Graduating class of 1973 reconnects through birthday celebration

BY BLANCHE GANEY, Contributor

ST. PETERSBURG — Many of the African-American Pinellas County high school graduates of 1973 will be gathering in a few days to celebrate a 60th birthday milestone. These are men and women, who, as they prepared to go to high school some 44 years ago experienced government mandated integration, subjecting them to busing to parts of the county some didn’t even know existed.

In 1961 when many of these students were entering public school as first graders, the schools available to them as black students were as limited as the neighborhoods that housed their families. As a result, many of them lived and played in the same neighborhoods or very close proximity to each other; attended church together, shopped in the same little corner stores and attended the same neighborhood school just as their parents and grandparents had done for years.

The choices for junior high school were even fewer for black students at that time.  Many of these students attended Southside Fundamental or Sixteen Street Jr. High School, which is now John Hopkins Middle School.

Even with the junior high school separation the majority of these students looked forward to reconnecting and attending Gibbs High School like so many other family members before them. The thought of becoming a Gibbs Gladiator rang proud in the St. Petersburg black community in the 60s and 70s.

But attending Gibbs would not be a reality for many of these students.  Most of these aspiring Gladiators would now be separated and sent to schools that in some cases did not welcome them.

These were difficult and sad times for many as they received assignments and learned what high school they would be attending.  Boca Ciega, Northeast, Dixie Hollins, St. Pete High and others were all schools they had heard mentioned on the news during the sports segment but most never dreamed of attending and wandered if they would be welcomed.

As a result of this separation, the black students of the class of 1973 have worked hard over the past 44 years to reconnect and stay connected with one another in an effort to hold on to memories and a culture that’s slowly fading.  There are a handful of former students of this historic class who have come together to reach out to other classmates to do whatever it takes to stay connected through social events, meetings and sometimes even funerals.

This year many of the class of 1973 are turning 60 years old and to celebrate there will be a big birthday bash Sat., Aug 1 at the beautiful, historic Manhattan Casino, 642 22nd St. S from 8 p.m. to midnight.

The tickets are $30, $35 at the door.  You don’t have to be a member of the class of 1973 to attend, but we sure are looking forward to seeing some of those former classmates we’ve not seen in a while.  You know who you are and you even remember who you sat next to or played with on the playground at Wildwood, Davis, Lakeview and Jordan Elementary as a child many years ago.

For tickets to the birthday bash, email Debra Dorsey Bynum at Iotahoe@tampabay.rr.com or contact Athena Grooms or Janice Bryant.

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