ST. PETERSBURG – Last Sat., Aug 1, the historic Manhattan Casino saw many members of The Progressive Class of 1973 mixing, mingling and sharing stories of their glory days. This year many of them have, or are preparing, to turn 60 years old, so a group birthday party was thought of as a way to reconnect with each other.
The group’s name represents the year they graduated from different high schools after having spent most of their childhood education together. These are men and women who as they prepared to go to high school some 44 years ago, experienced government mandated integration that subjecting them to busing to parts of the county some didn’t even know existed.
Debra Dorsey Bynum and Louis Brown planned the well-attended birthday bash.
“We were split up into groups to go to Lakewood, Boca Ciega, Gibbs and Dixie Hollins,” said Brown, one of the planners of the event and alumnus of Dixie Hollins High School.
In 1961 when many of these students were entering public school as first graders, they had no idea that by the time they were to enter high school they would be sent to different corners of the city and separated from friends they had known all their lives.
“Our teachers told us that if we’re going to be sitting in a seat next to a white boy or girl, then we would have to be as smart or twice as smart as them,” said Brown.
The world was changing rapidly like the conflicts, clothing and the music of the era. Desegregation of public schools began in Pinellas County in 1969.
Brown summed up the spirit of the group in one sentence: “All we need to do to have fun is to get together.”
Bynum, an alumnus of St. Petersburg High School, was on a mission to prove that she was smarter than her white counterparts. “I became class president in 10th grade,” said Bynum proudly.
She talked about how she and her best friend challenged kids in the varsity band and got first chair. “We did what we had to do. The Wysingers, the Dorseys, the Hemingways – they prepared us well.”
A sense of purpose tended to be the theme of many high school graduates in ’73. The sense of purpose for the birthday bash was to get together and celebrate a moment in life together one more time.
As the song “Slippin’ Into Darkness” played, it was a reminder of a generational changing-of-the guards back in ’73. By 1974, black students were starting to stream into colleges across America for the first time. In many instances, these baby boomers were the first generation to enter college thanks to the Basic Equal Opportunity Grant (BEOG).
Not even the stormy weather outside the Casino dampened the spirits of the Class of 1973 who were like Brown and Bynum on a mission—a mission to have a wonderful time and create pleasant memories.
Wanda Stewart, one the event hosts at the Casino, made sure the food dessert, and drinks were immaculately prepared, and a good time was had by all.
The Cambodian Cease Fire signed in Paris went into effect on Jan. 28; the draft ended just two months before high school graduation and the song of the year was “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack.