Revisit the Legacy

Revisit the Legacy

Loving, caring and concerned – these are some words students used to describe many of the teachers who educated African-American students at Woodson. Several individuals expressed these feelings at the Woodson All-Class Reunion, held the weekend of July 7-9. Edwin McGee, Dorothy Gaines and Claudia Burns, class {{more}} of 1966, enjoyed the reunion’s banquet, held at the Abilene Civic Center. They were grateful for the compassion, dedication and willingness to sacrifice that they saw in their teachers. “We received a lot of one-on-one attention,” said Dorothy, 1966 class valedictorian. “Also, there was a lot of interaction between teachers and parents. The teachers were always available to working parents. We learned to respect our elders. If you were disciplined at school, you were also disciplined at home. It was apparent that the discipline was done out of love.” Dorothy feels that many of the problems in society today are due to a lack of discipline and love. The willingness to “go the extra mile” was one characteristic of her teachers that touched Dorothy’s heart. She recalled the time that a teacher picked her up and took her to a PTA meeting where she was going to be given an award. Edwin McGee, vice-president of the class of 1966, had much to share about his experiences at Woodson. Edwin shared that he did not know how educated his teachers were until after he graduated. Some, he said, had attended college at Notre Dame and Harvard. The 1966 graduates said they felt that school was an extension of home in many respects. In addition to learning English, math and other subjects, the children were also taught good manners and educated about morality. They were taught to listen to their teachers, obey them and show them respect. Every Friday, students were taken to “the center” and taught Bible by Abilene Christian University students. The center consisted of two barracks and, coincidentally, was on N. 8th Street, where the Woodson school started in the 1920’s. Phaye Friday Jones also attended the banquet, and was grateful for the education she received at Woodson. After Phaye graduated, she attended Prairie View A&M College, near Houston and received her teaching degree. She returned to Abilene and taught first grade at Woodson for four years. One of her students, Petty Hunter, has made Phaye proud and grateful she had the opportunity to influence one of Abilene’s most influential citizens. Another attendee, Hortense Friday, had Mrs. Leola Jones Hammond for many of the years she spent in school, and had fond memories of her. “She was stern, but concerned,” said Hortense. “She wanted us to learn correct English and grammar, and she emphasized how important it was to express ourselves orally.” Hortense said she thinks that the small classes aided students in receiving a quality education. Her graduating class in 1942 had 16 people, which allowed teachers to focus on each student and help them individually. Friendships blossomed in this small group of classmates; Hortense has maintained contact with several of her classmates over the years. Hortense is also a graduate of Prairie View A&M College, where she majored in home economics and minored in education. She feels her education in Abilene prepared her for her years in college. Although those interviewed had positive memories of their youth in Abilene, they are grateful for the opportunities they have that their parents did not have. “The job market is better,” said Edwin. “Our parents were often maids and did yard work because of a lack of education.” Many of the young men in his class went into the service after graduation. Edwin currently works as a commercial artist, Dorothy is a retired school teacher and Claudia works at the Workforce Center as a customer service representative. Edwin summed up the attitude of the three 1966 graduates, and, in all likelihood, for many of the reunion attendees. “Our teachers cared about us then, and they still do,” he said.