The year is 1949. World War II is over, and although segregation is still rampant in the South, many blacks had hope for their future as citizens of the United States of America. That was pretty much the way feeling among the 1949 graduating seniors at Booker T. Washington Junior/Senior High School in Overtown.
Established in 1926, B.T.W. was the first black high school in South Florida. By 1949, the school was the oldest of only three high schools for blacks in Dade County. The other schools were Dorsey High in Liberty City, and Carver High in Coconut Grove.
In 1949, if black teachers thought the future of the status of life for African Americans would never change, they didn’t let their students know their feelings. Their job was to to teach and inspire, in spite of what the future really looked like. And so they did, by telling them they could change the world.
“Many of us did think that we would change the world, or at least our community, and many of us did, thanks to our teachers,” said retired Army Maj. Moses Jones Jr., a proud member of the class. “We had a group of teachers who told us we could accomplish anything we wanted to. ... They told us to reach for the stars. They told us we could accomplish anything, if we really wanted to, and we believed them. Our school motto was — and still is — ‘Not the Largest, But the Best.’ We really thought that we could do anything we set our minds to.”
Jones proudly peels off some of the names of his well-known classmates: Dr. Whittington B. Johnson, a retired University of Miami history professor and the author of four books; Earl Carrol, the first black elected to public office in Dade County, when he became a county commissioner; Percy Oliver, who was the first black to be a coach at a fully integrated high school — Miami Jackson High, where Oliver later became principal; the late Judge Harold Braynon; Louise Goodman, who helped desegregate the practical nursing program at a local hospital; the late Cynthia Garvin Clark, a professor at Miami Dade College; Leona Ferguson Cooper, who help found the Black Catholics organization in the Archdiocese of Miami and a noted civic activist, Winifred Cox Beacham, who served as the executive secretary to the late Johnny Jones, the first black Dade County schools superintendent, and Enid Curtiss Pinkney, the first black president of the Dade Heritage Trust and a dedicated civil rights pioneer.
What is so impressive about the number of achievers in the class is that there were only 238 graduates, Jones said.
He said his class members were always “very close” in high school. “Many of us kept in touch over the years. Those who moved away, got in touch as soon as they came back home. I was one of them. I retired in 1974 from the Army and got active in class events within a year.”
Jones said he can speak for his fellow classmates when he says, “This reunion means the world to me. Meeting with my class members is the best thing that happened to me after I retired from the Army.”
He said the class meets once a month, except July and August. Sometimes, his class members are brought to the meetings by their children, who are now their caregivers.
On Monday, the beginning of the week-long celebration, members of the 49ers will gather at B.T.W. at 11 a.m. for an “Ice-Breaker” gathering hosted by a classmate, retired Lt. Col. Albert Ferguson, to renew old friendships and meet each other’s family members and brag about their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
At noon on July 16, the 49ers will have a memorial service for their deceased classmates at Mt. Tabor Missionary Baptist Church at 1701 NW 66th St. in Liberty City. Out of a class numbering 238, about half have passed on, Jones said. A Dutch treat luncheon will follow.
The main event, the Reunion Banquet, will be at 7 p.n,. Friday at the Miami Shores Country Club, 10000 Biscayne Blvd. Some tickets are still available for $40 each, Call Jones at 305-251-0176 to RSVP, if you’d like to go.
At 10 a.m. Sunday there will be a reunion worship service at The Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, 15260 NW 19th Ave. in Miami Gardens, followed by a Dutch treat luncheon at the church.
The reunion festivities will culminate on July 21, as the class embarks on a five-day Reunion Cruise to Honduras and Cozumel, Mexico.
“Sixty-five years is a long time,” Jones said. “We are blessed.”
Our hats are off to the Comcast Corporation, which recently presented a $25,000 grant to Boys and Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade. The grant is a part of the corporation’s Gold Medal Recognition Program, which aims to “conquer the ‘digital divide’,” according to a press release.
As a year-round partner of Boys and Girls Clubs, Comcast is a supporter of the Internet Essentials Learning Zones at the Kendall and Northwest clubs, to expand broadband adoption and increase digital literacy among club members and the community.