In Memory of “Dude” Bishop

A bold leader who stood firm for what’s right. Even if it wasn’t popular – on either side

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I grew up in Monticello Florida, and like every other 4th grade boy at the 1st Baptist Church, I was taught by Desmond “Dude” Bishop. He was quite a character. He was Superintendent (or should I say “king”) of Public Schools. Actually, he was more than that. More on that later. First let me set the stage.

Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, I soon came to know Desmond “Dude” Bishop. He was a local legend in rural Jefferson County Florida. Monticello is the only incorporated city in that county, so it’s the county seat – and to this day does not have a stop light – although there is one caution light at the fire station. However there are numerous unincorporated communities with exotic names like Aucilla, Waukeenah, Wascissa, and even Two Egg. Situated just 30 miles east of Tallahassee Florida, almost everybody is an FSU fan.

Well, almost everybody – not Dude Bishop. He is a Gator fan – and a very influential one. He used his influence to get the University of Florida to locate one of their agricultural research centers in Jefferson County. Remember the Los Angles Rams “Fearsome Foursome”? Fred Dryer, Merlin Olson, Larry Brooks, and Jack Youngblood. NFL Hame of Famer Jack Youngblood is from Monticello Florida. Guess where he got a full scholarship? That’s right,  the University of Florida. I’m sure that Dude Bishop had something to do with it. In fact, I’m sure that Dude Bishop had everything to do with it. Dude Bishop proudly wore a huge University of Florida ring.

The “Gator” ring – that brings us back to my 4th grade Sunday School class. Dude Bishop ruled that class in the same style he ruled the public schools. Any boy misbehaving was introduced to Dude Bishop’s University of Florida “Gator” ring. He would turn the face of that ring to the inside of his hand and give you a gentle whop to the head – you know, the kind of slap you see from Gibbs on CSI today. I think every boy in that class carries the signature of that ring. For as long as I knew him, he taught that Sunday School class. For as long as I knew him, he was Superintendent of Public Schools.

Dude Bishop was a strong leader and a strong Christian. He led that poor little rural county’s schools with distinction through some very rough times. The administration building is named after him today.

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It was the early 70’s. The orders to desegregate the schools came down from on high. Tensions were high. Parents, both black and white, looked to Dude Bishop to “do something”. This is when I got to really know Dude Bishop. Not as a bold, swashbuckling, bravado leader, but as a humble man of God. You see, my parents were among almost every parent who looked to Dude Bishop to “do something”. He visited our home personally. I remember my mother had a good idea – to desegregate the 1st grade and continue that plan until 12 years later the entire school system would be desegregated. Her words were to no avail. I remember my mother pleading with Dude Bishop. Surely he could “do something” (those were her exact words). His words to my mother resonate in my mind to this day.

“This is bigger than I am. We’re going to have to work things out”

What? The powerful Dude Bishop surrendering?

Far from it. While other white political leaders were doubling down on segregated schools, Dude Bishop boldly stood firm for what is right. His words were not those of powerless and impotent surrender to superior political forces. His tone challenged us to change for the better. Those were the words of a wise man that God called to lead a very segregated constituency on a journey to racial equality that continues to this day. At the time it wasn’t popular – on either side.

Well, I went to the desegregated public school for 1 year. My parents then sent me to private (think “white”) schools. They weren’t racists, but try to understand that in the early 70’s, the idea of whites and blacks showering together was just more than they were equipped to handle.

I was at the gym yesterday. I go there around noon. There’s a few men that work out during their lunch hour. We engage in the usual men’s locker room talk. Yesterday, as we showered, we continued the conversations. As we were drying off, it occurred to me that we’ve come a long way. Both my mom and Dude Bishop are in heaven today, but I have a message for them:

Mom – I showered with a black man. It’s OK.

Dude – thank you.


That’s what I think. I’m interested in your thoughts. There’s lots of ways to hit me up so let me hear from you.

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Author: Mark Prasek

Christian Technologist. Find me on Twitter @DataGenesis

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