Langston High School may have closed its doors in 1965, but former students, staff, families and friends plan to keep their memories of the school alive in their hearts for many years.
According to the Langston Heritage page on johnsonsdepot.com, the school was named the Langston Normal School after black leader John Mercer Langston. The school, on the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Elm Street, started in 1892 and ran until the desegregation of the Johnson City School System in 1965, when black students were then admitted to Science Hill High School.
Barbara ‘Bobbie’ Young-Watterson, Class of 1949, said she and her late friend and classmate, Mary Bridwell, decided to form a reunion committee after the school’s bicentennial year in 1976.
“We ... still come together every two years to celebrate the spirit of Langston,” Young-Watterson said. “This is our 19th reunion.”
The reunion started Friday at 6 p.m. with registration and a reception at the Double Tree Hotel and resumed at 9 a.m. Saturday with tours of the surrounding area.
Young-Watterson said on Saturday night the reunion group honored George Nichols, Mary Luellen Owens Wagner, Elizabeth Watkins Crawford and Clarence McKinney at their dinner at the Double Tree for being the first four black students admitted to East Tennessee State University in 1958.
Attendees also listened to guest speaker Johnny Banner before the group Unlimited performed.
Young-Watterson said she was excited to see Unlimited perform because a lot of grandchildren from the reunion group, including her own grandson, were in the band.
“On Sunday we’ll be at St. Paul AME Zion Church and we will be having our memorial service there and we’ll be honoring our teachers,” she said. “We’ve been able to find three teachers that were at Langston that are still living and able to be with us and they’ll be honored (today).”
Though time has passed, Young-Watterson said getting everyone together for a reunion means a lot.
“It means a time of reminiscing. We can go back and meet old friends and childhood buddies that we promised forever and ever (not) to part, because when we were little it seemed like you were never going to be apart,” she said. “I think it’s important that we keep meeting because if we don’t our children will never know the legacy of the black high school. They will never know how well the students did. We have doctors, lawyers ... you name it, from every walk of life that we have that came out of Langston High School.”
Nichols, one of the four students from Langston who attended ETSU, said he was happy to be back for the reunion and to be surrounded by his family of classmates.
“It means a lot because Langston was like a family and we were extremely close,” Nichols said. “We had excellent, excellent, excellent teachers and to see people that you cried with, you laughed with and were as close to as, I would say, brother or a sister could be.”
Nichols graduated from ETSU in 1962, with a major in zoology and a minor in chemistry. He then spent seven years in the military and worked in what he called corporate America for 37 years in New York City. He also has an master’s degree in business administration from Adelphi University.
Young-Watterson said the reunion each year welcomes all students who attended Langston, regardless of whether they actually graduated from the school, and she said she would love to have those who have not attended any of the reunions to come join their celebration.
“We need our students that are still in Johnson City and surrounding areas. We need you,” she said. “We will be posting our meetings. We need you to come and help us keep the spirit alive.”
Young-Watterson said after this reunion, the committee, and anyone who may be interested in helping, will be meeting every third Saturday of the month at noon at the Carver Recreation Center.