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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Written history of city’s black community would showcase legacy of Douglass High


Dr. Gray is a 1964 Douglass High School graduate and vice president of Special Services and Equity at McNeese State University, Lake Charles, La.


I read the October 21 article on the Douglass Sons and Daughters’ Web site entitled "Artwork at the New V.O. Dobbins Center: The Sky’s The Limit.” I read further to see what types of art would be included in my former high school, remembering that Martha Beverly, cultural arts coordinator for the City of Kingsport, said: “The sky’s the limit on the artwork we can bring to the new V.O. Dobbins Center.”

I began to reflect on my experiences at Douglass High School, beginning in the eighth grade in 1959 and graduating in 1964. My host family was the Wilbur Hendricks Sr. family when I needed to participate in after-school activities that lasted longer than the school day. I was from Gate City, and my bus left as soon as school was out.
My Douglass High School experiences contributed greatly to my knowledge, background, and experiences which helped me educationally, socially, and culturally because I not only interacted with a larger black population, but with students at Dobyns-Bennett and surrounding areas as I participated in essay and public speaking contests and was vice mayor for the day during an event sponsored by the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen.


My favorite place to eat was Edge’s Place, where we would listen to Rev. Edge’s lectures counseling us on life as we stood in line for one of his hamburgers. The topics varied, depending on what had happened in the neighborhood the night before or what was in the news that he thought we needed to know about.

All of our teachers taught more than the lessons in our books, but demanded and commanded our attention to these lessons. You would have to have experienced the community leaders that I interacted with, both black and white, as I completed my well-rounded educational experiences in the Douglass High School community. The current leaders you all know in the Kingsport-Gate City area are a direct result of what we all experienced as young people attending Douglass High School: a sense of community. I do not want to forget my 24 other classmates in the Class of 1964 who supported me and each other as we acted our way through school, played in the school band, sang in the chorus, participated as basketball cheerleaders and in our student government activities, and studied our high school subjects. You could hear a pin drop in our classes because of the attention expectations of our teachers when it was time to learn.

The Douglass High School community I remember was a strong supporter of education and community involvement — an educational community that was not limited to the historical grounds of Douglass High school. It extended to our churches in the city of Kingsport and to the communities in the surrounding areas. May I suggest that a creative way to showcase the legacy of what Douglass High School meant to the city of Kingsport during our day and to the black community? It goes beyond the Tiger paws and memorabilia such as pictures, trophies, and furniture.

We need a written history about the black community that we all knew with artwork that depicts our stories, our lives, the vocation and work of our community and school leaders by either local writers or artists or regional or national artists; perhaps even a room dedicated to guest artists. When Douglass alums return to their alma mater, regardless of the renovations and changes to our school, we want to see the history of our legacy in print and visually that depicts what made us who we are today and the generations that followed. I respectfully request that the coordinators of the renovation of the V.O. Dobbins Center consider some additional written and visual history of the past and current lives and stories of the Kingsport black community during the years that Douglass High School existed. I, too, am excited about the possibility of quality and historical artwork that reflects the era in which Douglass existed and the impact it made on the Kingsport and surrounding communities.