'Stanton was great then and it's even greater now': The history behind Stanton College Prep

The legacy of Stanton College Prep in Jacksonville

One of the top college preparatory high schools in the state and the nation -- sits right on Jacksonville's Northwest side.

For Black History Month, Action News Jax reporter Courtney Cole took a trip to Stanton College Preparatory School to show us why this high school was a paramount part of the community long before it received its "college prep" title.

When you're walking down the halls of Stanton College Prep these days -- you're likely to see staff and students from all walks of life.

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You might even run into some alumni, too.

"I'm a graduate of the Class of '63. Best class that ever graduated from Stanton!" saidLillian Smith, proud alumna of Stanton.

While the makeup of the student body may look drastically different now, Smith tells me there's one thing that hasn't changed about the school: the students' desire for academic excellence.

"We were also taught to do our best. Strive to be the best! Follow your dreams!" Smith said.

Cierra McKenzie, a graduating senior, said the diversity is one of the reasons she loves her school.

"That makes us want to be more politically active and more aware of what's going on in the world," McKenzie said.

Before Stanton was a melting pot -- it was a place where black kids could go to receive an education, when no one else wanted to teach them.

"The people that were in Stanton ... the adults that were in Stanton that touched the hearts of children...(they) cared about you," Larry Rozier said.

Rozier, a proud graduate of the college prep school, described Stanton as the heartbeat of the neighborhood.

"When we walked in the classrooms, everybody in the classroom looked like me. Everybody in the classroom came from the same neighborhood I came from," Rozier said.

The black people of the Jacksonville came together on Feb. 8, 1868, to buy the piece of land on Ashley and Broad streets where the first Stanton School was built.

It was named after Gen. Edwin McMasters Stanton, an advocate for free formal education for black boys and girls.

The building was destroyed by fire -- twice.

The school also went through a number of name changes before it became to be known as Stanton College Prep in 1981, at it's current location on 13th Street.

Now, 150 years after the school began, thousands of students have graduated and gone on to attend some of the top schools in the country.

And one more is on her way!

"My top-choice school was University of Southern California and I got accepted last week!" McKenzie said with a smile on her face.

But if there's one thing current students and alumni said they want you to remember the next time you drive by Stanton -- it's this:

"Stanton was great then and it's even greater now," Smith said.