It was May of 1966 as my class of 323 graduates walked across the stage to receive our high school diplomas from Hillside High School of Durham, N.C., which now has the state’s largest such facility. From Walltown to Bragtown, to North Durham, to the projects and other venues from the bottom or elsewhere; from our black segregated institutions we converged on Whitted Junior High School and then Hillside High School.
Approximately 34 of our classmates were drafted or served in the military, many courtesy of Mrs. Rudisell head of the local draft board, while the war in Vietnam would extract more than its pound of flesh.
More than 100 headed to college as desegregation was relaxing its grip and others trained as mechanics, brick masons, linemen, switchboard operators, tailors, distributive education salesmen and entrepreneurs — just to cite a few — and others also went to work. Special Education was not a major factor in our background and homeschooling meant you were ill or had to have assignments sent to your house.
There were no state operated charter schools though a few opted for military schools or early first grade through St. Joseph’s and St. Mark’s programs.
Suspensions were rare in those days for school was often the center of our black universe with the HBCUs offering science and math camps for those of us denied the same by Duke, Carolina, N.C. State and others. We had the best teachers who cared, for the options outside of that field for talented blacks were severely limited.
HBCUs also picked up the slack in band competitions which allowed us to compete against E. E. Smith of Fayetteville, J. W. Ligon of Raleigh, and other predominantly black secondary institutions. Safety patrol didn’t just protect the cross walks of our lives, but allowed us to parade in the Washington, D.C. Cherry Blossom Festival.
The black community ate our candy and fruit cakes, washed with our soap or read the magazines we sold which funded our royal blue and red Whitted Band Uniforms and the navy blue and white ones for Hillside.
Our community showed up in droves to see us strut our stuff down Main Street for the Xmas parade and homecoming for North Carolina College (now NCCU) while packing the house for our games and concerts.
Our undefeated Hillside Hornets basketball team set all types of state records while averaging more than 100 points per game and the football team, track and field program, tennis club and others brought home numerous first place awards for our all stars in many venues.
We produced at least three doctors, approximately a half dozen lawyers, dozens of teachers and counselors, a Top Gun flight Instructor, one of the leading fashion gurus, two undertakers; and others who were the backbone of the working middle-class which fuels our economy. A large number of our class members who decided on college stayed home and attended North Carolina College where the class has established a scholarship for those from Hillside desiring the same exposure.
Though there were drugs on the horizon they hadn’t overtaken our common sense, decency, integrity, humanity — and didn’t run amok in the school.
Common courtesies were an expectation and we were committed to helping each other succeed as well as praise our achievements. If your parent had to come to school about your behavior you were possibly going to get it in the hall as well as at home.
The recreation centers were the place for summer athletics, after school events, dances, and a few fights. The church engaged you in scouts, sports leagues and plied you with vacation bible school in staggered settings to obviate the need for paid summer child care.
"The Mashed Potatoes," "Funky Chicken," "Twist," and even the Dog provided needed exercise without the misogynist missives drawing kids away from becoming upstanding citizens.
Mavis Staples “Took Us There,” while Percy Sledge got us in the groove “When a Man Loves a Woman,” while Marvin Gaye crooned with Otis Redding waiting on James Brown to fire us up telling us to “Say It Loud, We’re Black and We’re Proud.”’
The ravages of time have been seen and felt in the absence of dozens who were significant in our lives. Of those remaining, some came with canes, some on crutches, and wheel chairs were available when it got too much.
But over 150 came to gather in this milestone reunion. We were all well-fed, beheld an outstanding video show of our journeys and in which, to a person. All had a fabulous time.
Even today our cheer resonates “We are the Hornets, the mighty mighty Hornets. Everywhere we go, People want to know, Who we are?, Where we come from? for We are the Hornets, the mighty mighty Hornets.”
In five years hopefully we can do it again.
Dr. Ada M. Fisher was the first black woman to serve as the Republican National Committeewoman. She was a candidate for the U.S. Senate from North Carolina, a candidate for U.S. Congress, and a candidate for the North Carolina House of Representatives. She is the author of "Common Sense Conservative Prescriptions Solutions for What Ails Us, Book I." For more of her reports, Go Here Now.
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