When we think about chalkboard heroes, one name that immediately comes to mind is Braulio Alonso. This distinguished educator and World War II veteran can boast of numerous accomplishments during his lifetime.
Born in Ybor City, Tampa, Florida, in 1916, the son of impoverished cigar makers, Braulio graduated as the valedictorian of his class from Hillsborough High School in 1935. He was also the valedictorian of his college class when he graduated from the University of Tampa in 1939.
Braulio began his teaching career as an instructor of physics and chemistry courses at Henry B. Plant High School in Tampa, but when World War II erupted, Braulio became part of the United States Army in 1941. He was immediately sent to officer candidate school, and later he became part of the 85th Infantry Division in North Africa. The teacher-soldier was promoted to Battery Commander for the 328th Artillery Battalion, taking an active part in the Italian campaign. He was among the first Allied soldiers to liberate Rome. By the time he was discharged from the service, Braulio had earned a Bronze Star with Cluster and a Purple Heart.
After the war, Braulio continued his career as an educator. He was named the director of Adult Education and headed an on-the-job training program for returning veterans. He also taught classes and served as a principal at several schools, including West Tampa Junior High, Jefferson High School, and C. Leon King High School.
Always intent upon improving the quality of education, Braulio became the president of his local teachers’ union, eventually becoming the president of the Florida Education Association, where he led the drive to integrate the organization. In 1967, he was elected the president of the National Education Association, the first Hispanic to hold that office. While NEA president, Braulio worked to persuade teacher organizations throughout Europe to join with NEA for an international conference to combat racism, anti-Semitism and apartheid, and served as its secretary. In 1966 he became an international figure when he was asked to mediate a dispute among teacher organizations and the Bolivian government. This was the first of many missions to mediate disputes, including efforts in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Brazil, the Ivory Coast, Kenya, and Ghana.
This remarkable chalkboard hero passed away of natural causes in 2010. He will be missed, but certainly not forgotten.