It Was Monday, Sept. 12, 1955 - Judith Green Ware's first day at Eastern High School and the scond year of school desegregation in Washington. A thin girl in bobby socks, straightened hair and a crinoline slip that puffs out under her skirt, she walks timorously under the gothic arches of the big red brick school on East Capitol Street. She was frightened.
1978. Judith Ware recalled that day in 1955. Last Friday night, "The first day I was scared," Ware said as she stood on her tiptoes to look into her old homeroom, room 328 and back into 1955. "I was really scared so I sat up front, close to Mrs. Taylor. It was a familiar face. She had taught me at Langley [junior high school] which was all black."
Last Friday night, 1978, Mrs. Taylor's comforting face was back in front of room 328 along with Judith Ware as they were reunited for the 20th-year reunion of Eastern's class of 1958.
Since the class of '58 entered Eastern's doors - the first large group of blacks to attend the school - the school has become 98 to 99 percent black.
Although no white alumni responded to the class of 1958's radio advertisements and letters, the reunion committee was able to contact 100 former Eastern "Ramblers" from the 320-member class. Three came from California, two from Chicago and three others from New Jersey.
A reunion committee survey of the alumni who responded showed that most of them now live outside the city, most work for the government, the average age is 37, almost 60 percent of them make between $15,000 and $24,999, and 75 percent went to college or other institution of higher education after graduating from Eastern.
The reunion was the first in a series of steps the class of 1958 plans to take to get involved with the Eastern High School of 1978. The class is starting a small scholarhip fund for Eastern students and is making plans to have alumni visit the school to serve as role models for Eastern's current students.
The class of '58 has not been involved with the school since they left the halls of Eastern 20 years ago. Friday night was the first time of them had returned to the school.
Part of the incentive for the reunion, members of the class said, was a series of Washington Post articles on reading, discipline and other academic problems that trouble Eastern High School in 1978. Several members of the class of '58 said they feel the articles degraded the diploma ofeveryone who ever graduated from Eastern.
The featured speaker at the reunion , Dr. Therman Evans, Washington bureau chief for Operation PUSH Inc., and former president of the D.C. school board, told the alumni Friday night that the newspaper stories were "part of the Post's emphasis on black people still being inferior to whites."
"The articles about Eastern did serve to prick people's conscience about problems in the school today," said Ware, a member of the reunion committee. "We needed that. We havethe telent to help the school. Many talented people have graduated from Eastern."
"The articles and all the things people said about the school pushed us to want to get involved to do something to help the school that we left behind" Ware said. Except for the scholarship fund, which already has $400 in it, the reunion committee has not alumni involved in improving the school's academic stature.
The weekend reunion ended yesterday with a picnic after a Saturday night dinner-dance in Rockville. It began Friday night with opening ceremonies and speeches at Eastern. The featured event Friday night was the sight of old classmates roaming around the building and reminiscing.
"I can't believe its you," and "I remember your face but I don't get the name," resounded through the school's massive hallways.
"I know you don't remember me, Mr. Tignor," said a middle-aged man leaning over to shake hands with the former principal of the school, Madison W. Tignor. "My name is Willie Campbell, you used to keep me in check quite often."
"I remember you, young man," said Tignor, who is now retired.
"I'll tell you the best part of this is seeing how fat some people have got and knowing I'm still thin," said one woman who made a reporter promise he wouldn't identify her and "make the rest of my class hate me."
In addition to members of the class of 1958, teachers at the school during that time and some students from the classes of 1959 and 1960 also attended.
A Judith Ware peeked through the door at her old classroom, her former teacher Dr. Estelle Taylor remembered being one of nine black teachers who started the integration of Eastern's faculty that same year. The previous year only one black teacher had been on the Eastern faculty.
"After honeymoon I'd have hall duty," said Dr. Taylor, gesturing to the spot she stood at to watch students parade to their classes.
"I'd stand here and watch them change classes," she said "I remember one teacher, Mrs. Jones, do you remember her, Judith? Anytime a black student would run in the halls or need discipling she would bring them around here for me to discipline them."
Within two years, 1955 to 1957, Taylor and Ware remember Eastern becoming, suddenly, a mostly black school.
The white teachers retired and transferred, Taylor said. "And then there was the white flight to the suburbs. The houses across the street (on East Capitol) used to have all white families living in them. But the white tachers that left were replaced by very good black teachers."
Taylor said the teachers who integrated Eastern's faculty in 1955 were chosen to teach there after they, like white teachers, passed a three-day examination.
And the Eastern's students, despite the topsy-turvy shifts in racial composition continued to be of high quality for the next few years, Taylor remembers.
"Coming up through the black educational system forced those children to be achievers," said Taylor, herself a proud graduate of Dunbar High School, which was the top academic high school for blacks in the city before integration.
"That kind of incentive, drive and training - discipline, too - went out of the classroom as integration took over . . . I never had a white teacher before I got my PhD and I got the best education. I was able to compete without hesitation or fear."
Ware turned to her former teacher, still standing outside their old room, and added: "I knew I had to achieve to get any decent job. Kids, today, it makes no difference to them. They're lackadaisical. Also discipline in the schools is very lax. If one of the boys were sent to the office they knew why. There was no waiting to get home to be disciplined."
Ware is disappointed with the city school system now. Her 12-year-old daughter attends Brookland Junior High School.
"Let's just say I don't think too much of the school," she said. "I prefer a structured situation where the teacher knows what's going on."
Between memories of 15-cent lunches at the Eastern Delicatessen, and memories of how 20 years ago they peeled the front half of bus passes from the back half so two students could set on the bus for only one fare, other Eastern alumni bemoaned the present city school system.
After Eastern's 1979 class president read a short speech to the class of 1958, telling of the pride Eastern's current students feel toward their predecessors, Johnnie Rice, class of 1958 and now Sterling Tucker's office manager said: "I sure ain't proud of them."
"This school, the whole system is in terrible shape," Rice said. "What they need is decent,quality teachers and to put some money in here." CAPTION: Picture 1, Eastern High on East Capitol Street, which led way to integration, By Craig Herndon - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Dr. Estelle Taylor (left) and Judith Ware swapped memories, By Gerald Martiness - The Washington Post; Picture 3, Estelle Taylor: 1958 photo.; Picture 4 Judith Ware: 1958 Photo