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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Douglass alumni headed to Nashville to support historic marker


Contact Vince Staten at or via mail in care of this newspaper. Voicemail may be left at 723-1483. His blog can be found at

Early Friday morning a delegation of Kingsport folks will be heading to Nashville with some important work to do. The group, headed by Douglass High School Alumni Association President Doug Releford, will be attending the meeting of the Tennessee Historical Commission in a show of support for a historical marker for their old school.
When Douglass closed at the end of the 1966 school year, it was the largest African-American school in Upper East Tennessee and had been a powerful educational influence in the lives of hundreds of students in the local black community.
Its alums are pillars of the local community as well as successful business and community leaders around the state and the nation. In fact, a group of Douglass’ Nashville alums plans to meet the local delegation at the commission meeting.
The idea for the marker came from the Alumni Association and Calvin Sneed, who had noticed that Johnson City’s historic black high school building, Langston, had a historical marker. The more he thought about it, the more Calvin knew the marker should be in place for the building reopening this summer as the V.O. Dobbins Community Center. It was a, uh, monumental task. “There couldn’t be more than 483 letters in the text,” said Calvin. He and Jill Ellis talked daily, adding to the legend then whittling down the words. The wording was ready to go when the local group heard from Linda Wynn, the assistant director for state programs at the Tennessee Historical Commission. “She’d noticed in some of the documentation that Douglass was a Rosenwald School.” That changed everything because there’s a renewed interest in the Rosenwald Schools in Tennessee and their influence. Rosenwald Schools got their name from philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, who in the early part of the 20th century provided seed money for schools for African-American children. Over a quarter century his Rosenwald Fund helped more than 5,000 schools.
Calvin says Wynn told him that because adding Rosenwald information would put the marker over the 483-letter limit, the Historical Commission might want the Douglass marker to be two-sided.
The commission will vote Friday morning.
“We’ve got our fingers crossed hoping for approval,” said Calvin. “It will be wonderful to get statewide recognition for the school Kingsport has always known is historic.”
Calvin says letters of support will help. You can e-mail your letter to Ms. Linda Wynn at the Tennessee Historical Commission, You can watch a live video stream of the Historical Commission meeting Friday beginning at 10:15 a.m. at the Douglass website.
Keep your fingers crossed. Although with the documentation the Douglass High School Alumni Association has put together, they shouldn’t need luck.

Interested in Tennessee’s historical markers? According to, there are 828 of them, including local markers for the Gem Theater, Yancey’s Tavern, the Battle of Island Flats, Rock Ledge, Old Kingsport Presbyterian Church, Great Indian Warrior Trading Path, Boat Yard, Long Island of the Holston, Donelson Flotilla, Avery Treaty and Pactolus Ironworks.
And soon ... Douglass High School of Kingsport!

I went to the Lady Vols game against Florida on Sunday and sat with my old high school buddy Bob DeVault Jr. in Row B. Row B is not in the stands; it’s the second row on the floor.
Bob told me that if a stray ball came our way and I had to throw it back on the court that I should be careful not to hit someone sitting in the row in front of us.
I told him not to worry, just to recall my days playing high school basketball. “Remember Bob, I never hit anybody with a pass.”