Even Neyland Stadium on a victorious Saturday could not have contained the enthusiasm that afternoon in the city’s former segregation-era secondary school for blacks. The multicultural education and arts center opened to an elbow-to-elbow crowd. To call it a grand opening was an understatement of epic proportions.
Never in recent memory has Johnson City seen so many truly happy people jammed into one place and with such good reason.
As so definitively stated by those on the program, Dec. 17, 2019, should be remembered as the day Johnson City set a course for greater understanding among its diverse citizenry. That diversity was well represented on Sunday, which made the occasion all the more significant.
No one contributed to the moment more than retired educator Callie Redd, a Langston graduate who went on to teach English at her alma mater before making the transition to integrated schools when Langston closed in 1965. Redd entertained the crowd with stories from her schooldays and her time at Langston as a young teacher. She had the whole room eating from the palm of her hand, and the love for her was palpable.
So was the love for Langston. Several alumni called it a long overdue homecoming. While only the 1925 arch could be saved from the school’s old classroom sections, the renovated gymnasium building is now in first-rate condition.
The class pictures and other memorabilia adorning the walls honor the glory days, while modern classrooms below the gym floor bring the center into the present. The Langston Education and Arts Development group, who led the charge to restore the school campus, should be proud of the results, as should the city officials, architects and builders involved.
For 54 years, Johnson City had a glaring example of insensitivity and neglect — for most of those years readily visible from Interstate 26. No one seemed to be dwelling on that bruise on Sunday, choosing instead to relish Langston’s history and newfound future.
If only for a few hours, Johnson City seemed to be one town, a place where people of all ethnicities share common civic interests. We have no Pollyanna illusions about an end to all divisions, but the hope in that building was profound.
Sunday was about momentum. The ideals of the Langston Centre should be Johnson City’s future. As the school’s motto stated, enter to learn, depart to serve.