Alumni continue schools’ legacies
The Big Four Reunion wrapped up Saturday night with a dance at the Benton Convention Center that had alumni of the county’s historically black high schools dancing and celebrating into the wee hours of the morning.
Each year, graduates of Atkins, Carver, Paisley and Anderson come together. The Carver Alumni Association hosted this year. (The schools’ alumni associations alternate hosting duties.)
“It’s a recognition of the historically black schools. (We) celebrate the legacy that was brought out of the historically black schools: education, discipline, being taught respect,” said event chair Carl McLaurin, a 1965 Carver graduate.
The reunion began last Thursday with a religious service at Emmanuel Baptist Church. A luncheon was held Friday at the Sundance Plaza Hotel, where former Big Four teachers were the guests of honor. Also on Friday, a talent and fashion show took place at Carver High School.
There was always cross-schools interaction among Big Four students. Friendships were formed at sports games, the black-only swimming pool and churches. Anderson Alumni President Theodis Foster called the reunions a great opportunity for old friends and classmates to briefly relive their pasts.
Atkins Alumni Association President George Johnson said the reunion is a “grand family reunion.”
“It gives an opportunity for all of us to get together and talk about our heritage. We feel so much has been lost, and we want the legacy of those schools to live, forever really”
Funds generated from reunion dance ticket sales will support the charitable work of the four alumni associations, which often donate money and other resources to area schools and causes.
Alumni of Carver, the only Big Four school still operating at its original site, often give back to their alma mater. Anderson closed more than 35 years ago. Alumni have chosen to throw their support to Diggs Elementary, where most of them attended as children. The alumni tutor students at Diggs-Latham Elementary and adopt students’ families at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Johnson said he and his classmates support Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy, which is housed in the original Atkins High building.
Many Big Four alumni are up in age now, Johnson said. The reunions used to draw thousands of attendees. Deaths and illnesses have taken their toll, though. Saturday’s dance was expected to draw only about 750 folks.
Paisley Alumni President Eric Martin said he’d like to see the Big Four tradition to continue long after the alumni are gone.
“Most of us are retired, getting up there in age, so our goal is to preserve this legacy so that when we’re gone, the Big Four lives on, that it becomes a part of Winston-Salem,” he said.
The Paisley High School building now houses the popular Paisley IB Magnet School for grades 6-10. Martin said his association supports Paisley but also would like to see it expand. He wants to convince the school board to build a new Paisley High School next to the current school so it could take more students into it’s International Baccalaureate program. Nearly 10 years ago, a new Atkins High was constructed on Old Greensboro Road, although many alumni feel more of a connection to the former Atkins (W-S Prep) than the new Atkins.