Members of Montgomery County Vocational High School’s class of 1968 remain as close today as they were 50 years ago. They plan to celebrate their near-lifelong friendship on July 7.
To many of the classmates’ dismay, their 50th year class reunion comes during the same summer that their school’s door closes for good. Although they had no idea that the closure was coming when they began planning the reunion, it just so happens that the event will be the most extravagant one yet.
The “black tie affair” will be held at The Peabody hotel in Memphis, Tenn. Attendees are encouraged to wear their best gowns and suits. The location was chosen because the group wanted a place that was relatively close and could also accommodate a big, fancy affair.
One of the classmates, Christeen Snell, said that the group had never forgotten their class motto: “Today a canvas, tomorrow a work of art.” One of their peers, Albert Earl Allen, came up with the slogan.
Montgomery County Vocational School was a segregated school that serviced black students from first through 12th grade. Because of this, most of the students have known each other since early childhood. Soon after their graduation, Montgomery County Schools integrated and the vocational school no longer existed, instead creating the integrated Montgomery County elementary and high schools.
Although Snell no longer lives in Winona, she said one of her favorite times of year is when she can reunite with some of her former classmates. The class is sure to keep updated contact information for each of its members, so it is not uncommon for the classmates to travel to offer support to one another when life events inevitably happen.
But, what has made the class remain so tight remains somewhat of a mystery, even to the classmates themselves. A few of the classmates gave some possible reasons.
“I think it is because we have regular reunions and stay in touch all the time,” said Josie Hearn, who still lives in Montgomery County. The class began meeting every 10 years before reducing the time span to five years, then three, then two.
Hearn said the vocational school opened up just as she was entering fifth grade. Before then, she had gone to a segregated, one-room schoolhouse and then to Campbell Hill school. When the vocational school opened, all of the smaller all-black schools closed and those students started going to the bigger school. Despite Hearn having left the vocational school in her 10th grade year, the class of 1968 has continued to include her in the reunions. They have all felt like family, she said.
Snell thinks the time period had a lot to do with their closeness.
“Our connection has always been strong because we valued education,” Snell said.
She went on to explain that many students at the time were pulled out of school so that they could help their parents pick cotton. In 1968, the year of their graduation, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and the Poor People’s Campaign made its way through Mississippi and the Civil Rights Movement was well underway.
Some of these events may have contributed to the class’s desire to cling to one another and to learning, Snell suggested.
David McGee of Winona had similar thoughts.
“No matter how desperate things seemed to have been, there was always a stone of hope,” he said. Even with all the things that were going on, everyone had a dream and a vision, he continued.
McGee also put a big emphasis on the class’s faith in God. “Back then, prayer was in the school. Prayer was in the home. Prayer was in the church,” he said.
Bessie Poe of Montgomery County said, “I don’t know what it was, but we always had love for each other.”
Poe reflected on the times she would trade clothing items with her classmates if she had items that would complete their outfit or if they had items that would complete hers.
Poe also remembers the students visiting each other’s churches on alternating Sundays. “One Sunday would be Christeen’s Sunday and the next would be Winston’s,” she said with a laugh.
Winston Pittman, who has received awards and recognition for becoming a successful car dealership owner in several states, was mentioned by several of the classmates for having remained giving and connected with his class.
Pittman had originally offered to fund a bus that would take classmates from Winona to Memphis. He wanted anyone who wanted to come but could not afford to to be able to join the festivities. Ultimately, the bus wasn’t needed.
Pittman said he credits his classmates, among others, with his immense success. “I just think they’re the greatest class ever.”
Like Snell and Pittman, many of the classmates have since moved out of the state, but McGee had this to say: “We never forgot where we came from, but we believed in a better life ahead.”
McGee himself spent 36 years teaching in the same district that he was schooled in and that is now being consolidated.
All of the classmates said that they were sad to see the district go.
Hearn said, “I hate to see any school close, but especially one with my history in it.”
Next Saturday’s celebration will be filled with fun and fellowship, the classmates said. The reunion’s theme will be a spin on the class motto. Pittman joked, “Well, I would hope we’ve become that masterpiece by now.”