The History of Douglass High School Thomasville, Ga.

Douglass High School's Mascot-The Lions
Douglass High School’s Mascot-The Lions

April 23, 2009

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The first public school for Blacks in Thomasville was established in 1902.  This institution was located on the corner of Pine and Clay Streets in the vicinity of the present Weston YMCA and consisted of five classrooms and a large auditorium.  The Principal was Mr. H.H. Threatt and his assistants were: Miss Daisy McLean and Miss Massie Toombs.  The second year Miss Kittie Hamilton was added.

The following served as Superintendents of the Thomasville System: J.C. Wardlow 1902-1904; A.J. Barwick 1904-1905; W.G. Davis 1905-1907; A.B. Christine 1907-1908; J.S. Allen 1908-1912; A.J. Duncan 1912-1915 and B.B. Broughton 1915-1938.

In 1940 the elementary school was enlarged with two modern buildings; one located in the Fletcher Street Community named in the honor of Mrs. S. H. Dunlap who was the first principal of that school and the other in Dewey City.

Mr. H.R. Mahler and Mr. N.M. Huckabee were later hired.  Mr. Mahler was assigned to the high school and Mr. Huckabee was assigned to the elementary and junior high school.  Upon the resignation of Mr. Huckabee, Mr. Mahler became superintendent and served until 1949. Mr. R.D. Blakeney became superintendent in 1949.

When the lease of twenty years expired, the city built a two-story framed building, consisting of twelve classrooms and an auditorium.  This building was located where the Frederick Douglass Complex (formerly Douglass Elementary School) now stands. Mr. D.C. Brantley was the first principal of the new school which was known as the Dewey City Public School and housed grades 1 through 10.  Mr. Brantley died in May, 1920, after a year of service.  Father P.N. Carrington, Vicar of the Good Shepherd Church completed the term as acting principal.

Upon recommendation of the people, the following year the School Board elected Professor
W.G. Smith, a graduate of Lincoln University and a World War I veteran, to the principalship.
He was the first principal with a degree

During Mr. Smith’s administration, a strong Parent Teacher Association was organized.  The members of the organization were anxious that the school should be named.   A committee was appointed to submit names and such names as: Paul Lawrence Dunbar; Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass were presented.  The group, upon a majority vote, chose Frederick Douglass as the name for the school. The first PTA officers were: Mr. Russell Everett-President, Mrs. Gladis Revels-Secretary, Mrs. Sadie F. Gibson-Asst. Secretary and Mr. Dennis Hadley-Treasurer.

Also under the leadership of Mr. Smith, the school continued to grow. In 1925 a junior high building was erected and served as the high school building.  The colored citizens were desirous of having a well equipped high school; thus, through the Parent Teacher Organization, accepted the challenge of the Board of Education and raised $500.00 to be used in the equipping of the science room.  The first 11th grade graduating class of Douglass High School was in 1928. Those twelve graduates were: Laura Jefferson-Grooms, Elease Davenport, Christine Richardson, Minnie Gardner Smith, Pauline Ackerman-Easton, Effie O’Neal, Ira Mae Gordon, Tom Smith, O.V. Spivey, Paul Alexander, Lucious White and John Stevens.

The two-story framed building that was erected in 1919 was destroyed by fire in 1932 and that same year the elementary building was constructed (on the grounds where the Frederick Douglass Complex stands).  Again, the people of the community accepted another challenge from the Board of Education and raised $10,000.00 which was used in erection of a high school building at a cost of $25,000.00.  However on a December morning in 1937, this building was destroyed by fire.  After the 1937 fire, the high school students were transferred to Allen Normal School, a private Congregational School located on Lester Street near the former S.H. Dunlap School.  The next year, the high school building was constructed (demolished in 1971). Mr. W.G. Smith did an excellent job as principal of Douglass High School. After twenty years of service, he died in 1941.  His death was mourned by the entire community.

Mr. Smith was succeeded by Mr. George Edwards, a graduate of Clark College and after serving one year; he resigned and enlisted in the Army as a Y.M.C.A. worker.  His successor was Mr. Charles Stewart, an outstanding educator, a graduate of Alcorn College and Atlanta University. During his five years as principal, Mr. Stewart gave leadership in helping Douglass High become accredited by the Southern Association of Secondary Schools and Collages.  After accreditation; the school’s graduates became fully recognized by participating Colleges and Secondary Schools. He was succeeded in 1947 by Mr. M.D. Roberts, a graduate of Morris Brown College and Atlanta University.

During Mr. Roberts’ administration, the first marching band was organized under the leadership of Mr. Leon Johnson a graduate of Wayne State University.  The band continued to grow and became one of the best bands in Southwest Georgia.  He was succeeded by Mr. S.S. Riggs, Mr. J.J. Williams, Mr. Hallard Walden and Mr. Joseph Phelps, respectively.  Other teachers involved in the music department were: Mrs. Juanita L. Varner, Mrs. Castle Thomas, Mrs. Minnie G. Smith, Mrs. Frances Greene Williams and student Clara Frances Thomas.  As quoted by Mrs. Castle Thomas in 1998, “Music from slavery and the present time has kept minorities solving problems, loving mankind and feeling the spirit of God in our midst-we have been able to solve our problems through music at home, at work and at church; it is medicine for us.  All people sing, listen or make music for joy, happiness and a release from dark clouds that hovered over us.  The music department at Douglass High School was blessed with good voices and a desire to make all necessary sacrifices to learn to sing hymns, spirituals, classical and gospel music.  During the years of segregation, Douglass High had no music department.  Thomasville High always had music, music instructors and scheduled music classes.  Douglass High for many years used the service of a teacher who could play the piano.  The planning period was used to work with the choir.  Eventually a bandmaster was hired, but he too was working on a part-time schedule.  To accomplish our goals, we would rehearse as often as needed, even at night. Despite the facts listed, the Douglass High School music groups competed with many schools during the county and regional competitions and received many top awards.

Organized athletics at Douglass High began in 1922 under the leadership of Dr. Martin L. Walton, a local Dentist.  In 1922 the school played three football games: Georgia Normal School (now Albany State University), Stevens High School of Quincy, Florida and Lincoln High School of Tallahassee, Florida.  Two of these first three games were won by Douglass High. During the seventeen years of Dr. Walton’s coaching, the team lost only seven games, playing from Macon, Georgia to Miami, Florida.  Dr. Walton was succeeded in 1939 by Mr. Fletcher V. Rollins.
In 1949, several buildings were added:  a modern gymnasium, band room and shop. Also during this time, the curricula offerings were broadened to include Commercial Education and in 1956 a foreign language was added to offerings of the high school.  In 1958 Special Education was added to the elementary offerings.  This course deals with mentally challenged children.

Mr. Alvin C. Boyd, a graduate of the University of Indiana became principal of Douglass High in 1951.  Under his administration, the twelfth grade was added to the curriculum and there was no graduating class in 1952, thereby making the class of 1953 the first Douglass High School class to graduate from the twelfth grade.  In 1952 the Douglass High boys’ and girls’ basketball teams won Georgia Interscholastic Association Championships under coaches Ernest Williams and James Bryant. Mr. Boyd served as principal for two terms.  In the fall of 1953, Mr. W.J. Varner, a Douglass High graduate, became principal.  Mr. Varner received his professional training from Morehouse College and FAMU.  The high school made great progress under Mr. Varner’s leadership. The Douglass Lions won the GIASC in football in 1959 under Coach E.C. Williams and in 1967, won state championship under Head Coach James I. Bryant.  From 1967 to 1970, the Lions were in the top running, winning over half of its games. In 1965 the first Douglass High School float participated in the Thomasville Rose Show Parade.  Two students riding on that float were: George Brown and Frank D. Martin III, class of 1965.

There were expansions to the physical plant as well as in the curriculum offerings. Mr. Varner remained at Douglass until his death in 1970.  Mr. Emory Hopkins, a 1953 Douglass graduate, succeeded him as acting principal.  Mr. Hopkins was in this position when Douglass High and Thomasville High merged in 1970.  That ended the era of segregated schools in Thomasville. A piece of Thomasville history began to disappear June 21, 1970 and the City Board of Education voted to tear down this piece of history.

This great institution will always be remembered through the Douglass High School Alumni Association, Inc. and a video produced by the late Mr. Ed Smith, entitled “Douglass High School On Parade 1950-1964”.

The Douglass High School creed states that principles of scholarships, moral character, integrity, leadership and good fellowship be instilled in all who enter the walls of Douglass High School.

The first Douglass High School Alumni was organized in 1986.  Simon O. Dockett was elected President, George Brown-Vice President and Mrs. Sadie Gibson (DHS English Teacher) was elected Treasurer.  Because of lack of interest from local DHS students, the organization did not succeed.

In 1992, four members from the DHS class of 1969 (Willa Knolton Mash, Laquetta Watkins Johnson, Pauline Simmons Cone and Yvonne Buchanan Armster) who were interested in the legacy of Douglass High School, brain-stormed and planned the first Annual Douglass High School Grand Class Reunion on Christmas Night, 1992…  This reunion was celebrated December 25th each year thereafter.  At the December 25, 1994 Reunion, the members of the class of 1969 made a plea to reorganize the Douglass High School Alumni Association, and it was well received by those in attendance.  A $5.00 annual membership fee was approved.  A balance of $229.00 was brought forward from the initial 1987 organization. Officers for the reorganized association are:

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James “Jack” Hadley, President ———-Class of 1956
Doris Walton Booker, Vice President —Class of 1953
Bishop Robinson, Secretary —————-Class of 1950
Merrill Baker, Jr., Treasurer —————-Class of 1960
Laquetta Johnson, Corr. Secretary ——-Class of 1969

The initial Board of Directors of the Douglass High School Alumni-1995

Yvonne B. Armster, George Brown, Jr., Pauline S. Cone, Elizabeth B. Elzy, Rudolph Elzy, Ira Flowers, Vivian Gabriel, Dorothy Holton, Alice W. Tillman, Joyce Jackson, Laquetta Johnson, Willa K. Mash, Willie Johnson, Jr., Cora Moody, Benjamin Pettis, Rosemary Stokes, Bertha Sumner, and Charlie Ward, Sr.

In 1995, the membership committee developed a master mail directory of former students and graduates.  Of the more than 2700 Douglass High School students and graduates, 1416 membership applications were mailed.  The Alumni Association is open for membership to any graduate or student who attended Douglass High School and former teachers who taught from 1902-1970.  Annual membership dues were set at $5.00 per year.  The association had no permanent meeting place, but thanks to Ms. Jeannine Vicks, Principal of Douglass Elementary School provided space for our monthly meetings.

In 1996, the application for the Douglass High School Alumni Association Tax Exempt Status code of 501 C (3) was approved.  Also this year, a set of Douglass High School yearbooks (1949-1970) were reprinted from the original copies and donated to the Thomas County Public Library.

A Real Estate Committee was established for the sole purpose of locating land to build a Douglass High School Alumni Association, Inc. headquarters and ballroom.  Nineteen (19) Life Memberships were recorded and a Life Member Plaque was made to commemorate the Life Members.  The plate is inscribed with the member’s name and the year graduated or attended.  The Life Member appreciation package includes: photograph of the high school building, a copy of the DHS History, Alumni Association lapel pin and a video copy “Douglass on Parade”.

The Alumni Special Bulk Rate Mailing permit, No. 76 was approved: authorization No. 0617365-WGY, United States Postal Service, Memphis, TN. A “How to Apply for Scholarships, Grants & Loans” workshop targeting 10th – 12th grade students in the Thomasville and Thomas County School Systems was held in May, 1996.  The association income and expenses were $8,245.00 and $7,289.00, respectively.

In 1998, the Annual Douglass High School Alumni Christmas Fellowship was another great success with over 300 former students in attendance.  The class of 1969 did a fabulous job of hosting the event.  After a year of fundraising and donations, on a very cold December 27th, the association “Unveiled a Memory”. The Douglass High School Memorial Monument was unveiled on the campus of the Douglass Elementary School.  Levi Redding, son of Luvernia Redding, class of 1957 designed the monument.  County Commissioner, Moses L. Gross, class of 1963 was the contract builder of the monument.  Video copies of the ceremony are available.

In 1999, Officers: Doris Walton Booker-President, Merrill E. Baker, Jr.-Vice President, Juanita Morris Frederick-Secretary, Christine Jackson Hadley-Corr. Secretary, and James “Jack” Hadley-Treasurer. Board of Directors: Dale Adams, Doris Calhoun Baker, Tommy L. Baker, Jr., George Brown, Jr., Elizabeth Brooks Elzy, Rudolph A. Elzy, Sr., Ira L. Flowers, Richard L. Hadley, Willie H. Johnson, Jr., Mary A.  Austin Miller, Bishop Robinson, J.T. Tillman, Jr., Bettye Trutlin Thompson, Calvin Turner and Charlie Ward, Sr.

The first Summer Reunion took place June 25-27, 2002, with a 165 in attendance.  Out-of-town graduates and former students responded with great enthusiasm, traveling from as far away as San Jose, California.  The 3-day event was held at “The Place” owned by Life Members Charlie and Arleatha Dunbar.  The association received copyright approval for the Master Address Directory: copyright Certificate of Registration, No. TX-240-367.

The Board of Directors unanimously voted to increase the annual membership dues as follows: year 2000-$10; year 2001-$15 and year 2002-$20.

Phase II of the Memorial Monument is complete with the planting of shrubbery around the monument   contributed by Jacqueline  Mobley Bryant and family in honor of Coach James I. Bryant.  Coach Bryant started his career at Douglass High School in 1951.  Aside from being coach he loved to dance and taught us many dance moves.

The old Douglass High School band room is now the Alumni headquarters, made possible by Superintendent Cable and Douglass Elementary School Principal, Jeannine Vicks.  The Board of Directors hosted Open House on September 5th.  The Jack Hadley Black History Memorabilia, Inc. has shared the Douglass High School portion of its collection with the Alumni Association and the headquarters walls are lined with memories, i.e., photographs, football trophy and many other mementos.

The Board of Directors approved membership in the Jack Hadley Black History Memorabilia, Inc.
The Thomas County Branch of the NAACP consented to donate a piece of property to the Alumni Association.  This property was the first YMCA for Blacks, located at the corner of Pine and Calhoun Streets.  The deed to the property will be presented to the Board of Directors by the end of the year.

Mr. Donnell Carley, Owner/Operator of MU-DEAR Day Care Center dedicated one of its classrooms to Douglass High School.  We will work with Mr. Carley to continue community awareness of Douglass High School and the Alumni Association.  Annual income and expenses were $18,210.40 and $22,644.84, respectively.

In 2000, Phase III of the Memorial Monument is complete with the addition of the names of Charter Members and Teacher Advisors, inscribed on the back of the monument.  Our thanks to Gross Vault & Monument Company.

The Board of Directors approved payment for 6 months of music lessons at the Banks Music Studio for Quinton Spivey, a former Douglass Elementary School student.

James “Jack” Hadley co-authored a book entitled “African-American Life on the Southern Hunting Plantation.  Copies are still available – $19.95, tax included.  Income and Expenses for Douglass High School Alumni were $8,256.41 and $6,257.01, respectively.

In 2001, Mr. Ed Smith who was the Industrial Art teacher and the schools videographer produced a videographer produced a video entitled “Douglass On Parade” and asked if a group of alumnus would sing the 1st and 2nd Alma Mater as an introduction and conclusion of the tape recording.  This video covers the period from the 50’s thru the mid-60 of the Douglass High School Homecoming Parades.

In 2002, Alumni Officers: Merrill E. Baker, Jr.-President, Margie Turner Hye-Vice President, James “Jack” Hadley-Treasurer, Juanita Morris Frederick-Secretary, Christine Jackson Hadley-Corr. Secretary.

Board of Directors: Dale Adams, Doris Calhoun Baker, Doris Walton Booker, Elizabeth Brooks Elzy, Rudloph A. Elzy, Sr., George Brown, Jr., James N. Greene, Rosetta B. Greene, Richard L. Hadley, Willie H. Johnson, Jr., Mary Austin Miller, Bessie H. Moore, Richard Ross, Lemon Scruggs, J.T. Tillman, Jr., Charlie Ward, Sr. and Clarence B. Williams.
The Thomasville City School Board announced the closing of Douglass Elementary School due to low enrollment. By law, three scheduled town hall meetings were held to hear concerns from the community. The City School Board heard speeches from citizens and students, pleading for the school to remain open, but they all fell on deaf ears and the school was closed. The Douglass High School Alumni Association stepped in and presented a proposal to the City School Board to buy the property even after Superintendent Cable informed the Alumni association that Thomas University was interested in the property.  Two members of the Alumni Board of Directors met with the president of Thomas University and were informed that Thomas University was not interested in the property.  The next meeting was with Superintendent Cable who had received a copy of a letter to the Alumni Board from Thomas University stating that they were never interested in the property and that sealed the deal for the Alumni. In April of 2002 the Alumni Board of Directors voted unanimously to purchase the Douglass Elementary School complex from the Thomasville City School Board.

The Jack Hadley Black History Memorabilia, Inc., a collaborative with Douglass High School Alumni Association, Inc., has developed a THOMASVILLE BLACK HERITAGE TRAIL TOUR GUIDE on the 68 historical sites and places in Thomasville’s Black Community, to include the Frederick Douglass Complex and artifacts of the Douglass era. This tour guide is the first Thomasville Black Heritage Tour Guide for Thomasville and is one of the few in Georgia. It was presented to the City of Thomasville’s Welcome Center in July 1996. On January 2000, this organization started the STEP ON—STEP OFF THOMASVILLE BLACK HERITAGE TRAIL TOUR. This is a 2 hour tour that cost $100.00. The tour guide step aboard your chartered bus, school b us, van or private vehicle and broaden your knowledge of the African American Historical Sites here in Thomasville, Georgia. For booking a tour, call 229-226-5029 or e-mail: jackhadleyblackhistorymuseum@rose.net.

On June 2003, Superintendent Cable presented the Douglass Elementary School property deed to Alumni President, Merrill E. Baker, Jr. This was indeed a challenge for the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors voted to rename the School- the Frederick Douglass Complex. Through the effort of Lillie Hadley Witherspoon, the association collaborated with the Department of Family and Children Services with Family’s First Step Program. This program targeted single mothers in areas of education and life skills. Baby sitting service was provided for those mothers whose children had to accompany parents to the program.

In 2002, a grant was written to secure funds from HUD for much needed repairs to the building. Congressman Sanford Bishop presented our grant to the State Government and funds were received and used to install heat and air units in several rooms.
The annual meeting and Christmas Fellowship were held in our facility (the gymnasium). The affair was a huge success and a report was given to the membership about the acquisition of the facility by the Alumni Association.  The Alumni e-mail address is douglassalumni@rose.net.

In 2004, a grant to the Department of Human Resources was written to secure funds for the CADETS Program After School and Summer Enrichment program for students in the City and County School systems. Ira Flowers was hired as Program Director. The program served over 100 students. The Alumni contracted with the Juvenile Justice Department for a program targeting children and teens that are products of the Juvenile Justice System. Heating systems were installed in the gymnasium.

In 2005, the Association received donations of tables, chairs and other equipment from the Club Ambassador. A Club Ambassador room will be setup at the complex. The HUD grant was received in the amount of $75,000.00. $50,000.00 to the Douglass High School Alumni Association and $25,000.00 to the Jack Hadley Black History Memorabilia, Inc. These funds will be used to replace heating and air conditioning units to several of the rooms in the complex. The Thomas/Grady Training Center will vacate the premises in the Vicks building, September 28.

In 2006 The Jack Hadley Black History Memorabilia, Inc.’s organization started renovating on January 3, 2006 a brick facility of 5,617 square feet at the Frederick Douglass Complex, Thomasville, Georgia, to house the 2000 pieces of African-American artifacts in Thomasville’s First Black History Museum with the Grand Opening on Dec. 3, 2006. This Black History Memorabilia Collection will be for year-round viewing by the public and school students. This is a life long “Dream” of James “Jack” Hadley and his organization that have been fulfilled, a blessing from GOD. Visit our web sites to learn more about Thomasville Rich Black Heritage: www.jackhadleyblackhistorymuseum.com or e-mail:jackhadleyblackhistorymuseum@rose.net.

In 2007, Thomasville City School System, Thomas County Juvenile Court Services and Douglass High School Alumni Association signed an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) to formalize the Inter-Agency Partnership for the Accelerated Learning Center to be housed in the complex.

In 2007, The Jack Hadley Black History Memorabilia, Inc. & Douglass High School Alumni Association, Inc. is collaboratively hosted Thomasville, GA’s First Black Heritage Festival, February 9, 10, & 11, 2007.  The three-day event took place on the Frederick Douglass Complex premises.  The Festival commenced a series of planned celebrations of the legacy and creativity of people of African Decent for the year of 2007.  The focus is on bringing diverse communities together; featuring local and nationally known artists in religion, music, visual arts, film, fashion, sports, food, and crafts.  There was a gala of activities for all ages. There was also be an interwoven of connected cultures of generations and communities.  This Festival is a yearly event for the “Jack Hadley Black History Museum” located at 214 Alexander Street and Douglass High School Alumni Association, located at 115 Forrest Street, (Frederick Douglass Complex premises) Thomasville, GA. The proceeds benefit the operation of activities at both facilities…

In 2008, The Jack Hadley Black History Memorabilia, Inc. & Douglass High School Alumni Association, Inc is collaboratively hosted Thomasville’s Second Annual Black Heritage Festival, February 8, 9, & 10, 2008.  The three-day event took place on the Frederick Douglass Complex premises located at 115 Forrest and 214 Alexander Streets, (Frederick Douglass Complex) Thomasville, GA.  The featured events for Saturday were vendors and exhibitors booths on the Complex grounds at 9:00A.M., including the Tallahassee Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club & other bikers, a Health Fair and a Car Show.  Saturday evening featured a Fashion Show by Niler’s Fashions, Inc. and a Talent Show beginning at 6:00 P.M in the Douglass Complex Auditorium.  Some of the fashions modeled during the show were auctioned off.  The Festival concluded on Sunday afternoon at 4:00P.M with a Gospel Festand Youth Praise/Dance Groups in the Complex Gymnasium.  This Festival is a yearly event for the “Jack Hadley Black History Museum” and the Douglass High School Alumni Association. The proceeds benefit the operation of activities at both facilities.

In 2009, Jack Hadley Black History Museum and Douglass High School Alumni Association and Southwest Georgia were geared-up and enjoyed it’s Third Annual Black Heritage Festival of Southwest Georgia, February 13, 14, & 15 2009. The three-day event took place on the Frederick Douglass Complex premises located at 115 Forrest Street, (Frederick Douglass Complex) Thomasville, GA 31792.  If you were one of our vendors for the past two years, you are an eye witness to the profound effect this great event made in bringing people together to celebrate and feel the presence of their heritage.  It is not always the dynamics of the rich and the famous but rather the celebration of families & friends coming together and experiencing new and unfamiliar commodities, exotic and soul foods, health fair, displays of artwork, music, and career fair, workshops, dancing and feasting.  For more information about the Annual Black Heritage Festival of Southwest Georgia, please e-mail: jackhadleyblackhistorymuseum@rose.net or call the Jack Hadley Black History Museum at 229-226-5029.

This history provided by:
The late Mrs. Sadie F. Gibson, the late Mrs. Castle W. Thomas, Mrs. Doris W. Booker, President of Douglass High School Alumni and Mr. James “Jack” Hadley, President of Jack Hadley Black History Memorabilia, Inc,., & Museum.

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