A reunion to remember

It took 62 years to happen but the Class of 1949 of Havre de Grace Colored High School finally had an official reunion earlier this month.

The reunion brought eight of the surviving members together at Bulle Rock's Red Room on Aug. 7. Pat Cole, whose father, Bernard James Cole, is a Class of 1949 member, arranged the affair.

Others in attendance included Esther Holmes Martin, Cora Lisby Fleming, Annie Pearl Robinson Anderson, Theodore M. Bond Sr., Marjorie Galloway Holland, Dr. Irving C. Williams and Edwin L. Cole. All are in their late 70s to early 80s.

The group enjoyed an afternoon of good food and great conversation, according to Pat Cole, who also put together a nice program booklet for the occasion that certainly will be enjoyed by many others in addition to those who were being honored.

Pat Cole, who lives in Virginia and works for the Department of the Army at the Pentagon, said the event was planned on "short notice … in about a month."

"One of the classmates who lives in the area was planning a party on Saturday [Aug. 6], and since most of those in the class were planning to attend, we decided to plan a special day for them on Sunday," she said. "Some of them had gotten together over the years, but they had never had an official reunion."

Pat Cole said 10 from the 29-member class are alive. Two could not attend because of poor health.

"They came from all over — California [her father], New York, Dr. Williams came from Africa," she said.

"I learned a lot" in putting together the reunion program, she said.

Though her parents are both from Aberdeen, Pat Cole said she was born in California and grew up there, although the family also spent time in Aberdeen. She retired from the Army before going to work at the Pentagon.

On the attractive and informative reunion program's cover is the official photograph of the 17 boys and 12 girls of the Class of 1949 in their caps and gowns.

The program notes that this group was the last to receive diplomas after completing the 11th grade. Maryland began making 12th grade mandatory in all its public schools in 1950.

Inside the program is another group photograph of the classmates seated outside the old school building at 555 Alliance St. and another shot of them standing on bleachers with the boys wearing suits and the girls mostly wearing sweaters or blouses and skirts.

The program contains photographs and a brief biography of the school's principal, the late Leon Stansbury Roye, a prominent figure in the education of Harford County's African-American children in the middle decades of the 20th century.

Mr. Roye was the first and only principal of Havre de Grace Colored High School from the fall of 1930 until 1953, when the school moved to a new building constructed in Oakington to serve African-American students from grades one through 12.

That new Oakington building was renamed Havre de Grace Consolidated School and today is the Roye-Williams Elementary School named in honor of Mr. Roye and another prominent Harford County African-American educator, the late Dr. Percy V. Williams.

The old building on Alliance Street from which the Class of 1949 graduated eventually was decommissioned as a school. It was later acquired and renovated by the family of former Havre de Grace Mayor Gunther Hirsch and today is used as a medical office building.

The reunion program also has a copy of the program from what was called the Class Night Exercise held at the school building on Monday, June 6, 1949.

Of note on this night was the presentation of the Class Giftatory by the late Charles Nealy, whose father, Charles Sr., in the 1960s became the first African-American member of the Harford County Board of Education.

Presenting the Class Will that evening was the late George B. Lisby, another future Harford County Board of Education member whose name today is on George B. Lisby Elementary School at Hillsdale inAberdeen.

The Class of 1949 of Havre de Grace Colored High School had its commencement exercise on June 8, 1949.

As the reunion program notes, Harry S. Truman was president of the United States, the average income of an American family was $2,959 a year, a new car could be bought for $1,420, gasoline was 27 cents a gallon, a movie ticket was 60 cents (theaters in Harford County still had separate, balcony seating for African-Americans), a first class postage stamp was 3 cents, milk was 84 cents a gallon and a loaf of bread cost 14 cents.

In the news, Joe Louis, the heavyweight boxing champion of the world, announced his retirement after holding the title for a dozen years and Louis Armstrong and his band gave a highly acclaimed performance in Paris with their rendition of "Boogie-Woogie on the St. Louis Blues." The Oscar for Best Picture went to "All the Kings Men."

The reunion program doesn't skirt the issue of racial segregation in public education in Maryland and Harford County, where the so-called separate "colored" schools for the county's African-American children existed in some form from Reconstruction in the late 1860s until 1965, a decade after the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled the practice of "separate but equal" unconstitutional.

The program addresses the issue in "The History of Havre de Grace Colored Schools…from Slavery to Now" and also notes, "Until the 1960s, 'colored' was widely used and colloquial term to reference African-American people."

Also included in the program are proclamations wishing the class well from U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Gov. Martin O'Malley, Harford County Executive David Craig and Havre de Grace Mayor Wayne Dougherty.

But the program's crowning achievement is the biographies and photographs from the lives of each of the eight reunion attendees.

They became teachers, nurses, career military and government employees, corporate leaders and entrepreneurs, engineers and other professionals, homemakers, philanthropists and an internationally known physician — Dr. Williams, who last year was inducted into the first class of the Havre de Grace High School Hall of Fame, a school he could not attend 70 years earlier because of his color.

Reunion organizer Pat Cole said she is proud of her father and the other class members and was happy to put the event together.

Asked if the group had a good time, she replied: "I believe they did. You should have seen them on the dance floor."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad