Get out the powDer-blue tuxedos, Booker T. Washington Class of 1969. It's prom time!
The graduates of BTW have decided to turn back time 35 years and include the prom they never had in this year's reunion activities. Proms for the 552 graduates were canceled during their junior and senior years, following unrest because of the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy.
"When [prom] was cut out in our junior year it was devastating," said class and committee member Charles McClora. "I don't remember a lot from those years, but it was a very volatile time. There were social clubs at the school that had dances and things like that, but no prom."
In addition to the assassinations and civil rights unrest, Memphis was also dealing with school desegregation. While the initial 13 first-graders had integrated a few Memphis City Schools in 1961, Booker T was not yet integrated because of the one-grade-at-a-time ruling.
"I attended Memphis City Schools from grades 1 to 12, and I can't remember ever being in a classroom that was integrated, so we may have been one of the last schools to do so," said classmate Mable Springfield Scott, now an administrator at North Carolina A&T University. McClora remembered only one white teacher at the school during this time. "Our class was one of the largest to ever have graduated [from BTW]," said Scott. "We were a huge class, but we were a real family."
Part of the unrest of the time was also due to the Vietnam War. "We were losing students left and right in the war," said committee chairperson Beverly Jeffries Moore. "The guys were being drafted and there was a lot of pressure being put on them to go serve their country."
Moore graduated fourth in her class and married another BTW grad 27 years later. "Otis Redding and the Bar-Kays had just died [in a plane crash in 1967], and there was an air of unrest, and our class was constantly going through changes. It's sort of like us not having a coming-out party. Girls scheme and dream of that day, and we didn't get a chance to complete that part of our development."
The prom is scheduled for June 12th at the Radisson Airport Inn. There's no word yet on the music for the evening, but with songs from 1969 such as "Everyday People" by Sly and the Family Stone, "Get Back" by the Beatles, and "I Can't Get Next to You" by the Temptations, the prom won't be at a loss for good hits. n