By Liz McMahan
Most of the school buildings they attended — Manual Training, Douglas, Dunbar, Wheatley and Langston — vibrantly live on in the minds of several hundred students who once attended those facilities.
They were the all-black schools of segregation days and the schools that will be celebrated in the Mammoth Reunion of Muskogee’s Manual Training School on Memorial Day weekend.
Avalon Reece, who ran the school’s band with an iron hand for 23 years before becoming a counselor at Muskogee High School, is president of the alumni association. She sat to the side Sunday afternoon at the Martin Luther King Center, watching over her flock of former students something like a mother hen.
The students had gathered to have their pictures made for the souvenir program for the reunion.
Reece said that with all the black community’s buildings being gone, this likely will be the last mammoth (all-school) reunion. The only building left from that era is Samuel Sadler Elementary, which was named for a long-time school principal. Reece said she objects to an idea being circulated in Muskogee to change that school’s name.
Elnora Vann, the reunion’s financial secretary, kept tabs on who had finished their picture-taking turn and who was next. She helped photographer Tom Twine, a Manual graduate and retired Muskogee school teacher, arrange the groups. They worked by decade — all the graduates of ’37, 47, 57, and ’67, then those of ’38, ’48, 58, and ’68.
The school’s first graduating class was in 1908, its last in 1970. But anyone who ever attended Manual Training is welcome at the reunion, including those who would have graduated in 1971 and 1972 had the school not been closed.
Reece said the reunion will have a huge economic impact on Muskogee, bringing as many as 1,000 visitors to Muskogee.
They will come from all over the United States and perhaps from abroad, Vann said. At the last such event, one graduate came from Ecuador.
Robert Perkins said the school was more than just about reading, writing and arithmetic. It was a manual training school — one that steered students toward vocational skills. He was a licensed barber after completing work at MTHS in 1954.
Julie Grayson, a member of the MTHS class of 1960, said she remembers the school as being one of a “lot of laughter, caring and sharing.”