Community Voices

Black in Time: Former high school rivals plan 50th reunion celebration

2015 Bethune-Cookman University student performers Ray Champagne, Joshua Bivins and director Leroy Meadows rehearsing for the 50th collaborative high school reunion presentation
2015 Bethune-Cookman University student performers Ray Champagne, Joshua Bivins and director Leroy Meadows rehearsing for the 50th collaborative high school reunion presentation Courtesy of Bethune-Cookman University

Celebrating their 50th-class reunion, members of the 1965 graduation classes of Booker T. Washington, Northwestern and North Dade senior high schools are preparing a collaborative kick-off event prior to their individual class reunions. The project developed when representatives of the three historically black high schools organized to mark this special occasion.

Historically, the three schools competed against each other in sports, drama, journalism, and debate. During the last several months, though, their common experiences emerged into a collegial spirit.

This kick-off event, a Black History Month luncheon, will be Feb. 7 at the Miami Shores Country Club, 10000 Biscayne Blvd. The focus will be how the Civil Rights Movement impacted their lives. For ticket information email reunion6t5@cfl.rr.com or call 305-502-5475.

The highlight of the luncheon will be stories told from the perspective of those born into the Jim Crow era, when the “separate and unequal” doctrine segregated blacks from whites. The students graduated from high school in 1965, a few months before Congress passed the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited racial discrimination in voting.

Class members were asked to share personal “memorable stories” as black persons living through the period from 1947 to the present.

North Dade graduate Leroy Meadows, assistant professor of theater artsat Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, has turned selected stories into vignettes. They will be performed by the Tra-Co-Dram (Tragedy-Comedy-Drama) players from the university. In turn, the student performers will interact with individuals whose lives they will portray.

Organizing committee members were forthright in claiming their unique place in history. In a joint statement they said, “We were born during the Jim Crow era of segregation, grew up during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and graduated from high school the year major civil rights legislation was passed.”

The year before they graduated, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The law required equal access to public places and employment, ended segregation in schools and banned unequal voter registration requirements. One result of this legislation was that black students could attend events in Miami Beach and other communities outside their neighborhoods.

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson, in addition to signing the Voting Rights Act, also issued an executive order requiring government contractors to “take affirmative action” toward prospective minority employees in all aspects of hiring and employment. This set forth the country’s affirmative action doctrine.

But the Class of 1965 discovered that changing laws did not necessarily change people’s hearts. The overt racism and prohibitions of their youth were mostly gone, but as adults they navigated a new, more subtle species of discrimination, especially in the workplace.

For 50 years, the 1965 classmates contributed to society, excelling throughout their careers. Committee members who recalled their workplace experiences include North Dade graduate Jacquelyn Davis-Christian; Booker T. Washington graduate Antoinette Woods Miller; and Miami Northwestern graduate Rudean Tucker Jackson in education; Booker T. Washington graduates Hattie Jackson-Johnson and Andrew A. Robinson in communications; Miami Northwestern graduate June Small Garvin in health; North Dade graduate Richard Miller and Booker T. Washington graduate Ralph Williams in the military and public sector.

Rivals no more, 50 years later the alumni have come together renewing past friendships, making new ones, and sharing experiences that might otherwise not be known. An unforgettable collaborative anniversary celebration is planned.

Dorothy Jenkins Fields, PhD, is a historian and founder of the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida Inc. Send feedback to djf@bellsouth.net.

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