Sunday, July 6, 2008

Langston's 2008 Business Meeting: A Look Back & A Look Forward

When Johnson City began a school building program back in 1892, little did school leaders know, that by establishing a new school was established for "colored children," that school named the Langston Normal School would blossom into one of the most properous schools in upper East Tennessee.


The school, which became Langston Elementary and High School, was named after noted black leader John Mercer Langston, a Congressman from Virginia. It became a guiding light in the eyes of young black children in Johnson City.

"After integration in 1965, we realized that never again would we have a black school with teachers who really cared about their students," says Langston graduate Barbara "Bobbi" Love-Watterson. "Our teachers were so encouraging to us.. they prepared us well to meet the world back then. They trained us in every aspect they could train us in, and they cared about us. Back then, the teacher could go to the parents, and they would tell on you, and you knew if a teacher told on you, you were not only going to get it from the school and they were allowed to spank and correct the kids in school."

As much as the old Langston School is loved in the community, it's difficult getting today's kids, the descendants of those wonderful Langston graduates, to take an interest in remembering the heritage of that educational cornerstone.

"We're trying to figure that one out right now," says Mrs. Love-Waterson. "If anybody out there knows how to do it, please let us know because we're trying our best. We try every chance we get to involve the teenagers and 20-somethings in reunions and Langston Community events, but they don't seem to pick up on the enthusiam we have, that this is part of their heritage, this is where you come from, this is your background. Without that, you will never know what your heritage is and you'll be lost out there, not ever knowing where you came from. If you don't know where you came from, how do you know where you're going."

One idea that has been floated around for quite some time now, is having one huge reunion, that involves alumni from the other black schools in upper East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. "We've talked to Doug Releford, president of the Douglass Alumni Association in Kingsport about combining forces and we'd like to talk to the folks in Bristol, in Morristown, at Swift in Rogersville, Clem in Greeneville and the schools in Virginia. We could have one big reunion committee that could coordinate get-togethers in the odd years perhaps. We've all got tall tales and good stories to tell."

That was also a topic of discussion at the Langston School business meeting on Saturday. The school committee also talked about reducing the number of days for the bi-annual reunion, having at least one mid-cycle or off-year business meeting during the summers when there is no reunion, and whether to utilize an application or a form letter for potential scholarship awardees. Discussion was also held on whether to change the current academic requirements to a 2.75 GPA for scholarship winners.

"We had 80 alumni to register for this year's reunion," she says, "and we found out it's a good idea to have people pay for specific events, instead of one fee for the whole reunion. That way, folks can attend what they'd like to come to, and that makes it easy for them to afford."

Missing this time around, are the familiar faces of 35 Langston alumni, who have passed on since the last reunion in 2006. "It puts a real damper on your celebration without those voices in our crowd. It's been a difficult situation and our hearts go out to their families, and ours, too, because they were our loved ones, too."

"We've had one Langston alumnus attend her very first reunion," Mrs. Love-Watterson says, "and she told me how sad she was that she had not been to any of the others. She saw people that she went to school with, but really didn't know who they were. She had to work her way around to get to know everybody all over again. On the other hand, there was Sam Watson, Langston alumnus from Detroit, who's come to every Reunion since the very beginning. He's gotten old with us, and he's just as lively as he's always been. Columbus Hartsaw used to play football and basketball for Langston in the 30's and 40's, and even though he's on a walker, Tad, as we call him," still gets out to the reunions and we all love him, just like all of our alumni."

"I think as alumni from all the black schools, we've all got two big projects that will take center stage in the future.. involving our descendants in the reunion process, and combining our forces to have one really big get-together. We can keep our individual school spirits alive, but in unity, there is strength. Only that way, can we honor our distinguished pasts, and move our respective legacies to the next level."

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