Commemorating 50 years
In 1964, a young Josie Hightower graduated from Alcorn A&M College and moved across the country to live with her brother and sister-in-law in Springfield, Illinois. This year, the long-time Brookhaven resident returned to her alma mater, now Alcorn State University, to receive her golden certificate, a commemoration of the 50 years since her graduation.
The former Josie Byrd recently reflected on her time at Alcorn, her time at Alexander High School and her post-grad life. Hightower, a 1960 graduate of AHS, has a vivid recollection of her high school graduation.
“I can recall how afraid I was to be leaving the faculty, staff, teachers and students of Alexander High School,” she said. “We were so proud of our school. We were competitive and loved what we accomplished.”
When Hightower graduated, the principal of AHS was John Dow. She recalls Dow saying “I don’t want anyone to fall asleep during the ceremony. Be sure to get a good night’s sleep.” Hightower said a man on stage did fall asleep during the ceremony.
“Mr. Dow noticed the man and just shook his head, and, of course, we laughed,” she said.
Hightower remembered going to leave after the program, and Amos Wright called her into his office. He handed her a check for $250.
“That was a large amount of money back then,” she said. “‘Thank the good Lord, I said.'”
Hightower used the money to enter Alcorn A&M in 1960.
“There were four of us sharing a room, a very small room,” she said. “We would all go down to our restroom to take baths and shower.”
Hightower described Alcorn as a family-oriented school.
“The young ladies were not allowed to wear slacks nor could we hold hands with our boyfriends,” she said.
Hightower said they were required to check themselves out of the dorm and enter the time they would return. On Thursdays, they would walk their dirty linen down to the laundry and pick up a clean set.
“I can still recall our Sunday meals in the dining hall,” she said. “We would go down for breakfast and bring back to the dorm a sack of items to eat for supper.”
The bag usually consisted of sardines, crackers and sometimes potted meat and Vienna sausages.
Hightower made sure to stay busing on campus. She was a member of the Methodist student movement, a cheerleader and a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
“I sit in awe thinking back of how wonderfully blessed God has been to me and my family,” she said.
Hightower grew up in Brookhaven with her older brother, Emmett Byrd, in the same neighborhood she now lives in.
“My mind races back to a little girl with pigtails chasing her brother of three years her senior up and down Independence Street before it was paved,” she said.
She and her brother were very close growing up, and after graduating from Alcorn, she moved in with her brother and sister-in-law, Ida, in Springfield, Massachusetts. She met her late husband while in Massachusetts. John and Josie Hightower were married in 1966, just before he left for Sacramento, California. John Hightower was a member of the Air Force and had been relocated to the Mather Air Force Base.
“John’s job was very tedious while in the Air Force,” she said. “He only told me that his job required him to always have steady hands and not to be upset about anything.”
John Hightower’s patience helped his relationship with his wife and nieces.
“After 42 years of marriage, I’ve never once seen him upset, angry or nervous.”
The Hightowers moved back to Brookhaven in 1972. Josie Hightower worked at Brookhaven Elementary teaching first graders before moving to Lipsey to serve as an assistant principal. John Hightower became the first black elected official in Lincoln County in 1980. He was the election commissioner for District One for 28 years.
On May 9, 2014, Josie Hightower returned to Alcorn State University to receive her Golden Certificate with 34 of her former classmates.
“Who would have thought it, but with God all things are possible,” she said.