Martinsville High School's first integrated graduating class celebrates 50 years

Class reunion began Thursday, runs through Saturday

By Colter Anstaett - Southside Bureau Reporter

MARTINSVILLE, Va. - Five members of Martinsville High School's 1969 graduating class smiled and laughed Thursday morning as they reflected on their days in school and being the first integrated class to graduate.

Thursday was the first day of the class of 1969's 50th class reunion.

Johnsie Finney-Tate said the class is an important example for the world today.

"The way the world is going now, people like us, we need to show that we love each other from the start and we can continue to keep loving each other," Finney-Tate said.

Deborah Watson believes integration proved to be good for the whole city.

"When we graduated, the principal, the assistant principal, the librarian, they all stood up and basically gave us a pat on the back that we made this such a success," Watson said.

For some class members, like Denny Wade, integration was never an issue.

"I had a pretty cool car, I had a few dollars in my pocket, I had a girlfriend, and I had fun. My main concern was not getting busted coming back on school property after leaving to go to Rumbly's for lunch. Integration wasn't even a speck on my radar screen," Wade said.

Tate and classmate Kathy Robertson plan to visit classmates who are homebound or in assisted living facilities.

Members of the class also raised $5,000 to install two water-filling stations in the high school and give every current student and staff member a reusable water bottle.

"We've moved away and we've come back and had careers and families, and now with grandchildren and great grandchildren. It's a marvelous world. It was a good class," Watson said.

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