Douglass High School graduates recall years of challenges, triumphs

Members of the Douglass High School reunion committee. Front, from left: Reggie Simms, Mary Lee Perry, Shirley Washington, Janet Wiggins and Mary Randolph. Back, from left: John Middleton, Alvin Dodson, Margaret Lloyd, Thelma Dodson, William Washington and Ann Daye.
Members of the Douglass High School reunion committee. Front, from left: Reggie Simms, Mary Lee Perry, Shirley Washington, Janet Wiggins and Mary Randolph. Back, from left: John Middleton, Alvin Dodson, Margaret Lloyd, Thelma Dodson, William Washington and Ann Daye. (Eugene Scheel For The Washington Post)
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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Part of the movement for racial equality in Loudoun County began at Loudoun Training School and Douglass High School, both in Leesburg. From Friday to next Sunday, alumni and teachers will celebrate 25 years of the Loudoun/Douglass Association with a Friday golf tournament, a Saturday dinner-dance and a Sunday picnic.

Years before the association existed, students at Loudoun Training School -- Douglass's predecessor -- were being educated in a rundown building with no plumbing.

The black community rallied to bring about change. In 1939, the Negro Education Division of the State Department of Education called for abandoning the school.

But first, members of the black community had to spend $4,000 to buy eight acres for the new school and donate the land to the School Board. Previously, the School Board bought all land for planned schools.

In 1941, construction began on Douglass High School. The name honors former slave Frederick Douglass, whose oratory and writings denounced slavery and pushed for equality.

Realizing the importance of the schools' heritage, Douglass classmates Mary Lee Roberts Perry and Tommy Stinger formed a reunion committee in 1985. Today, it has donated more than $141,000 in scholarships to students whose forebears attended the schools, and it has contributed to many county organizations.

I met recently with 10 members of this year's reunion committee at the former Douglass High, which is now a community center. I asked each to recall a school moment.

John Middleton, a 1943 graduate, spoke first: "We were an athletic-type class, but there was no basketball court." He motioned to the room surrounding us, because it became the basketball court, which I reckoned to be two-thirds regulation size.

Margaret Lloyd, Class of 1947, recalled, "I walked to Purcellville from Hillsboro [five miles], took the milk train to Leesburg and walked to school [another mile]. Got up at five. Got there at nine."

She returned the same way, a 13-hour day. "We got there the best way we could," Lloyd said. "That's why I don't like to walk now."


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