Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the graduation of my class at Lamar County High School in Barnesville, Georgia, the Class of 1976. 1975-76 was the first year classes were held at the “new” high school, so we were the first class to graduate from there.
I wasn’t there, though. Well, I was there for our graduation, but I wasn’t there for our senior year.
To explain why I skipped my senior year would take way too many words. The short version is that I only needed three classes to graduate, LCHS agreed to give me credit for my first three college courses (am I the only person ever to graduate from there with credit for Greek and Introduction to the Old Testament?), and Mercer University welcomed me with open arms. So off I went.
But I came back to graduate with my class. I was the Valedictorian. It was kind of awkward.
So far as I know, our class has never held a reunion. I think that’s sad. Or maybe we’ve had reunions but I’ve never been invited. That would be sadder.
It’s not hard to understand why we’ve never had a reunion. We never really meshed.
The integration and consolidation of the Lamar County Schools happened in 1970. I had spent my first six years of formal education attending Gordon Grammar School. When our schools were integrated racially, they were segregated by gender. So we seventh grade boys were sent to what had been the Booker T. Washington School while the seventh grade girls were sent to Milner. Several of my Gordon Grammar classmates, most of whom I had gone to school with for all of those first six years, went to private schools. I never saw some of them again.
So there we were, a bunch of boys thrown together in one place and a bunch of girls thrown together in another place. And it wasn’t just that the black kids and white kids didn’t know each other; it was also that we white kids from Gordon (there had been a few African-American kids at Gordon; I remember Faye Barrett and Mike Wimbish from my class with much fondness) and the white kids who had attended the schools at Aldora and Milner didn’t know each other.
Well, things were like that through my class’s tenth grade year. Meanwhile, a bond issue had been approved and a new high school—one that would house boys and girls, hallelujah—was scheduled to open in 1975. So they decided to put the boys and girls back together in 1974. I guess they wanted us to deal with the hormonal and social trauma before we moved to the new school. So for one year we were all together at the Forsyth Road School (how nostalgic does that sound? I wish they had kept the Booker name) and then for one year they—like I said, I was gone—spent a year together out at 1 Trojan Way.
So you can see why we didn’t mesh too well.
I’d like to see us have a forty year reunion. I’d go. Maybe we’d mesh now. Better late than never, you know.
Had we known then what we know now, maybe we’d have done better together. We could have learned so much from each other. We could have celebrated our common humanity while still appreciating our cultural and personal differences. We could have been interested in each other rather than suspicious of each other. We could have been friends rather than acquaintances. We could have celebrated that we were now all Trojans while appreciating that we were once Bulldogs and Falcons and Tigers.
Church folks could learn from all of this. I guess denominations are necessary; I know that there are historical, theological, and social reasons that so many of them exist. It’s still troublesome, though, that our churches are pretty much segregated by race (we have “black churches” and “white churches”), by economic status (“blue collar” and “white collar”), and by mindset (“conservative,” “liberal,” “moderate,” and “fundamentalist”).
There’s an old joke about a man dying and going to heaven. St. Peter is giving him the tour. They walk by one room from which loud singing and praising is coming. When the man asks Peter who’s in there, he replies, “That’s the Pentecostals.” They walk by another room from which they hear much reading in unison. “That’s the Catholics,” Peter explains. Then he says, “Now, let’s be very quiet walking by this next room. The Baptists are in there, and they think they’re the only ones here.”
I appreciate my Baptist heritage. But I appreciate even more the unity that all Christians have in Christ. I consider myself a Christian minister operating in the Baptist tradition. I am grateful that I was baptized at the Midway Baptist Church, but I am even more grateful that there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5).
When we all get to heaven, we’ll all be in heaven. We might as well come together down here. We need the practice.
(This article first appeared in "Ruffin's Renderings" in the Barnesville (GA) Herald Gazette on August 11, 2015)