Enloe High’s first graduates mark 50 years

With 50 years of hindsight, members of Enloe High School’s first graduating class can look back at what a difference the school made in their lives.

For Bruce Washburn, a typing class kept him out of battle in Vietnam. For Don Turner, a teacher inspired a love of math that led him into the military but far from Vietnam. For Julia Taylor Dreves, attending Raleigh’s first integrated high school pushed her to question deeply held beliefs and form a family she had never imagined: two birth children and an adopted son who is black.

“We would never have adopted him had I not gone to Enloe High School,” Taylor Dreves said. “It’s that simple.”

Several dozen graduates of the class of 1964 returned to their alma mater Saturday afternoon. Most of them had not set foot on campus since graduation. They toured a school that has grown in remarkable ways; a magnet school and academic powerhouse that boasts an International Baccalaureate program and a diverse student body unimagined in the 1960s.

In the early 1960s, Raleigh had two high schools, Ligon for blacks and Broughton for whites. School officials did not want to wrench students from Broughton in their senior year. So when Enloe opened in 1962, the oldest class was a group of 160 students, almost all of whom had been sophomores at Broughton the year before.

During their sophomore year, the future Enloe students met in a Broughton auditorium to craft an identity for the new school: eagle as mascot; green, gold and white for school colors (same as Green Bay Packers); all gold football helmets modeled on Notre Dame; and a fight song modeled on the University of Michigan fight song. Despite all the Yankee influence, the new school with a small class relative to Broughton created a small and intimate feel.

Perhaps most important, Enloe was the first high school in Raleigh to integrate, even though on the margins.

“It was integrated in the first year, in the most minimal way,” Washburn said. “We had one black male and one black female in our class.”

Ben McCollum died several years ago. Bernice Johnson could not be located for the reunion.

Washburn and other students said principal George Kahdy made it clear he expected white students to treat the black students fairly. Teachers and coaches drummed the message in.

But it’s only been the passage of years that made Washburn realize how difficult it must have been to be one of two black students at the school.

“I’d love to see Bernice again,” Washburn said. “She had such poise to handle such a different situation, a different culture.”

And it was the passage of years that made Washburn realize the importance of a class typically reserved for girls, typing.

“Enloe is the reason why I am alive,” Washburn said. “Typing is traditionally a girls’ course, and Ms. Honeycutt made sure I typed correctly. That’s why the Marines put me on a desk job in Vietnam.”

And of 15 graduates interviewed, 10 spontaneously launched into praise of Andrew Cowen, the school’s janitor. Cowen was black, a minister, a confidant, a counselor and a powerful force for good.

Joe Ingle remembered how the football team gathered in the cafeteria before games. The players would lie on their backs on mats, staring at the ceiling, while Cowen sang.

“He sang the most beautiful spirituals a cappella,” said Ingle, who teared up at the memory. “He was a touchstone, the spiritual capstone of this school.”

Taylor Dreves said she spent her early years in a totally segregated bubble in Roanoke Rapids. She remembers clearly the first time she saw a black classmate at Enloe. When he smiled at her, she didn’t know how to respond: Look away? Smile back? Ignore him?

Taylor Dreves said the encounter caused her to begin questioning her most fundamental beliefs and values.

“All because of Enloe High School,” she said.

And the school’s namesake, Raleigh Mayor William G. Enloe, was known for resisting the integration of the movie theaters that he managed.

“Isn’t that an ironic twist?” she smiled.