Integration of public schools in the United States began in 1957 following the 1954 decision of Brown v. the Board of Education, which declared segregation of America’s students based upon race as unconstitutional.
In the city of Waynesboro, black students attended Rosenwald School, and white students attended Waynesboro High School.
“It had to start somewhere,” said Vicki Williams of integration of the Waynesboro public school system. “In 1965, it just happened to hit us.”
Williams, who graduated Waynesboro High in 1968, entered what had previously been the high school for white students when she was 15 years old and a sophomore. After attending first through ninth grades at Rosenwald School, she said she was scared of the unknown of going to a new school.
However, according to Williams, the transition went smoothly. A friend of hers talked her into trying out for cheerleading at Waynesboro High.
But Williams, and many of her classmates who attended Rosenwald, never forgot their school in Port Republic.
And every three years, they gather in Waynesboro for a reunion at what is now the Rosenwald Community Center.
This year, anyone who attended Rosenwald School is invited for a series of events July 18-20 as part of the Rosenwald Reunion.
Before Waynesboro High was integrated in 1965, Williams, a member of the Rosenwald Reunion Committee who still lives in Waynesboro, said Exchange Days were held. A few students from Waynesboro High would visit Rosenwald, and vice versa.
“But, you knew you were coming back to Rosenwald [the next school day],” she said.
At Rosenwald, Williams said she knew all of the students in each of her classes. At Waynesboro High, she knew maybe one or two other students in each of her classes.
“So that was a little intimidating,” Williams said.
Teachers and students at Rosenwald were not prepared for the transition that was integration.
Williams said that one day an assembly was held at Rosenwald and students were told they would be attending Waynesboro High the next year.
“I think it was difficult for everybody,” Williams said of the transition.
Williams said one of her two sisters was in the last class that graduated from Rosenwald, which was only 12 or 13 students.
The first integrated graduating class of Waynesboro High in 1966 was 250 students, she said.
Attending the reunions has a special meaning for Williams.
“It means family, because that’s what Rosenwald was all about,” she said.
At Rosenwald, students often had teachers who went to their church and who knew their family.
Williams said “all the teachers knew who you belonged to” at Rosenwald.
“It’s pretty important, particularly because we have so many that [moved away],” said Buddy Stewart, a member of the Rosenwald Reunion Committee.
Stewart said he enjoys all three days of reunion activities with his classmates and members of other classes that graduated from the school.
“I’ve not missed [a reunion] since 1965,” Stewart said of the first reunion held after he graduated Rosenwald in 1960.
Reunions are now held every three years and anyone who graduated from Rosenwald is welcome to attend.
Kenneth Brooks, a 1961 graduate of Rosenwald and a member of the reunion committee, said he was part of the group that originally formed a Reunion Committee in 1971.
“We wanted to have a reunion,” said Brooks, who still lives in Waynesboro. “We wanted to remember Rosenwald as long as we could.”
At first, the committee held reunions every five years, but then decided to hold them more frequently at every three years.
“I enjoy seeing people that you don’t see [who live] out of town,” Brooks said of the reunions.
Classmates share stories of Rosenwald and remember the days before integration of American schools.
“We hope we have a nice turnout [this year],” Brooks said.
Registration will be held Thursday, July 18, with a meet and greet from 6 to 10 p.m. at Rosenwald Community Center.
On Friday, July 19, a cookout will be held at North Park from 5 to 10 p.m.
A semi-formal event will be held Saturday, July 20, with dinner and music at the Best Western, 109 Apple Tree Ln., Waynesboro, starting at 5:30 p.m.
On Sunday, July 21, reunion participants are welcome to visit a church of their choice for worship, including Shiloh Baptist, Union Baptist, Pleasant View UMC, St. James Baptist and Living Word Worship Center.