Monday, July 7, 2008

2008 Douglass (Bristol) Business Meeting: "Let Us Be Seen By Our Deeds"

Heavy traffic proved to be both a boon and a hindrance to the very first Douglass High School in Bristol, Virginia in 1921.

In its favor, was the bustling, industrial hum of development as the nearby Bristol Iron and Steel Corporation provided needed jobs to the area, but at the same time, the school had to design its building to restrict the play and exercise space for its children to keep them away from the heavy traffic.

In 1921, the school moved to the building that still stands today, on Oakview Avenue, where five streets meet. Again, the school was the center of activity in the neighborhood. During many years of economic development, the school grew under the guidance of several note-worthy principals, among them Mrs. Sybil Wilson, whose motto was a simple one: "for the work, the humblest and weakest hand will do."

In 1952, the school building was renovated and expanded, with several new educational departments added. As the years went on, Douglass students achieved many academic and athletic triumphs, but alas.. integration was on the horizon, having begun in many school districts around the country. Bristol, Virginia was no exception, and in 1966, Douglass High School closed, and its students went to Virginia High School.

"Bristol, Virginia was a quiet town, until we intergrated and closed the school in 1965," says John Edwards II, president of the Douglass Alumni Association. "At that point, we found out how important Bristol really was, because when we went to Virginia High, we found out that we'd had a rich history at Douglass.. we didn't realize it at the time, but it's true. You don't realize something that's valuable, until it's gone."

At the 2008 Douglass Alumni Business meeting in the former gymnasium of the old school, which is now an apartment complex, legacies, traditions, and continuing the spirit that made up the school was the main topic of discussion.

"It's important to have reunions like the one year, because of the history of the school," says Mr. Edwards. "We came from someplace, and we don't need to forget the fact that we came from Douglass School, It gives a sense of pride about where we started, and if you lose this, you lose a part of your soul."

"The black history of the area, you can't get it now. They don't teach that. The only way for the descendants to get it, is from us, and once we're gone, our history is gone, unless we can pass it on through our reunions.

"Some of the best athletic teams in the country went to Douglass, right here in Bristol," he says. "Basketball, football.. our biggest aports competitor was Slater just down the street and across the border, but we never thought of them as being in another state. Most of us all attende the same churches, shopped at the same grocery stores, and were even related."

"There are so many wonderful graduates from Douglass, people who've gone on and done well in their lives and careers, and they're from all age groups," says Mr. Edwards.
"That's the beauty of this reunion, we have people from 1955, 1934, up to 62 and 66.

"Many Douglass-Bristol alumni have passed on, and that's a really big problem for us now, in continuing these reunions," he says. "Our age group is fixed.. the average age is between 65 and 68 years old. They are senior citizens, most of them, and there are not many replacements, once this group is gone. We don't have any descendants that we've got interested enough to take their place. That's a good reason for the children and grandchildren to start participating."

And what of talk about having a big reunion with other schools in the area, like Langston in Johnson City, Douglass in Kingsport, Bland in Big Stone Gap, Clem in Greeneville?

A reunion of all the all-black schools in the area?

"I do think we have to all get together, at some point," says Mr. Edwards.

"We're running out of people."

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