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After 50 years, Mary Bethune class to reunite for 3-day bash

It was the year 1963 when 147 African-American students graduated from Mary Bethune High School ready to embark on the real world.

Now, a half-century later, members of the 1963 class are dispersed throughout 14 states plus the District of Columbia. Some have joined the military, and a number served in Vietnam. 

A large group attended colleges, while others moved north in search of better opportunities. Many have returned home for retirement. 

Some have gone on to become air traffic controllers, educators, corporate workers, medical professionals, journalists and farmers. 

After 50 years, the class of 1963 will come together to celebrate their reunion on June 28, 29 and 30 at the Berry Hill Mansion and Resort. 

According to Class Officers Sally Edwina Wright Davis and John Jones, former Mary Bethune students will take a tour of the Mary Bethune office complex, and visit the South Boston Museum and the L. E. Coleman African-American museum during the reunion. 

A picnic at Wedgewood also is planned along with a visit by Halifax Mayor Dick Moore and a semi-formal ball with plenty of nostalgic trivia activities. 

Those who are not able to make the reunion also will be recognized.

“We will do a noonday memorial tribute to our classmates who are not going to be able to be there,” Davis said.

She noted 104 of the 146 students have been invited to the event. Some 35 of the 146 students have passed away, and five are confined to medical institutions. Seven classmates are unaccounted for.

“Our goal is to have 100 percent participation at the 50th gold reunion,” Davis said.

Jones said remaining classmates who they haven’t been able to contact can visit the webpage Bethune50th.org to register for the reunion, and an emergency fund has been established for those who cannot afford to attend.

“We don’t want anyone not to come because of finances,” Davis said.

According to Davis and Jones, nine of their 40 former faculty members and teachers also have been invited to attend this event. Teachers include Frank Lee, Louis Jennings, Harvey Dillard, Madge Atkinson and Barbara Petty.

As Jones and Davis look back on the year 1963 and prepare for the upcoming reunion, they are flooded by many memories of their high school years.

“Something that I didn’t feel like we realized in 1963 but that we realize now and began to appreciate later is being able to have gone to an all-black high school. There was something about the love, the caring, the sharing and the camaraderie,” Davis said.

For Jones and Davis, it seems like it was just yesterday when the pair was elected as class officers along with five other classmates.

Class officers included Thomas Adams, class president; Sinclair Bowman Coleman, vice president; Ora Moon Tucker, secretary; Davis, assistant secretary; Rebecca Mitchell Carter, treasurer; Howard Lovelace, parliamentarian; and Eva Chandler Medlock, reporter.

Two of the seven class officers are now deceased.

According to Davis and Jones, that year Vernessa Freeman Woody was crowned homecoming queen, and Ray Pannell was homecoming king. 

And Davis and Jones remember admiring the floats during the homecoming parade.

“Each homeroom voted on a queen and king, but the king and queen could only come from the senior class,” Davis said. “Making the floats was fun. It was like a skip day because you got there in the morning, and you started working on the float the day before the parade.”

“I remember I was so nervous driving Mr. Paige’s car in the parade, and I think there were some girls on the hood. I said let me get through this without hurting anybody,” Jones added.

The class colors were blue and white, and Serita Garrett Lanham composed the class song, while Davis composed the class poem. The class motto was “a picture of knowledge is now showing success is the coming attraction.”

The senior class play was “The unsuspected,” a three-act drama starring Thomas Adams as Luther Grandison, Arthur Wade as Martin Press, the gardener, Davis as Mrs. Press, the housewife, Blanch Snead Coppedge as Jane Moynihan, Gloria Fitzgerald Strickland as Althea Keane, Joseph Muse as Oliver Keane, Ovetta Poindexter Johnson as Tye Frazier, John Jones as Frank Moynihan, Royse Faulkner Bumphus as Lillian Whitworth and Herb Cosby as the police chief.

  According to a school newspaper, senior superlatives included Deloris Williams Satterwhite and Benjamin Kent as most popular, Carolyn Majors Coles and William Faulkner as best dressed, Willie Crawley and Authur Wade as having the best personality, William Lovelace as most handsome and Luester Dixon Hazel as most attractive.

  Even then students indulged in the ever so popular school tradition commonly known as Senior Skip Day; however, back then they called it Class Day.

“We did what teenagers did everywhere. We liked the idea of sneaking off campus. It wasn’t anywhere to go, but we’d sneak off anyway, but on Class Day we could get away with it. Class Day was the only day you could get away with it. I probably rode over to South Boston, got a hot dog and Coke because very few students had cars, so there weren’t many places you could go unless you walked,” Davis said.

Davis and Jones attended the prom together that year. It was one of Davis’ fondest memories of her time at Mary Bethune.

 “We had it there in the gym, and the gym was beautiful. It was called the Junior/Senior Prom because the juniors would do all of the decorating and the preparations, and it was like the seniors were the special people. The gym hardwood floors were so shiny and were so pretty, and we had a band. A senior class advisor would work with the juniors to help them plan the prom for us,” Davis said. “The janitors and everybody would help to decorate the gym. It was so much fun,” she added.

According to Davis, they didn’t have prom queen and king back then.

That year, Sinclair Bowman Coleman and Davis were named valedictorian and salutatorian, and they gave the commencement speeches during graduation. 

Rebecca Mitchell Carter ranked number three, Mildred Yvonne Lewis Harper ranked number four, Royse Delcina Faulkner Bumpus ranked number five, and Emma Louise Coleman Fields ranked number six in the senior ranking.

“Mr. Robert L. Lacey, who was the superintendent of Halifax County Schools, spoke to us at our baccalaureate and talked about how proud he was of us. His angle was that we had reached a major milestone in our lives, and he talked about our class motto. He mentioned that all the doors, windows and avenues were now opened to us, and nothing would stand in our way of being a success and going forward in our lives,” Davis said of her greatest memory of graduation. 

“I can just remember after his speech I just wanted to hug that man, and I think everybody did.  We were so excited. Our class is truly special. I don’t know if there was any other class that has exactly what we have or what we had then in terms of courageousness, and we just weren’t afraid. We were excited and looking forward to the days ahead,” she added.

Plans continue for the 50th anniversary of the Mary M. Bethune Class of 1963, and all classmates are asked to contact Gloria at 423-326-2871, Mollie at 804-639-0734 or Blanch at 678-524-6059.