characterized are different from other American children? Why or why not?
  4. Tell students that this lesson will focus on the part of the 14th Amendment: the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. - Go over any difficult vocabulary together.

Activity (10minutes) – This will need more than one class period ( preferable 3 days)

  • Ask students to discuss what was going on during the 1960s and identify the fight and causes African Americans in Miami were seeking.
  • Students will use " The Fight For Racial Equality Summary Activity" to complete a summary outline of the text.
  • Students will use the reading passage text, their summary outline and the photographs to create a summary of the topic.
  • Students will present orally their summary and reflection on the topic.
  • Student writing should;

Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

Closure (2 minutes)

Based on what we have read and learned, how does society benefit when citizens work to defend the rights of others, and what are some of the ways that a citizen can make sure that change happens?

References for links

  • New York Times article
  • Miami Dade College - Official website
  • Sun-Sentinel article on one of her musical performances

In 1950s Miami, music bridged the racial divide

For Ruth Greenfield, founder of what historians believe was the first interracial arts academy in Florida, music has always been color blind.


Ruth Greenfield’s family moved to Miami from Key West when she was 6 months old, but she still calls herself a Conch. It makes sense. Beneath the polished exterior of the Paris-trained pianist, Greenfield, 88, is a renegade, a civil rights pioneer who bridged the racial divide — with music.

In 1953, long before Miami was integrated, Greenfield founded what historians believe was the first interracial school for the arts in Florida. The Fine Arts Conservatory offered music classes — and eventually dance, drama and visual arts — to black and white students together, taught by black and white teachers. Greenfield established it with help from the mother of James Ford, a young black piano student from Overtown. Six decades later, she and Ford remain close.

At the time, Greenfield’s color-blind approach to music was considered scandalous. She was blackballed by many local music societies. But even now, she talks about those days with more bewilderment than anger. Of segregation, she says simply, “I didn’t care for it.”

She grew up in a well-off Miami household with a black, live-in housekeeper. It was only during Sunday visits to her grandparents’ Spring Garden home — the house she lives in today — that she caught glimpses of another world across the railroad tracks in the neighborhood white people called Colored Town, now Overtown.

“We’d come over here, and I would glance at the town that was fairly secret to me,” she recalls, her posture still concert-pianist straight in a flowing red blouse and matching red necklace. “And the women had big water buckets, and they were washing and drying all of the white people’s clothes.”

She studied piano from the age of 5, eventually with well-known New York pianist and composer Mana-Zucca Cassel, who had moved to Miami. By the time Greenfield graduated from Miami Beach High in 1941 – a time when “girls weren’t expected to have titles, unless it was Miss or Mrs.,” she recalled in a 2010 speech — she knew she wanted something more.

After two years at the University of Miami, she left to pursue music at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Those were transformative years for her. She studied with the great pianist Arthur Schnabel. And she dated a young black man from Jamaica, a college classmate. (“My friends almost threw me away.”)

She taught piano at the University of Miami before leaving again, this time for Paris, to study composition with the legendary Nadia Boulanger, whose students included Aaron Copland and Astor Piazzolla.

The city was a revelation with regard to race.

“When I got to Paris it was 1949, and it was so natural that everybody was mixed, and I thought, My gosh, what is it that I lost out on when I was younger?”

There, she married Arnold Greenfield, an attorney and friend of her brother’s from Miami who loved to paint, cook and listen to her play the piano. (A portrait painted by her late husband depicts her with her “favorite things,” she says with a laugh — “chocolate and wine.”)

In Paris they lived in an integrated society with a circle of black friends. At their wedding, Greenfield’s maid of honor was a black pianist from Tennessee. When the couple returned to segregated Miami, she remembers thinking, “Gee, what is this? I don’t think it’s right. So let’s start something.”

As always for Greenfield, music was the vehicle.

Ford, the student from Overtown, had begun studying piano at 5, with his grandmother, but quickly outgrew her lessons. His mother, a high school principal, wanted to enroll him in the Miami Conservatory of Music, but “They weren’t accepting colored, or Negroes,” he says, sitting across from Greenfield in her living room.

Then one summer, while his mother, Mary Ford Williams, was pursuing a master’s degree at Columbia University in New York, he had a chance to study piano at the Juilliard School. Teachers there told him he needed to start again, from scratch.

“It completely deflated me. … So my mother came back to Miami. She looked for somebody she thought was competent to teach me. And she found Ruth.”

The first time the 13-year-old Ford played for her, he chose Beethoven as well as his own compositions. Greenfield immediately took him on as a student.

When a music teachers association announced a recital featuring local composers, she wanted to showcase Ford. Initially, the president of the group was excited to hear about the promising young composer.

“And as soon as I said black, or Negro, she said, ‘Oh wait a minute. I’ll have to call you back,’ ” says Greenfield. “She called me back, and she said, ‘I’m awfully sorry, but he would be so embarrassed to play for all of us white people. It’d be like having my maid in the front row.’ That was the kind of talk.”

Greenfield didn’t leave it at that; she called Miami Herald columnist Jack Bell. After he wrote about Ford’s rejection, the woman called again. “She said, ‘All right, let him play,’ ” Greenfield recalls.

She still has the program from that day in 1953 — and Ford still remembers some of the sonata he composed. As he demonstrates on Greenfield’s Steinway, she beams.

The same year, with help from Ford’s mother and other key figures, Greenfield founded the Fine Arts Conservatory. (Future U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek was a volunteer dance teacher.)

The school alternated between black and white neighborhoods, holding classes in private homes, a Masonic lodge, a YMCA — even a funeral parlor in Overtown, in a second-floor space previously occupied by caskets.

Greenfield’s oldest son, Charles, an arts reporter and the keeper of many of his mother’s stories, interjects: “I think you should talk about the smell.”

“I wasn’t into smells,” she replies, a little wryly.

“Formaldehyde!” he exclaims.

In 1961, the conservatory raised enough money to buy its own building around 60th Street, a white neighborhood near Liberty City. “It was just a little old cottage with a beautiful tree in the front and a big yard perfect for chicken dinners,” remembers Greenfield. But to her, “that was absolutely Juilliard.” (The conservatory, which closed in 1978, eventually had six branches throughout the city.)

Greenfield was increasingly considered a radical. She says she was called a Communist sympathizer and blackballed from nearly every professional music association in Miami. An interracial concert series she hosted in her Palm Island home prompted neighbors to seek a cease-and-desist order, she says. When a Miami Beach detective came to serve the papers, she says she thanked him politely — and then asked him to help her move the piano onto the stage. “He said, ‘I’d be delighted.’ ”

Greenfield carried on with her teaching — at the conservatory and also at what was then Miami-Dade Community College, where she taught for 32 years and was music department chair. She continued her own education, too, earning a doctorate of musical arts from UM in 1976.

Last fall, Miami Dade College rededicated its Wolfson Campus auditorium as the Dr. Ruth Greenfield Auditorium. And although she is retired, she is ever the teacher, the coach, the advocate.

She turns to Ford, who became a math teacher. He’s 74, and much of his vision is gone. But Greenfield focuses on what he is doing now: learning to read music in Braille. That makes her “so proud,” she says, in part because he will still be able to pass on his musical knowledge to others by teaching.

He says he’s not sure he could find such a specialized job, but Greenfield makes no concessions. For her, as always, it is about the music: “It doesn’t matter whether they’re hiring. The main thing is to get more people to get into that class.”

Read more here:

4th Grade Florida History

Photographic History

The Fine Arts Conservatory 1951-1978

Handout-The Fight for Racial Equality Summary Activity:

Name: ______Date: ______

Use the following chart to complete an outline you will use to share a summary of the text and discussion with classmates. Your notes do not have to be in complete sentences. Your notes DO have to be thorough enough that they will allow you to share the key points of what you learned in a summary and with classmates in a 5 minute oral presentation.

Guiding Questions:
  • When did your story take place?
  • What were prevailing social attitudes that were relevant in Miami at that time?
  • What was the key issue that people in the text were fighting for?
  • What strategies did they use (e.g. Protests? Ballot measures? Court cases?)
  • What was the outcome—did they achieve their goals? What is your own analysis—why did/didn’t they achieve their goals?
  • Include in this response if anything in the text surprised you.
/ Summary Notes: