Remembering Central High School: A Legacy of Legacies

By ANNIE LOU BROWN BURNS,

Class of 1969

 

A forgotten institution of learning called Central High School is remembered by its last graduating class, the Class of 1969 as it approaches its 50th Year Anniversary. The Central High School building, completed in 1961, was originally called Clarke County High School. It was later renamed Central High School (CHS) as it provided educational opportunities for black students from Stonewall, Enterprise, and the surrounding areas in north Clarke County.  Though facilities were better than they had been prior to the building of the new school, deficiencies that reflected the inequities of two separate school systems continued to exist. However, local black students were no longer restricted to limited small schools in their immediate communities, but were given the opportunity to attend a more comprehensive school setting that provided a library, cafeteria, science lab, gymnasium/auditorium, and separate classrooms for each grade level, as well as restroom facilities. Home economics, agriculture/shop, typing, Spanish, chorus, and physical education classes were offered.  

Dedicated teachers in the community, as well as teachers from surrounding areas, came to teach young black children in grades 1-12.  Much pride was exhibited as the Falcon was selected as the school’s mascot, and a band was formed to expand musical talents.  A basketball team became a part of the school’s extra-curricular and competitive activities for energetic youth of the area.  The boys’ team was called the Falcons, and the girls’ team was called the Falconettes. They exhibited a competitive spirit, and winning always lifted the morale of the entire school as they celebrated as one.  While little media attention or recognition was given to the scholarship and activities of the school, teachers, or students, Central High School held a sense of pride and dedication that allowed them to persevere.

The Class of 1961 was the first to be graduated from Central High School.  This class was to be followed by eight other graduating classes before the doors of Central High were closed.  The principal, Mr. Waldon D. Falconer, Sr., along with many dedicated educators, spent semester after semester teaching and training students. The Class of 1969 remembers many teachers as mentors and role models: Mr. Lemuel  Grayson, assistant principal and math teacher;  Mrs. Mrs. Hattie Lott, secretary; Mrs. Claudia Simpson, Mrs. Hattie M. Coleman, Mrs. Carrie Hall, Mrs. Rosetta Marshall Poe, Mrs. Clara Griffin, Mrs. Bessie Croft, Mrs. Eunice Edmonson,  Mrs. Birtha Cameron, Mrs. Janice Hoze, Mrs. Henrietta King, Ms. Bertha Roberts, Ms. Dozier, Mr. George M. Hardaway (1st-6th grades), Mr. John W. Lott,  Mr. Charlie Smith,  Mrs. Johnnie Pearl Hunter,  Ms.  Rosetta Spears, Mrs. Asline Turner, Mr. John B. Turner, Ms.  Annie Joyce Watkins Ross, Mr. Robert L. Jones, Mrs. Jessie Ree Yarrell, Mrs.  Eunice Smith, Mr. Albert Nelson,   Mr. Joseph Hoze, Mr. Preston Banks, Mr. Charles Stringfellow, Mr. Harvey, Mrs. Gladys Jones, Mrs. Ruthie Edwards, Mr. Aaron Edwards, Mr. Roy Palmer Poe, Mrs. Sadie Mayfield,  Mr. Lynell Stubbs, Mrs. Lucille Carter Stubbs, and Ms. Marjorie McGee (7 -12).

The Class of 1969 was the last group of students to be taught by the Central High School faculty.  The anniversary of the Class of 1969 and the memories of Central High are celebrated this spring.  After fifty years, members of this class are coming together to celebrate and reminisce the beauty of this legacy.  Remembered are the first days of school after long summer vacations and the anxiety of who would be classmates and who would be the teachers for each class.  Fond memories of school plays, the angelic chorus, end-of-the-year programs (better known as school closing programs), May Day activities, assembly programs, vaccination days from the local health department, basketball tournaments, proms, commencements, baccalaureates, and class night programs bring smiles as thoughts of a simpler time come to mind.  These events and activities were learning experiences that left precious, lasting memories. 

The teachers had control of their classrooms and support from the parents of their students.  Most students gave and received respect.  Consideration was given to the needs of the students, the needs of families, and the needs of the community.  Preparation for the world beyond the walls of Central High School was serious business for teachers and students.

Remembered also are the changes that reshaped the Class of 69. The period from the ninth grade through twelfth brought unusual changes. It was during that time that intense attention was given to Civil Rights and Freedom of Choice issues. Several classmates exercised their freedom of choice option while twenty-nine elected to remain at Central High.  Since mandatory integration of all public schools in Mississippi did not occur until January 1970, (seven months after the graduation of the Class of 69), the Class of 1969 was the last senior class to graduate from Central High School.   The doors of Central High School would no longer be opened to lift the veils as it had during the past nine years.  Central High School became an institution of the past as its last graduates went their separate ways to make their marks in a still segregated society. 

Record and traditions and many dedicated teachers were purged from the State’s education system.  However, its graduates pushed forward into the world to take their places in society, while holding a special affinity for Central High School and its teachers who had given so much of themselves to ensure that their students were at least rudimentarily prepared to make their way in the world.  The inadequacies of any segregated school leave an indelible mark on all who walk through its doors; Central High was no exception.  The Class of 69 is a living testament of that time and place as it continues to ponder its class motto: “If not us, who? If not now, when?” 

In a world that is still grappling with integration 50 years later, Central High School leaves a positive legacy as it has made a difference in the lives of many students.

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