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A High School Reunion for the “Integrated Generation”

Posted on Tuesday, September 13th, 2011.

When the Druid Hills High School class of 1986 celebrated its 25th reunion this summer, I invited several of my classmates to record their memories with StoryCorps Atlanta. We grew up in Atlanta in the ’70’s and ’80’s, so one unique aspect of our educational experience was being the first generation of children in the South whose schools were fully integrated. Because of an elective transfer program, our schools were approximately 50% Black and 50% white, from 1st grade through our senior year.

In his interview with fellow classmate Jim Ostrowski, Roland Dawkins remembered that in 1986, “Druid Hills was predominantly white, very affluent, highly educated, but also a very liberal and Democratic portion of Atlanta. At that time, I lived literally on the other side of town, and the (integration) program, “Majority to Minority” was in its heyday. I had to take a bus, actually a couple of buses, for an hour and a half. Eventually it got tiresome, but by then all my friends went to the school I went to.”

Roland Dawkins and Jim Ostrowski

Jim, who was our senior class president, added that it was, “something way out of the ordinary for that neighborhood, at that time, but it all seemed to work pretty well.” They talked about how he and Roland, with all their differences, “were the bridge between cliques, we were the bridge between races, between socioeconomic stratuses.” Their friendship has lasted more than 30 years.

When I told Melanie Lester in our interview that I remembered her strong personality standing out during the elementary school years, she confirmed. “I was always a really, really friendly person. Strong willed, yeah, I would agree with that. Opinionated, yeah, I would agree with that, as well.” With regard to race, “I never saw black or white, though… that was the great thing. It would never occur to me that there was a difference.”

Lauren Waits and Melanie Lester

Roland expressed a sentiment shared across the reunion’s StoryCorps interviews. “All my very good friends were at school, and they were a mix of people, and they came from all walks of life.” As their reunion invitation stated, “You can’t get the last 25 years back, but you can still talk about it.”

One Response to “A High School Reunion for the “Integrated Generation””

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  • My sister and I were fortunate to be bused across Charlotte, NC to attend West Charlotte High School in the late 70s and early 80s. Our high school was the school which prompted court ordered busing. We had a long bus ride in the dark many mornings to arrive before the bell rang at 7:30.

    The parents, students, and community were invested in making our school a showcase for academic and athletic achievement. We had Advanced Placement classes across all offerings in science, math, and English. West Charlotte had great football and basketball (and still has the best marching band and drum section in the now expanded Charlotte Mecklenburg school system).

    The school did make sure that there was equal racial representation on the student council, and maybe we had two Homecoming Queens.

    I remember three incidences of racial tension during the three years I was there. I think, and hope, it was because we knew we had the golden ring of opportunity and needed to make it shine as an example for other systems. Our students had gone to Boston to talk with students there when busing was implemented.

    My class was about 500 strong when we marched in the old Charlotte Coliseum. We counted ourselves as the luckiest in the system. We knew our school was special and a work in progress under great scrutiny. I wouldn’t trade that experience, or the education I got there in the classroom and the cafeteria, for anything.

    Comment from Katherine Helms Cummings on September 20, 2011 at 1:21 pm - Reply to this Comment

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