Clayton Weaver remembers the first day of geography class after he transferred from all-black Lincoln High School to the old Chapel Hill High on Franklin Street.
It was 1963. The straight-A student had jumped at the chance to start his sophomore year in the newly integrated school, where he thought he’d have more opportunity. The class was studying the continents, when one of the students asked Weaver to tell his new classmates about Africa.
“I got up and said, ‘We keep our clothes short and we keep our hair short so we can run through the bush,’” recalled Weaver, 68 and a semi-retired broadcaster.
“The greatest thing I got out of my high school education was (learning) how to deal with white America,” he said.
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The stories flowed last weekend as about 50 Lincoln High School alumni and former teachers gathered for the 50th reunion of the Class of 1966, the school’s final year.
The next school year, both it and the old Chapel Hill High closed, and black and white students attended the new Chapel Hill High School off Homestead Road, which exists today.
Students could transfer out of Lincoln starting in 1963, Weaver said, and a few did. His graduating class of 209 students at Chapel Hill High had 13 black students, he said.
But even some alumni whose degree came from the integrated school returned for Lincoln’s reunion last weekend, saying it was still their school.
Some regretted ever leaving.
“Everybody I speak to, they say they lost a sense of community,” said Linda Thompson Carver.
Lincoln was more than a school, she and others said. It was an extension of students’ families.
“You felt like (the teachers) were your parents,” Carver said. You attended the same churches. Teachers visited students’ homes for dinner.
“You knew you had somebody who wished the best for you,” she said. “I don’t think the (black) children felt that when they went into that white school.”
Of course, it wasn’t all bad.
Everett Goldston, the Lincoln band director and science teacher, remembers transferring into Phillips Middle School, where he taught seventh grade science.
“I had 30 working microscopes, and that was just in my lab,” he said.
At Lincoln, he said, he’d only seen one or two microscopes in a closet, and they didn’t work.
Essie Watson Thompson was glad to have new textbooks. At Lincoln, books were often “hand-me-downs,” bearing the words “Property of Chapel Hill High School.”
“I got a good education,” said Thompson, 67. She graduated from the new Chapel Hill High in 1967, attending it her senior year after Lincoln closed.
But it was Lincoln that she and other Tigers, the school mascot, celebrated Sunday afternoon in the cafeteria at Northside Elementary School, itself located on the site of the old Orange County Training School, a first- through eighth-grade school for black students during segregation.
“My teachers I had at Lincoln, we went to church together; they were from the neighborhood,” Thompson said. Lincoln’s English and French teacher Alice Battle, now 83 and also attending the reunion, “she knew my mother, my aunts, everybody. My principal lived on Battle Street.”
Lucille McDougle, who taught Thompson in third, fourth and fifth grades, once gave her a car coat as a present. It had a beige check pattern, a hood and big buttons going down the front.
“We weren’t poor,” Thompson said. “She was just real sweet; that’s who she was.”
Thompson attended Elizabeth City State University and worked as a special education teacher for 30 years. She and fellow Lincoln student Charles Thompson have been married 41 years.
The crowd gets smaller as the reunion numbers get bigger.
Several speakers noted those who have died and urged former classmates to keep in touch.
That’s partly what keeps Joe “Bonecrusher” Caldwell, a football star in the Class of 1954, coming back. The 80-year-old, who served two tours in Vietnam, lives in Orlando, Florida, but says at 80, he’ll keep coming home as long as he can.
“I’m a Tiger,” he said.