A joyful class reunion on Saturday

Published 10:47 pm Monday, September 30, 2013

Many people dread their high school reunions.

I eagerly anticipated my 10-year high school reunion last year (I know, I’ve just dated myself) and thoroughly enjoyed seeing everyone who was able to attend. But I’ve heard tales about people who don’t want to go to their high school reunions because they don’t want to see how they measure up in various ways to their old classmates.

Not a touch of dread was evident, however, when I attended the Nansemond County Training School/Southwestern High School reunion on Saturday.


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A remarkable group of alumni ranging from the ‘30s to 1970 assembled at Mount Sinai Baptist Church. They not only enjoyed food and fellowship but also got the chance to have their documents related to the school scanned and to be interviewed by a film crew that is putting together a documentary on the school.

Barn Films of Como, N.C., is experienced at doing documentaries on Rosenwald schools like Nansemond County Training School. In the shameful days of segregated public education in America, Sears, Roebuck and Company executive Julius Rosenwald was a point of light. He established the fund that bore his name, and from 1917 to 1932, it provided seed money for safe schools where black children could learn. Public money and private donations from both blacks and whites were expected to cover the difference in what the Rosenwald fund provided and the cost of construction, but the fund eventually helped sprout thousands of schools across the rural South, including 10 or so in what is now Suffolk.

The years of a segregated America and the laughable “separate but equal” doctrine are rightfully gone from the nation and its public schools, but the repercussions still remain in many places. Alumna Ruby Walden, for example, showed me a notebook on Saturday full of court documents detailing the case against segregated education in Nansemond County, showing that separate was not, in fact, equal.

Even so, many graduates of Nansemond County Training School went on to college, earned degrees and entered profitable careers. It seemed like most everyone I talked to on Saturday attended Elizabeth City State University and became a teacher, but in truth the experiences of NCTS and Southwestern graduates are as varied as those of any school.

I join the graduates in eagerly anticipating the release of the documentary film about the school. I’ll be sure to report on it.