LAURINBURG – The Nov. 4 football game against Richmond Senoir High School will have a few special guests.
The game will be attended by 145 students from Scotland High School’s first three graduating classes. Calling themselves the First Footers, the classes of 1968, 1969 and 1970 are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the opening of Scotland High School.
Though the 60s and 70s were turbulent times, Laurinburg was largely unaffected by problems arising from integration, 1960s counter-culture and Vietnam, according to Laurinburg City Councilman Curtis Leak.
Before 1967, each of Scotland County’s satellite communities had its own high school, and there were separate schools for black and white children.
When the county decided to integrate schools, the move was not made all at once. Black students who were willing were given the option to join white schools through the Freedom of Choice program which was part of the state’s plan to address the US Supreme Court mandate to integrate.
“It was a big change, some people had strong feelings one way or the other,” said Beacham McDougald, a junior during Scotland’s first year. “I don’t really remember any racial tensions the first year. The first year was more like you’re taking all the high schools in the county and throwing them together and who were the strange people? I think everybody was too busy trying to learn who everybody was.”
Leak was a junior at I Ellis Johnson when he decided to join white students at Laurinburg High School one year before Scotland High School opened its doors. He believes that voluntary integration is the reason that Scotland’s first year open went smoothly.
“We didn’t have any racial problems that first year,” Leak said. “We had a good administration, a good principal, William F. Davis, and a good faculty. Scotland High always had good academics and socially and athletically we were awesome.”
According to Leak, black students that first year were involved in all clubs and activities. The staff at the school made them feel welcome talked to black students and “treated [them] like a human.”
There were certain groups of all races who stayed to themselves and did not mingle.
Students who were willing were able to make connections based on shared interests both in school and out. However, there were some rough edges to the transition largely form the adults of the time.
McDougald was fortunate enough to have a paved driveway with a basketball goal, so he invited his new friends to play ball after school, but that did not sit well with some neighbors. In order to keep the peace, his mother gave in to the neighbors.
“My mother called me inside one day and said, ‘I need to talk to you. I’m getting some complaints from the neighbors.’ So I cut down on the afternoon games,” McDougald said. “I hated to do that but it was a new time.”
McDougald wanted to stand up for the right thing, but he was caught between being disobedient to his parents and causing trouble that might get someone hurt.
“[It made me a little] afraid. Somebody’s snooping into something that shouldn’t matter,” he said. “I wasn’t angry; I was just confused. Starting high school is a big thing, but then you had that first year of racial integration, but the discipline that my generation was raised with was you do not question your parents they’re the authority.”
To solve the problem, a teacher would open the old Laurinburg High gym to allow the students to play together a “path of least resistance,” McDougald said.
Leak believes that the transition went smoothly in school because the black students that first year were assertive without being militant.
“We weren’t rowdy kids. In the black community our parents always stressed education,” he said. “And you wanted the best for your kids.”
He also gives credit to coaches of the football and basketball teams who treated players the same and would not put up with problems.
“The guy who kept the nucleus together was Clyde Parish,” Leak said. “Clyde Parish was our football coach. A football coach can really make and break a school because everybody looks up to him, and he handles your macho athletic people in your school. He believed in the team concept: to be on this team and [have] this team be successful, you’ve got to be like brothers and work together. He said it was bigger than us.”
That mindset carried off the field as well because Parish made it clear that the players were role models of the time, according to McDougald.
“The coaches were very team oriented and one person on the team doesn’t do anything to make the others embarrassed,” he said. “I think athletics probably had more to do with improving race relations in those years than anything.”
Leak believes another reason for the smooth transition was that Laurinburg was an “open town” where children in a given community played together no matter what the color.
“Laurinburg had never had racial problems, the whole community, because of good community leaders,” Leak said. “That’s why I got into politics.”
Leak and 279 other students were a part of Scotland High School’s first graduating class in 1968.
In 1969/70 all schools were integrated whether students and parents wanted it or not. Leak believes this is why later classes at Scotland had a few problems.
McDougald remembers his senior year being quite different. An altercation between a student and a teacher caused schools to be dismissed early.
“That was the day before the junior /senior prom so it was canceled as well,” McDougald said. “Somewhere beneath the surface was a little bit of tension. When you had Freedom of Choice it was the bBlack kids who went to the white schools, but no whites [willingly] went to black school.”
Festivities start before the game on Nov. 3 with a Tailgate Party in the Student Commons from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Before the game former students will meet near Pate Stadium field house and and go as a group to a section of seats reserved for First Footers.
On Nov. 4, the classes will have a social gathering at Boyd Hall at Monroe Camp and Retreat Center. Activities will include cornhole, soft drinks, snacks, and music of the 1960s and 70s from 1 to 5 p.m. Dinner will be served at Boyd Hall in the evening.
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169