Booker T. Washington High School alumni let out thunderous cheers during Sunday’s unveiling of the Swayne College/Booker T. Washington High School historic marker.
The two-sided marker was placed on Union Street at the campus of Booker T. Washington Magnet High School.
About 200 alumni attended the unveiling, representing Booker T. Washington High School graduating classes from 1940-1970.
Voncile Britton-Gowdy said the marker was needed because of the deep history of Booker T. Washington High School. Britto-Gowdy said Booker T. Washington High School and George Washington Carver High School were the only two public high schools in the area that black people could attend when she was in school. She graduated in 1962.
“If those two schools had not existed, I question whether we would have been educated,” Britton-Gowdy said.
Swayne College was a primary school that opened in 1869. Students could study the alphabet, reading, spelling, advanced reading, arithmetic, geography and writing. Though only a grade school, Swayne College is so named because it was created to become a college.
Swayne College became Booker T. Washington High School in 1937, and Booker T. Washington High School graduated its last class in 1970.
“Coming out of slavery in 1865, no one had an education. So the plan was to educate people first, then become a college,” said Richard Bailey, a 1966 BTW alumnus.
The Swayne College marker faces the north because Wager Swayne, for whom the school was named, was a Northerner, while the Booker T. Washington marker faces the south because Booker T. Washington was a Southerner.
Bailey, a member of the BTW Alumni Association, pushed for the marker to be placed on the BTW Magnet High School site because he said he is always interested in people having a good understanding of history.
“People can just come by here and get a sense of fulfillment by reading the marker,” he said.
Getting the marker placed at the school was a three-part effort, according to Bailey.
During Tracy Larkin’s tenure as city councilman for District 3, Larkin secured the funds for the project. Bailey, then researched the history of the school and wrote the words imprinted on the marker. Finally, the Montgomery Board of Education gave permission for the marker to be erected.
The unveiling was more than just a lesson in history. It was also a time for old classmates to come together and reminisce.
A Booker T, Washington Day program preceded the unveiling. Former athletes, coaches and community leaders spoke at the event. Tracy Larkin, the keynote speaker, encouraged the group of alumni to embrace today’s public schools as a way of giving back to the legacy of his alma mater.
“We made a pact with our alma mater that ‘always now and forever be,’ we’d pledge ‘our never-failing loyalty,’ ” Larkin said, quoting parts of the school’s song. “We must capture much of what’s been lost and pass it on to our children. That’s how we fulfill our pledge.”
Published Montgomery Advertiser, July 5, 2004