When members of the Greensboro (today Grimsley) High School class of 1959 gather for their 60th reunion June 7-9, a nostalgic Beach Boys song — “Isn’t It Time?” — may stir memories.
Especially the chorus:
Isn’t it time we danced the night away?
How about doing just like yesterday?
Every time I think of you
All of the things we liked to do.
And then this:
Remember those nights we spent just you and I?
Little did we know how the time would fly.
Wow, did it ever.
Days after graduation we were anticipating a job, college, careers, marriage, military service. You know, becoming adults.
But just weeks later, it seemed you could find yourself telling a grandchild that while it’s OK for her to address you as “Grandpa,” you’d really prefer “Grandfather Sir.”
Like high-schoolers everywhere, our post-grad years consisted of the usual: scholastic and career accomplishments; the deaths of parents, friends, former classmates; the births of children and grandchildren.
But days from now, another decennial reunion will have us reliving memories. Savoring the present. Still anticipating our futures.
We’ll be celebrating at the Marriott on North Greene. There will be slowwwwwww dancing, good food and refreshing drinks.
(But probably not one I heard about years ago: a mixture of vodka and milk of magnesia that produces — sorry! — a Phillips screwdriver).
Our departure from GHS occurred 14 years after World War II and a mere six years after Korea. But as new graduates we had no clue that momentous events were on the way that would change America forever.
In the nine years after our graduation a president, his brother and a civil rights icon were assassinated.
Ten thousand miles away in South Vietnam, a new kind of war claimed the lives of more than 58,000 servicemen and women, forcing a national reckoning of our role in the world.
Richard Nixon became the first president to resign his office, and a 2001 terrorist attack in New York killed thousands.
But before all that, congressional passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act strengthened America’s adherence to its best ideals. Unfortunately, the mindset that made those laws necessary remains.
An earlier civil rights event in downtown Greensboro was used successfully elsewhere in America to further the national civil rights movement.
In February 1960, four African American students from what is now N.C. A&T were refused service at a Woolworth’s lunch counter. The sit-ins continued, however, and six months later Woolworth’s desegregated its lunch counters. Its Elm Street site is now the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.
That progress was replicated elsewhere as sit-ins and other nonviolent actions helped drive decades of economic growth throughout the South as it repealed Jim Crow laws.
But nearly two years before the Woolworth’s sit-ins Josephine Boyd, a member of the class of 1958, made her own history as the first African American to graduate from Greensboro High. Her transfer from Dudley High School was not without incidents. Opponents resorted to the usual racist slurs and threats, leading her to wonder, according to one report, “Why do these people hate me?”
It is a measure of her courage and her parents’ support at the time that enabled her to graduate from GHS. And following high school, she established a stellar academic record, earning degrees from North Carolina Central, Michigan State University and Emory University, and becoming a professor at Clark Atlanta University. Her year at GHS was the subject of the dissertation she wrote for her Emory Ph.D.
Unfortunately, a recent resurgence of racism and anti-Semitism have combined to nourish violence — including the murders.
Maybe William Faulkner was tragically prescient in writing, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” And that it is up to future generations, including our own children and grandchildren, to prove him wrong.
But let’s end on a more historically uplifting note:
GHS59 students graduated 40 years after Congress approved a constitutional amendment allowing women to vote. It only occurred more than a century after the Constitution’s adoption.
The amendment produced remarkable results in last year’s midterm elections. In 1959 Margaret Chase Smith, R-Maine, was the only woman in the 100-member Senate. Now there are 25. That same year, 15 women served in the House of Representatives. Today? 102.
In 1971 singer Helen Reddy released “I Am Woman,” a song that was called an anthem for the women’s rights movement.
So with no presumptuousness intended, perhaps two new lines will help commemorate women’s increased congressional presence:
“I am woman. Hear me orate. I am woman. Watch me legislate.”