NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — On Friday there will be a special moment for hundreds of people who made history in Hampton Roads, some 60 years ago.
If you’ve lived around here a while, then you may have heard of the lost class of 1959 at Granby High School in Norfolk.
60 years ago, Granby and several other schools shut down as an alternative to accepting African American students.
It is a fascinating story of strangers, who became friends, who have this terrible part of Virginia history as the glue that has kept them together.
A handful of the 480 members of the Granby High School class of 1959 gather around a kitchen table to plan the 60th high school reunion.
“There was a lot of unknown at that time when you hear your school is closing, and it’s our senior year,” says Suzanne Shipp Owens, who sits at the head of the table and there’s lots of good chatter back and forth remembering those days.
They are known as the lost class. They call themselves pawns in the Massive Resistance movement that shut down Norfolk schools to stop the integration of African American students.
“First, we couldn’t believe it. What are we going to do?” said Mike Aschkenas. “How are we going to get an education? What are our choices at this point in your lives?” Mike Aschkenas said.
In September 1958, Granby High School closed and chains were put on the door.
The class scattered to find education in neighboring cities.
“My parents were concerned,” says Jean Brown Hollingsworth. “Would we get credit for wherever we went to school? Would that be accredited and applied? These were things we were thinking about.”
Some went to Oscar Smith, while others went to schools in other cities, home school, stayed with family members in other states and went into the military, to name a few of the educational alternatives they went through.
“Some sent classmates to extended family members,” said Shipp Owens. “If they had started already some of the local parents didn’t want to pull them out of those schools because they weren’t sure our schools were going to stay open … it was a tumultuous time.”
“A lot of people went in the service, the stupid people got married,” Aschkenas said. “They didn’t get their education. You assume everyone went back to school, but they didn’t.”
Granby would reopen in February 1959, but the senior class was scattered. Only one African American student would attend Granby after Governor J. Lindsay Almond, 58th Governor of Virginia, caved into the federal order to integrate.
Almond initially protested denouncing the federal court rulings in a fiery speech blasting, “those whose purpose and design is to blend and amalgamate of the white and negro races,” and citing “the livid stench of sadism, sex immorality, and juvenile pregnancy infesting the mixed schools of the District of Columbia and elsewhere.”
Aschkenas and the others say African Americans were not part of their lives, but they say, “We actually did petition to be sent to the governor to say, ‘hey this is crazy. We want you to open the schools. You are disrupting our lives don’t disrupt our lives. Open the schools.”
This is really the amazing story on how they stuck together, and keep in mind these people did not hang out in high school, they’ve become friends since.
Charlotte Shields Brooks went through the old directory to hunt for classmates. Then searching obituaries of their parents to find names of children and classmates that were lost but now they’re found.
“Some don’t want to be found.” We asked why? “They don’t want to be found. They owe child support … that’s what I heard,” to great laughter from all gathered.
The reunion is Friday at the Wyndham Hotel 57th & Atlantic Ave. Everyone is encouraged to get to the Wyndham by taking Shore Drive to avoid Something in the Water tr