People strolled down I.M. Terrell High School’s hallways donning shirts in blue and gold, the school colors. They looked through black and white photos, newspaper clips and old uniforms. They saw familiar faces and recalled the olden days.
Alumni of Fort Worth’s first public high school for Black students, I. M. Terrell, gathered June 17 for their every half-decade, all-class reunion. The event brought back memories for alumni, and served as a reminder for younger generations of the history and progress that has been made.
James Mallard graduated in 1954 and is the former president of the I.M. Terrell High School Alumni Association. Mallard, 86, brought one of his grandchildren with him to the reunion at the high school.
“Black people (should) know where Black people come from,” he said. “It’s important that they keep up with tradition.”
Logan, Mallard’s grandson, is a freshman at Oklahoma State University. He attended an I.M. Terrell High School reunion as a child. He remembered running around the school and playing with his cousins. But now he’s able to grasp the history and significance of the school.
The high school was established in 1882, only 17 years after the Emancipation Proclamation reached Galveston on June 19, 1865. The school’s reunion this year coincided with the Juneteenth weekend. Juneteenth is a federal holiday that commemorates the liberation of the enslaved in Texas when they received the news two years after the proclamation.
I.M. Terrell High School was the only public school in Fort Worth that enrolled Black students. Black students across Fort Worth and Tarrant County attended the campus. The high school closed in 1973, and was later reopened as the I.M. Terrell Academy for STEM and Visual Performing Arts.
Forest Hill Mayor Clara Faulkner graduated in 1961. She attended the reunion with her daughter. Faulkner stressed the importance of reminding younger generations of the past and keeping those memories alive.
Teaching history is a tradition in Faulkner’s family. Her grandmother, Clara Jones, taught at the high school from 1923 to 1963. Jones taught world history, American history and “negro history,” as it was called at that time, Faulkner said.
“This is our history. We have to bring them to see whose shoulders they stand on,” Faulkner said.
Melba Jackson is a graduate of the class of 1954. Her class ring has been passed down for two generations. Now it’s on the hand of her granddaughter, Tiesa Leggett, who has worn the ring for 22 years.
Fort Worth is a large city with a small-town atmosphere, Leggett said. Leggett said people around Fort Worth often ask when they first meet is what high school they attended. She was born in Fort Worth, but raised in San Antonio. She uses her grandmother’s I.M. Terrell class ring as a sort of street cred.
But the ring is much more than that for Leggett.
The ring reminds her of her grandmother’s youthful days, when she pursued art and writing. It also reminds her of the times when her grandmother worked as a waitress at the movies and how badly customers treated her. Jackson pressed on and obtained a master’s degree and became a special education teacher.
Leggett spins the ring, its surface smoothened through the years, around her right ring finger whenever she’s having a bad day.
“It reminds me to work hard and not give up,” she said. “Because if women can achieve what they achieved in that time (period), then I certainly can achieve my goals in mine.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated on June 20, 2022, to clarify the spelling of a name. Forest Hill Mayor Clara Faulkner‘s grandmother is Clara Jones.
Chongyang Zhang is a summer fellow reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.
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