Roland Ray among first black Eagle Scouts

The 93-year-old Winter Garden resident made headlines in 1946 when he and two other boys in his scout troop were among the first black students to earn their Eagle Scout rank.

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  • | 3:26 p.m. September 6, 2023
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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Roland Ray has lived a life full of determination and success, and he has racked up many “firsts” in his 93 years.

Ray, now living at Health Central Park in Winter Garden, was born in Winter Park and grew up in Orlando. He was one of many young Central Florida students who joined Boy Scout groups — Troop 90 for boys who were black — but he was one of just a few who stayed with the program and, ultimately, earned their Eagle rank, the highest award in scouting.

Roland Ray was about 16 years old when he earned his Eagle Scout rank.

Ray and two troop friends, Leo Belton and George Nixon, were among the first black Central Florida boys to reach the rank of Eagle in 1946. Ray still has the newspaper clipping recognizing their achievements at age 16.

Ray recalled the thrill of earning his merit badges and rising through the scouting ranks. One of the badges he could earn was for surveying — a skill that would benefit him later in his career. One of his favorite memories is learning how to build a fire for a badge, he said. He also enjoyed the campouts and the camaraderie of scouting with his friends.

Ray loved the outdoors and spent Florida’s hot months at Lake Mann in Orlando as one of the area’s first black lifeguards certified by Boy Scouts. He remembered attending a lifeguard program somewhere on the Florida-Georgia border to get his certification, he said.

After graduating from Jones High School, Ray attended Hampton University, then called Hampton Institute, in Virginia. He joined the college’s ROTC program and worked in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during the Korean War.

His plan was to become a general contractor in Hampton following graduation, but he found himself back in Orlando instead. According to his family, he was the first black licensed general contractor in Orlando.

“He always wanted to be his own boss,” said Roland Ray’s son, Rowland Ray. “He had an entrepreneurial spirit. At the time, he was well known because he was one of the few black general contractors. His work was word of mouth.”

Roland Ray, now 93, was of the first black scouts in Central Florida to earn his rank of Eagle.

Roland Ray’s resume also includes a brief stint at Martin-Marietta, the construction of several Red Lobster restaurants and employment at Dunlap Roofing.

One of the last jobs Ray had before retirement was as a building inspector in Seminole County.

Decades after becoming an Eagle scout with Troop 90, Ray returned to Shiloh Baptist Church of Orlando to assist with the organization that was so crucial to his development as a teen. He paid it forward by becoming a project mentor to another black scout hoping to earn his Eagle rank.

Roland Ray was one of the first black certified lifeguards in Orlando.


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