Alexander alumni reunite

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Alexander High School may have closed in 1970, but the legacy ofa black high school dedicated to personal excellence in spite ofthe hardships of a segregated society lives on and was exemplifiedFriday night in the second class of Legacy Hall of Honorinductees.

Eleven of the 13 inductees added to the school’s Hall of Honorfor 2008 in a ceremony held at the Mississippi School of the Artsare educators or former educators. Banquet attendees were quick tonote that the success not only of the Hall of Honor members, butalso of so many other graduates of the school, was directlyattributable to a school founded on the notion of being the beststudent and person possible.

“Look around at all these lives,” said Jesse Buie, the highschool’s last principal and a 1947 graduate. “All of this came outof a segregated system. When you can get this much success andeducation and achievement out of a handicapped system, what couldwe have done if we had been integrated?”

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The Hall of Honor ceremony was among the first of a number ofweekend events in conjunction with Alexander High School’s 14threunion. A Saturday morning parade, a Sunday morning worshipservice at the school and several events at the county’smulti-purpose facility were among other activities planned for theweekend.

Friday at MSA, each of the inductees from 2006 – the year of thelast school reunion – was allowed to make a short speech, as wereeach of the 2008 inductees. Buie’s was last, and he reinforced tothe group how important the legacy was, not only of the school, butof the people who were a part of it until its end in 1970.

“We created our own culture at Alexander, and we said ‘Yesma’am’ and ‘No ma’am,’ and we were polite,” he said. “Werepresented teachers that were concerned about not only theeducation of the students, but who they were as individuals. Weneed more time for words of wisdom coming from those of us who havebeen there.”

Buie reminded the group that it was AHS graduate Irvin Robersonwho broke the color barrier in the Brookhaven Police Department. Aswell, it was at Alexander High School that signs designatingcolored facilities from white facilities came down first, he said.He also listed other breakthroughs that were made possible by AHSgraduates.

As such, he reminded attendees that it is still their job tomake a difference, whether it be by passing the legacy along to theyoung people of today, or by being a viable force in society inother ways.

“You’re not there to represent yourself,” he said, directing thecomment to attendees who are elected officials. “You represent us,so speak up. Don’t just be the second to the motion.”

Architecture planner, innovator and pioneer John W. Spencer, agraduate of the class of 1958 and a Hall of Honor inductee, agreedthat the school needs to be more than a memory now, because it wasmore than an educational experience during the years its doors wereopen.

“Alexander High School was a lot more than just a building, andchalkboards and books,” he said. “My sophomore year, the schoolbuilding burned but our education continued. Even now the spirit ofAHS is still very much alive. I’ve received other honors in mylife, but none has touched me so deeply.”

Current Brookhaven School District Board President Carl Hollowaysaid he credited his success as well to a good educationalbackground.

“Whatever I’ve achieved, I don’t get credit for it, because Ihad teachers who were good, and who cared, and who were demanding,so I learned I had to do things well,” he said.

Educator and administrator Gay Robinson Havard, now of LosAngeles, said the legacy is wasted if it is not passed along.

“We have to go back and tell the children how we got here, andtell them that it’s not what kind of car they drive, it’s whatdrives them that makes them successful,” she said. “We need to makeit known to them that they can succeed. We did it because we livedin a town that cared about us as children, and if we can do it,they can do it.”

The inductees of the Alexander High School Legacy Hall of Honorfor 2008 were:

* N.Z. Bryant, 1954

* Warren E. Cox, 1953

* Alice Davis Gill, 1964

* Gay Robinson Havard, 1967

* Carl D. Holloway, 1953

* Houston Markham, Jr., 1961

* Willie L. McArthur, 1962

* Patricia Williams McGill-Tillman, 1959

* Lena Elizabeth Smith Pope, 1951

* Alice Brown Smith, 1931

* John W. Spencer, 1958

* Charles H. Tillman, 1952

* James V. Tillman, 1965