Mr. Walter James Finley has reason to be proud

With profound faith and a commitment to education that transcended generations, Walter James Finley came to the United States in 1897.

The Bahamian entrepreneur, farmer, and first black man in Broward County to own an automobile, planted fields and grew a dynasty.

Today, the close-knit third generation of Finleys, includes educators and engineers, business owners, athletes and one newly minted Hall of Fame member.

Like their patriarch’s, the Finley family’s rise involved determination, maternal discipline, pride, humor, perseverance, loyalty and love.

My brother in-law Keith Finley and his cousin Priscilla (Finley) Miller-Jones personify these attributes. In 1964, they became the first two students to integrate Pompano Beach High School.

Priscilla made the switch because she loves a challenge.

“I heard them say the school would remain lily white and I, the bold one, said, ‘Over my dead body,” she said.

Keith did it because his mother, the formidable Lucy Finley, told him he had to.

As the only two black students in a school population of 3,000, the two cousins negotiated occasionally hostile territory. In 1964, Broward County still had black only drinking fountains and black bathrooms, and many people weren’t anxious to see that change.

For two years, Keith hitchhiked to school, walking the final mile, because he refused to take the bus. Priscilla rode the bus, dodging gum wads and racial epithets.

“Priscilla would come home daily with gum stuck in her hair, and my mom would have to use kerosene to get it out,” said Priscilla’s sister, Carolyn Miller Menendez.

A math teacher told Keith he could skip class as long as he passed the unit tests.

“I was young at the time and I thought it was great that I didn’t have to go to class. Later, I realized he just didn’t want me in his class,” Keith said. “He didn’t know that I had an excellent math teacher in junior high, Mr. Humphries, so I passed those tests.”

Keith was only 14 and Priscilla 15 that first year, but they stuck it out.

“The one thing is, we had each other,” Priscilla said.

The following school year, 25 black students attended Pompano Beach High,  and, by their senior year, more than 100.

“Guess what? I opened the door for my brother, Quan L. Miller,” Priscilla, who had 15 brothers and 2 sisters, all single births from the same two parents. “He ran cross country and track at that school and was vice president of his class.”

Today, Walter James Finley’s grandchildren continue to do him proud. Priscilla, who graduated from the University of Cincinnati, runs a very successful family U-Haul business.

Keith, about whom I’ll be writing more on Monday, earned a master’s in education and recently retired as a high school administrator. Their cousin Dr. Eric Williams, serves as Assistant Vice Provost and Chief Diversity Officer at the University of Wisconsin. Another cousin, Edith Spivey, a legendary coach, was just inducted into the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame.

An unexpected guest added a postscript to the Finley story during a recent visit to Priscilla’s business.

“He said he wanted to apologize for the way he treated me in high school,” she said. “He said he didn’t know any better at the time. I was astonished. I said, ‘You are forgiven.”

Keith and Priscilla were members of the National Junior Honor Society at Deerfield Park Junior High. That’s Priscilla standing between Keith and the giant trophy. I leave it up to you to figure out which one Keith is. The next year, Keith and Priscilla attended Pompano Beach High School, the only two black students to do so.
Priscilla’s high school picture.
Keith and Priscilla
Here are Keith and Priscilla today. They’d both make their grandpa proud.
Priscilla, Keith, Carolyn and Traveian
Priscilla and her sister Carolyn, who live in Florida, surprised Traveain with a visit to Wisconsin last week. I jumped on the opportunity to interview them about their high school experiences.

8 thoughts on “Mr. Walter James Finley has reason to be proud

  1. I remember Priscilla Miller and her cousin Keith Finlay. I was one of the white students in the freshman class in 1964, having just moved to Pompano from Philadelphia. I could not believe that Pompano High School was all white- still, in 1964. Priscilla was the only Black girl, one of only two Black students in the whole calss of- how many- 1,000? I never knew how Priscilla and Keith were chosen to integrate that class, but Priscilla has, for all these years, served as an example to me- my personal Ruby Bridges. I remember her as dignified, even at the age of 15. I was in one class with her, a large lecture class in an auditorium, but I never got to know her. My loss.

    Thank you for this article. I just found it (June 2021) There was very little written about Priscilla’s and Keith’s important roles in integrating that school.

    1. Thank you for your perspective. They are both still very dignified people. I’m proud to know them. 😁

    2. Thank you Lois! I don’t know how you found this blog 5 years later but I’m glad you read it. Priscilla was determined to integrate Pompano and, since our mothers were sisters and they didn’t want her going alone, I enrolled with her. She was and still is very dignified and I know she appreciated your comment. I attended the 50th reunion in 2017 and was happy to visit with many of our classmates.

      1. Thank you Keith! (sorry I misspelled your name in my comment earlier.) I remember you too, but Priscilla sat right near me in class, so I remember her better. You both impressed me so much at the time- and you still do! I will never forget 99.9% white Pompano High in 1964. I wish I had had the guts to talk to you both.

  2. I am proud of you my big Cuz. I do not know you but I love the stand you took. Casandra Thompson Finley was my great grand mother. I live in The Bahamas on the Island of Andros. I had the pleasure of meetng auntie Lucy and Cousin Quan. I hope to meet you soon.

    Love Cousin Donna

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