John Shearer: 1960s Howard High Students, Faculty Took Pride In Education

Sunday, February 28, 2021 - by John Shearer

Because the 1960s were still the waning days of segregation, few in Chattanooga outside the Black community might have paid attention to what went on at all-Black Howard High at that time.


But plenty of pride existed, in and out of the classroom, according to those students who attended the school then.

In fact, they not only survived in various realms in that era of more limited opportunity, but they also managed to thrive.


“Character and excellence, those were two terms you heard a lot of,” said Charles Bouie, the 1964 Howard High class president, in summing up the collective school atmosphere at the time. “The school was a microcosm of life.”


As a look at the Howard High students who stayed behind following the opening of Riverside in 1963 is taken in this second story in a two-part series in connection with Black History Month, a conversation with several 1964 Howard graduates reveals this commitment to success.


Five who were interviewed talk of a school where they were taught not to feel limited and to dream of finding their way in a world that was slowly opening up in terms of more opportunities.


And most also felt a collective community of support outside the school as well among their Black parents, many of whom were still able to find respectable work despite the obstacles. Fellow neighborhood residents and church members were also encouraging, they said. 


Here are the stories of the not-so-easy trials and personal triumphs as told by these students, who graduated from high school the same year as Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Donald Trump.


* * * * *


Robert Eady had grown up in such areas as Piney Woods and Alton Park and spent several years on Long Street, which was only four blocks from the Howard complex of schools. He had gone to several elementary schools before moving to Howard Elementary and then Howard Junior High and Howard High at its current site in the 2500 block of Market Street.


“Looking back, it was pretty enjoyable,” he said of his time in school.


Being where the high school was, he got a unique taste as an eighth-grader of the local sit-in movement at downtown dime store lunch counters in early 1960 led by some Howard High students. Some teachers had taken him and some others and dropped them off during lunchtime at Kress’, where Miller Park Plaza is today.


Although it was a peaceful event, he was arrested, he remembered. And that brought fear of what his father might do. 


“I thought I was going to get killed by my father,” he recalled with a laugh about his father, a Howard graduate, who worked for EPB and the post office over the years. “I was scared to death because he was pretty strict. But he was actually pretty proud of me.”


A main activity Mr. Eady was involved in after reaching the high school grades was the band. He played such instruments as the French horn, the trumpet and the baritone horn after starting out with the clarinet as a youngster. He remembers the band under Professor “Pop” Kendricks took a lot of pride.


“It was awesome,” he said. “We were pretty big. We practiced really hard all summer.” 


He remembers even more pride was taken with the concert band, where they played such songs as the “1812 Overture” and the theme from “South Pacific.”


He was also in a social club, Lynx Psi Phi, which taught life lessons.


The former member of Westside Baptist Church and son of Robert and Celia Eady Sr. wanted to go to Morris Brown College but instead went to Tennessee Tech. Saying he was one of the first seven black students as the Cookeville school was integrating, he found the experience challenging after enrolling there to study math.


“There was plenty of harassment,” he said, “When I went in the dorm (on the first day), there was a white kid on the bed (who was supposed to be his roommate) and he got up and walked out and I never saw him again.”


By the next year, he was in the Army and eventually found himself working in Okinawa supporting soldiers serving in Vietnam who were having to quarantine after coming down with such diseases as syphilis.


After three years in the Army, he went to work for the L&N Railroad for two years, and then he was involved in a federal jobs training program at the Warner Park Fieldhouse before moving to Atlanta at the encouragement of some friends. There he held such jobs as driving a tour bus for 19 years and working with United Rentals before retiring.


One of several Howard graduates from that class living in the Atlanta area, he has still not forgotten his schooling days.


“Looking back, we had excellent teachers, teachers who cared,” he said, 


He said one lesson that stayed with him was learning how to talk in a manner that would draw respect. He said the teachers emphasized talking in proper grammar and with good diction, and he practiced that so much that people began to be surprised he was from Chattanooga.


“That can take you places where bad English won’t, like job interviews,” he said.


He also has warm memories of Chattanooga. “Chattanooga was a great place to grow up in,” he said. “There were minor racial issues. You knew where you could go and couldn’t go. But there were places you could go. It was awesome looking back.”


* * * * *

Born in 1946, Jacqueline Baker was aware that she and her 1964 Howard classmates were the first students among the Baby Boomer population, when an increasing number of families started having children after World War II ended and normalcy returned.

Her father was of age to go to war, but he had received an exemption due to the fact that his work at U.S. Pipe and Foundry was considered essential to the war effort, she said.


She grew up in the South Chattanooga/Alton Park area in a two-parent household with siblings and plenty of neighborhood friends. 


“It was nice. I really can’t complain,” she said.


As an effect of the burgeoning Baby Boomer population, she remembered that Howard was getting ready to have a large senior class of over 500 students had they not opened Riverside High that year. 


At Howard, she was an honor student who was involved in a social club called Les Charnette, which taught valuable life lessons. She remembered several great teachers, including English teacher Christine Simmons Hicks, social studies teacher Lowell Lewis and history teacher Moses Freeman.


“It was a great education. We had great teachers,” she said.


Ms. Baker was always interested in subjects like sociology, psychology and history and envisioned being a social worker. However, while she was going to Clark College in Atlanta with plans to possibly go to graduate school, her guidance counselor encouraged her to interview for a position with IBM. 


“I was not interested in computers, but the interview went well, and they hired me,” she said.


She still thought during the first five years or so at IBM that she would eventually become a social worker. But she eventually became content enough at the company to make it a career in such diverse departments as administration, marketing support and software while living in such places as Hawaii, New York and Atlanta, her current home.


While in New York, she lived outside New York City in White Plains but got to travel into Manhattan some for her communications and magazine advertising work. “New York was a new environment for me,” she said. “I got to meet a lot of different people.”


People also had a different experience working with her at a time when her field and company were just starting to include Black employees in greater numbers.


“I was the only African-American in my department,” she said. “And there were less than 10 of us. We were spread out within the company. But I was flexible and able to get along with my white counterparts. I didn’t have a problem, even though I knew there was some racism. It was not directly shown in front of me at work.”


She added that she knows the world has changed a lot for the better, although she was not fearful or really aware of the racism and prejudice that existed in society when she was in high school or college.


Regarding the 1964 Howard graduates and even Riverside graduates spread across the country, she said they still try to get together every five years or so for class anniversaries or milestone birthdays, even though a recent one was delayed due to the pandemic.


“I’ve maintained friendships 60-plus years,” she said. “Even though we split, I still maintained close relationships.”


She also looks back fondly on the education she received at Howard. 


“I feel very confident we received a great education despite the fact we were using used materials,” she said. “We had great teachers who wanted to make sure we were prepared for college and were successful.”


* * * * *


Charles Bouie went from the Spencer McCallie Homes public housing complex to serving as senior class president at Howard in 1963-64.


As the Fayetteville, Ga., resident explained in a light-hearted manner over the phone, he achieved this position that required a lot of responsibility simply by being what he called a social animal.


“I didn’t play sports, but I was active in clubs like the honor society,” he said. “I was a very active young man. One of the ways Howard encouraged you was to be a well-rounded student.”


He added that Howard, where he, like others, began attending elementary school in the sixth grade, was a great place that had an encouraging environment away from home. Mr. Bouie said this was due in large part to the staff and faculty. He was one of several graduates who praised the principal at the time, Dr. C.C. Bond. 


“He did so much to encourage the students and create an atmosphere that encouraged the students to be successful,” he said.


As an example, he said that he was in Dr. Bond’s office one day with some other Student Council members, and they ended up overhearing a phone conversation with a local newspaper reporter. He was telling the reporter that he did not think the writer emphasized enough the dominating manner in which the Howard football team had won its game, showing the principal was not afraid to stand up for the Howard students. 


Among the teachers Mr. Bouie remembers fondly is Ms. Juanita Woods, his math teacher, whom he called strict but also encouraging. Another one was the young history teacher Henry Bowles, who would go on to be the successful basketball coach at Howard.


“He was in his first or second year,” Mr. Bouie said. “He was young and very encouraging.”


He also remembered that chemistry teacher Fred Singleton was one of several good male role models and mentors the school had, along with numerous female ones.   


While the senior year was quite different for those who left Howard after 11th grade to go to the new Riverside in the old City High on Third Street to reduce overcrowding at Howard, the Howard students felt the move emotionally as well, Mr. Bouie said.


“We had developed some very close relations with kids from the Eastside and Westside” (who left to go to Riverside), he said. “When the schools split, it was kind of like losing a brother or sister, but we (at Howard) continued with the belief that we will do better than they can.”


He added that a sibling-like rivalry developed even that first year, although they all remained close during their senior year and have since. He recalled that Howard won the football game, while Riverside won the basketball games that first year of 1963-64.


Mr. Bouie went to Fisk University in Nashville and finished his schooling at UTC. He and his wife, the former Amber Clay from the Howard Class of 1966, have run Caris Salon Services in the Atlanta area for a number of years. 


Regarding how he sees the world’s racial relations from the time they were at Howard when places like the Warner Park pool were integrating until today, he offered a contemplative answer, citing similar issues in other parts of the world like South Africa and North Africa.


“We’ve got a long way to go, although there have been a lot of positive changes that have taken place over the last 50 years,” he said.


And some might believe the Howard Class of ’64 has contributed in their small way to whatever level of wholeness has been reached, too.


“The Class of ’64 was very talented,” Mr. Bouie said. “We have produced some very good and responsible adults.”


* * * * *


Loretta Pinkard Prater and Dwight Prater, also in the Howard High Class of 1964, did not date in high school, although both attended St. John Baptist Church. They began dating after he finished his military service and became one of four couples who married classmates.


They both recall Howard at that time as being very nurturing and supportive. 


“It was like a large, big family,” said Mr. Prater. “We had friends from different sections of the city. When the schools separated (with the opening of Riverside), that caused issues like breaking up the family.”


Added Ms. Prater, “It felt like it was a safe space. People were protecting us. The counselors, teachers and administration. Everybody was so supportive and comforting.”


Ms. Prater remembers that the neighborhoods in Chattanooga were still segregated, although Black families were starting to move into the formerly white Alton Park, and she had neighborhood acquaintances of both races. But she still had to walk by a closer white elementary school to get to hers.


She also said that a school bus system did not really exist in high school, although they could get discounted fares with the regular city bus service. Sometimes, they would walk home for fun and camaraderie.


While somewhat insulated from many of the conflicts during the civil rights struggles, other than the sit-in movement of 1960 closer to home, the families of Howard students had TVs and still followed the events, she added. 


“The things in the history books, that was on the regular six o’clock news,” she said.


At Howard, both were in the honor society, while Mr. Prater became student body president and was interested in the workings of government due to his civics teacher, Rosa McGhee.


“She knew her civics. She was what got me interested in Student Council,” he said, adding that he liked working with students in different grades through the position. He took part in a Model UN program at what became First-Centenary United Methodist Church and was selected to represent Cuba.


Ms. Prater jokingly added that her husband was one of Ms. McGhee’s pets, saying that most students were afraid of her. He did say that she had a habit of saying “the very idea of this” and catching their attention if a student did something out of line.


Ms. Prater fondly remembers Christine Simmons Hicks, the senior class sponsor and English teacher, and a 10th grade teacher, Ms. Carter. They also respected and admired principal C.C. Bond.


“He was much admired and respected,” she said. “No one wanted to be sent to the principal’s office. It was like a disgrace and something to avoid.”


Ms. Prater said that some students at Howard came from two-parent families, while some did not. She was raised by her grandparents, she said. But there was always a supportive community and expectation that one should achieve.


She said she did not hear the term “ghetto” until she was further along in college and realized the instructor must have been talking about her childhood neighborhood. She thinks that today such labels as saying someone comes from a broken home result in a lowering of expectations by a student and can be detrimental.


As an example of the high achievement at Howard, they remembered that a Howard student two years ahead of them won the local science fair against all the students from other local schools


Some of the Howard students went off to college after graduation, while others had trained in such vocational offerings as cosmetology, auto mechanics and tailoring and entered the workforce after high school.


Ms. Prater went off to Spelman College in Atlanta until, as she said with a laugh, “the money ran out.” Later, she graduated from UTC and enjoyed a career that included advanced degrees, working in the local school system, and being on the faculty at such schools as UTC, Eastern Illinois, and Southeast Missouri State in Cape Girardeau, Mo., where the couple still lives. At the latter, she served as health and human services dean.


She takes pride in the fact that she became a member of the faculty at UTC after graduating from Howard at a time when the then-private University of Chattanooga was not open to Black students.


“When I graduated high school, I couldn’t set foot on the campus,” she said.


Despite being a Howard student leader, Mr. Prater said his parents did not have much money and he had other siblings, so he did not go to college initially. Instead, he went into the Air Force and worked in aeromedical evacuation during the Vietnam War while stationed in Japan, Hawaii and Washington state.


After they were married, he later got some degrees at Chattanooga State and UTC and did technical-related work at places like Sequoyah and Watts Bar for TVA. He later did other professional work and received a master’s as the family moved around.


Ms. Prater said at least half of the Howard graduates from that class went to college. “That was a big deal and teachers encouraged it,” she said. “We were really encouraged to do that.”


They remembered hearing stories that the era of the 1960s made going to some colleges challenging emotionally for some students, as Mr. Eady earlier referenced. They heard the story of Howard classmate Myrtle Barnett, whose father was an educator and mother was a social worker. They were among the better-off Black Chattanooga families at the time, so she went to the University of Tennessee at a time when it had only a scant number of Black students.


The Praters said they heard from her the story of one student from rural Appalachia who was not used to being around Black people. She had naively asked Ms. Barnett almost offensive questions about the biological makeup of Black people.


But through it all, these Howard graduates who are now close to 75 years old have survived and thrived, with many leaving marks of significant accomplishment. They always remember the trials and tribulations and victories at their various reunions, when their old Riverside friends join them. Some classmates, including Ms. Prater, forget who went to Howard and who went to Riverside.


As Ms. Prater said in her 50th anniversary speech to the class in 2014 and shared for this story, “After graduating from high school, our classmates went forward as productive citizens and are represented in many fields.


“We went forward and served our respective neighbors.  It doesn’t matter the label or title of our service to the community, our classmates have made contributions, not only in Chattanooga, but all over the United States” and even abroad.


* * * * *


To see the first story in this series about the experience of the students who began attending Riverside High in 1963-64, read here.


* * * * *

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