Monday, August 31, 2009

TVA helping Swift Museum Preserve Memories of Old Rogersville School


‘We want to preserve all this. We don’t want it to be lost.’ — Stella Gudger

ROGERSVILLE — The Tennessee Valley Authority is helping Rogersville’s Swift Museum preserve memories of the city’s segregated Swift College and Price Public School for generations to come.

Last year the TVA donated $2,000 to the Price Public Community Center and Swift Museum, located in the refurbished Price Public School building on Hasson Street.

Last Thursday, however, TVA volunteers got more hands on, delivering donations of furniture and $1,000 to the center, as well as professional architecture plans for a proposed new design of the museum.

Swift Museum contains artifacts and photos from the old Swift College, which was located on the current grounds of the Hawkins County School central office in Rogersville from 1883-1955. The college later became the segregated Swift High School which closed in 1963, and the building was subsequently demolished.

Vyrone Cravakas, who is TVA’s manager of diversity management based in Knoxville, was among the TVA employees who came to the Swift Museum Thursday to lend a hand.

“Today was a day of service, and basically it’s a shift in focus from in our diversity efforts to get away from corporate contributions and focus more on community involvement,” Cravakas told the Times-News Thursday.

Jeff Bobo —

Several volunteers from the Tennessee Valley Authority visited Rogersville Thursday, August 27, 2009 to help give the Price Public Community Center and Swift Museum a donation of furniture and $1,000. The TVA also donated architectural plans for a redesign of the museum.

Cravakas added that he is very impressed with the museum, which he described as “a testimony to not only the rich history of this area, but also a testament to the pride that the individuals who attended this school still have.”

TVA architects compiled several drawings for the Swift Museum redesign and presented them Thursday to PPCC Director Stella Gudger. The TVA volunteers also carried in donated furniture and set it up in the museum as dictated by the drawings.

There were other aspects of the proposed redesign which will have to be accomplished at a later date including installation of a blown up photograph of the old college building, which will take up an entire wall.

Another wall will receive a large timeline which follows the significant historical events of Swift College as they coincided with significant events in the history of African-Americans.

Although the college closed its doors in 1955, many of its alumni are still living and return often for reunions or just to visit and reminisce. Gudger said another addition to the museum will be a flat screen TV which will play a continuous loop of video testimony from former Swift students about their experiences.

Ultimately Gudger hopes to make the museum an annual field trip destination for Hawkins County fifth-graders.

“We want to give back to the community and we want people to really know our history and our culture,” Gudger said. “We want to preserve all this. We don’t want it to be lost.”

Completion of the overall redesign is contingent on fund raising. Gudger said the PPCC is currently selling commemorative bricks which will be placed on a wall outside the south entrance. For more information about buying a brick contact Gudger at 921-3888.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bland High School Reunion: "I Got My Education, You Got Yours to Get, So You'd Better Walk the Chalk Line"

Gilbert Pride remembers that saying quite well, as he walks among his fellow graduates and alumni of Bland High School in Big Stone Gap, Virginia.

The reunion was held the weekend of August 7th, 8th and 9th, bringing folks back to the coal-mining mountains of Southwest Virginia one more time.

To see pictures of the gathering, click Bland Reunion Picnic.

"At Bland, you had to walk that chalk line," Pride says. "That was just the way they taught..everybody had a goal, and that was to be on the Honor Role. We didn't have the television influence that kids have nowadays. I remember finishing my lessons at 9 PM, and then you went to bed. The home, the school and the church worked together back then, to form a moral fiber. All the adults had to say was I"m gonna tell your mama...I'm gonna tell your daddy. If they had to give you a whipping, you can count on another one when you got home."

James Bland High School opened in 1954, as a combination of Bland, Central High School in Appalachia, and the Appalachia Training School, which both closed. The Bland building now houses the Big Stone Gap Town offices.

"There was a need for a larger black school in the early 50's," says graduate Richard Lomax and chief organizer of the 2009 Bland High School Reunion. "Blacks were scattered all over Wise County, and spent many hours on the roads to and from school. But once we got to Bland, that was it. Our teachers loved us and we loved them. It was wonderful."

Lomax says he had already graduated by the time Bland closed for integration in 1965. "I was worked at Eastman at the time. Integration was something they did not teach you back then, nobody was really ready for it. Some of the Bland teachers were actually kept from teaching, and that was sad. Those teachers had taught all of us 'one-on-one.' If we ever went to another school, well we'd already had chemistry, algebra and all that stuff. We got it in the black schools."

Pride, a native of the coal-mining camp in Stonega, Virginia, graduated from Bland in 1960, and also spent 3 months attending Douglass High School in Kingsport during his freshman year, remembering that "I stayed with Reverend and Mrs. Edge on Lincoln Street." When he went back to Bland, he remembers several teachers very well.

"I always remember Mrs. Murphy, she was our English teacher, and she took an interest in all her students, just an exceptional teacher to learn from," he recalls. "All of the teachers would invite you into their homes, they did special activities for you. Near the end of the school year, there would be parties at their homes."

He says those teachers crossed many bridges, trying to keep the students out of the 'school of hard knocks.' "But some of them were not satisfied until they went to the college of adversity," he says.

"I did get a paddling in school once," Pride remembers. "I got into a fight on the bus, then there was silence. Nobody said anything. You got dismissed off the bus if you said anything after a fight. Somebody did something, and I hauled off and hit 'em, and it was reported to Principal Shorter that I was fighting. He always settled things with three paddle licks in the hand, and that was it. I never fought any more."

Many students remember Principal Shorter as having little patience with students he KNEW were capable of doing better.

"In his mind, if something was simple, then you just missed the concept," Pride says. "In his algebra and geometry classes, I used to get tickled at him when he would say 'now, I gotta watch these girls because they can memorize without understanding.' Well I was a BOY and I couldn't understand a word he was saying. I would go to someone and ask them how to do something, and I'd memorize every word they said. Then, I'd go to the board and explain it, and it would sound so good, and Professor Shorter would smile real big. I had no plausible concept of what was going on, but in HIS mind, it was clear."

"If he only knew."

Emma (Craven) Flannagan, a Central graduate, remembers Professor Shorter well. "He, Professor Ryan and the others inspired us to do well," she says. "Professor Shorter would call the boys 'muleheads,' but not the girls. He called them that, because they wouldn't behave."

"He would always get real frustrated with the boys," remembers Pride. "He'd call out 'mulehead, mulehead, what's wrong with you?' Another schoolwide form of discipline was having to write something on the chalkboard 50 or 100 times. Sometimes, he'd make you write something just to repetitive, because he knew if you wrote it that many times, you'd always remember it. I wasn't an 'A' student, but he and the other teachers always made learning a challenge."

Athletic competions always brought out the school and community spirit. Bland High School was part of the Tri-State Athletic Conference.

"All our competitors were tough, but our biggest competitor was Langston High School in Johnson City," Pride remembers. "They always had a good football team, and I remember playing them once for the Tri-State Conference title. We got a touchdown that put us ahead of them and somehow or other, the refs said we had an ineligible man in the backfield and they took the touchdown away from us. Although we didn't like anybody in the conference, Langston was our arch-enemy."

"If we could beat Langston, we could beat anybody."

"Some of those competitions were fierce," remembers Lomax, "Among our teams were Douglass in Bristol, Slater in Bristol, Douglass in Kingsport, Langston in Johnson City, Clem in Greeneville, Douglas in Elizabethton, Rosenwald in Kentucky. Anybody in the Tri-State Conference could have played the white teams in Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky and beaten them. Badly. That's why they never would let us play 'em. It would have been something to have the black team embarrass the white team."

When Bland High School closed, its athletic program suffered the same indignation that many of its Tri-State Conference brethern did. Some of its athletic trophies somehow disappeared into the sunset.

"Our trophies went to the Girl Scout House here in Big Stone Gap," says Lomax, "and the Headstart kids got ahold of them. They played with them, shared them with other kids, and some of them got broken up and tossed out. Over the years, we have been able to salvage many of them, and we hope to display them again someday."

Bland High School has been celebrating reunions with its graduates and Central-Appalachia Training graduates, since 1973. "One reunion in 1981, we had 452 alumni present," says Lomax. "That year, we had to take our stage down and make tables from it, we had so many people.

"This year, it is hard for me," Pride tearfully recalls, "because I lost one of my best friends and didn't even know it until I got here. If I had just gotten on the Internet, maybe I would have found out before. But just getting back here with these people, is worth it. They're my family and I love them. These reunions are important because of the friendships they renew."

"It's the heart.. the love," he says. "We're all at the age where we've got grandchildren, and we're swapping pictures. This is my golden anniversary, since I graduated 49 years ago. Others, even further back than that."

The sense of urgency in continuing the get-togethers every two years, is echoed by all of the other Bland alumni.

"It's heavenly coming back to these mountains," says Mrs. Flannagan. "A few months after graduation, I left, married and moved to Pennsylvania. But just to come back and see friends, family and these mountains, just makes you appreciate the kind of close life that you had, the kind that makes friends part of your family."

"I'd like to keep these reunions going," Lomax says, "although many people left the mountains years ago because there were no jobs. Those jobs are slowly coming back, and I'd like to have the alumni come on back home to live someday."

"If I win the lottery, the first thing I'm gonna do is bring 'em all back home."