Each year, tens of thousands of public and private high schools across the U.S. schedule reunions. Alumni come together, trade stories about their lives with their former classmates and reminisce about earlier days.
The groups come together to celebrate a spirit, a common bond that lasts, in some cases, decades after the final classroom bell.
“This is the history that the younger generation is not aware of, and we want them to understand how this happened,” said Victor Marshall, 78, a 1959 graduate of F.W. Gross High School.
A week ago, about 200 alumni and descendants of alumni of the old high school gathered to celebrate their legacy and their lifelong friendships with a banquet of singing, eating, listening to speakers, planting trees, awarding scholarships and socializing.
The former students who walked through the hallways of F.W. Gross High School are forever connected to each other and to the building that still stands on South Depot Street. These individuals are the alumni of a bygone era in Victoria and throughout the country when racial segregation was the norm in public education.
They have endured a time in our history that most people today will never fully grasp. For those sacrifices, that shrinking generation should be admired, respected and celebrated.
F.W. Gross High School, which was also known at the Victoria Colored School, is registered with the Texas Historical Commission. A metal plaque stands outside its entrance that explains its significance in our community.
Even after the landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, in 1954 that ended the “separate but equal” doctrine, the high school did not integrate naturally by itself, Marshall said.
African-American students at the time valued the school because it was a place where they felt safe, it was close-knit and it fostered a family-like atmosphere.
“Teachers were dedicated to the students,” he said. “They prepared us for college and for the working world. They really cared.”
F.W. Gross students could have transferred to other schools where there were mostly white students, but they didn’t, he said.
Then, the school built in 1936 closed in 1966, and the Victoria school district integrated.
Every two years, the F.W. Gross High School reunion occurs.
“We do this to keep our school alive,” said Earnel Hill, class of 1960. “We try to make sure the young people realize that heritage is the most important thing.”
Willie Clemons, class of 1947, drove from Dayton, Ohio, to Victoria by himself in his 1998 Volvo to attend the reunion.
“This is my home. Not now, but I was born and raised and finished high school here ... I got my start here; I’m thankful for that,” Clemons said.
The next reunion will be in July 2021. We hope there will be many more after that.