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Dorothy Gordon gets emotional as she talks about the lack of space given for a room at Leon Sheffield Elementary School for artifacts from Lakeside and Decatur Negro high schools.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
Dorothy Gordon gets emotional as she talks about the lack of space given for a room at Leon Sheffield Elementary School for artifacts from Lakeside and Decatur Negro high schools.

Looking for
place for past

Graduate wants room to display Lakeside, Decatur Negro high schools’ history

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com· 340-2432

Dorothy Gordon sifts through the photos and pulls out one of the Lakeside High School band.

Ooooh, they were the best. They were why everyone went to Second Avenue for the Christmas parade,” she exclaims.

The memories of Decatur Negro High and Lakeside are plentiful, and they’re emotional for the 64-year-old. Her emotional attachment is one reason she wants to preserve the history of these two schools that served Decatur’s black population before desegregation.

Gordon wants a room at Leon Sheffield Elementary School, formerly Lakeside, to display photos and memorabilia from the schools.

Decatur City Schools officials offered her, however, three custom-made display cases in the new entranceway built for community access to the gymnasium. The school system renovated the building and opened it in August as a magnet school.

Display cases in hallway

Gordon isn’t happy with the alternative. She said the schools’ alumni deserve more than display cases in a hall.

“It really hurt me so much,” she said, when Superintendent Sam Houston showed her the cases, her eyes welling with tears.

“It’s not fair. Am I upset? Hell, yes, I’m upset. I don’t know why we’re having to fight to get something that’s due to us.”

Gordon, a 1962 graduate, wants a place where alumni can show their history to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren at their semi-annual reunions that attract more than 200.

It would be a place where she could talk about Emma Gene Warren and her chorus or the time she ran track against Wilma Rudolph or Benjamin Davis Jr. ran against Bob Hayes.

“I’ve never seen a lady run so fast,” Gordon said of Rudolph. “Ben thought he could run pretty fast, but he couldn’t run as fast as Bob Hayes.”

Most of all, she wants to talk about the teachers, like English teacher Patty Sykes and her soft voice, Emma Gene Warren making her choral students, including Gordon, sing solos, or coach Bill McKinney and his winning football teams. She would talk about Principal Benjamin Davis Sr. buying shoes for students whose parents were struggling financially.

“It was like an extended family, and they treated us as such,” Gordon said. “The teachers understood you, and you were taught respect.”

Gordon said many did not want Lakeside, which lasted just 11 years, to close in 1967 as part of desegregation efforts, its students split between Austin and Decatur high schools.

She said they should have made some of the white students go to Lakeside instead of closing it.

“We didn’t ask for Lakeside to be taken away,” Gordon said.

Following a tour of the school, Houston said he wants to help Gordon memorialize the two black high schools for their alumni, hopefully in time for the school’s 50th anniversary reunion next summer.

The display would be in a prime location with a high traffic volume.

Dorothy Gordon said many did not want Lakeside, which lasted just 11 years, to close in 1967 as part of desegregation efforts.
Dorothy Gordon said many did not want Lakeside, which lasted just 11 years, to close in 1967 as part of desegregation efforts.
He said he believes the hall is a good start and they could build more display cases if needed once they determine how much memorabilia they have.

Houston and Principal Barbara Sittason said they are using most of the available space for the school’s academic programs.

The renovation included four additional classrooms, built for kindergarten-through-second-grade students who live within one mile of the school.

Only three students expressed interest, however, so the school system got court permission to move them to the new Banks-Caddell Elementary.

Houston said it’s possible Gordon and the alumni could have one of these rooms sometime in the future, but the school board agreed to offer the neighborhood school option again for the 2007-08 school year.

“We’re trying to be cautious in our approach,” Houston said. “I wouldn’t want to set something up and then six months later have to dismantle it. To me, that would be more disconcerting if I were one of the alumni who was affected by this.

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