Remembering Hutto High

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, February 23, 2011

RETIRED AFRICAN AMERICAN TEACHERS were honored at the Martin Luther King Jr. ceremony in January. Appearing with some of those who received recognition are, from the left, front, Liz Tomlin, Pauline Love Gaines, Mary Guyton, Mary Gant and Janet Mitchell; back, Wallace Sholar, Fannie Handsford, Betty Jackson, Jewell McIver Hodge, Ollie Mackey, Gwendolyn Conyers and Luther Conyers Jr. Others recognized, but not present were Alva Benton, Edna Bonner, Daisy Butler, Willie James Conyers, Eudora Fagg, Josephine King, Richard Mason, Eddie Mae Ash Pugh, Carrie Walden, Grandeline Miller and the school secretary, Ophelia Lodge.

This weekend is the Phoenix Affair RISE! weekend in Bainbridge.

Incorporated into the three-day observance of National Black History Month will be a display titled “Remember,” a collection of photography and artifacts from the former Hutto High School in West Bainbridge. The display will be at the Firehouse Gallery on Water Street from Saturday, Feb. 26, through Monday, Feb. 28.

Hutto High School was an all African-American school with classes from kindergarten through 12th grade until U.S. public schools were legally forced to eventually integrate following the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court Brown vs. Board of Education ruling.

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Liz Tomlin, herself a graduate of Hutto High School, has been working diligently as the coordinator and collector of memorabilia from that era.

The idea for the special exhibit came from 1979 Bainbridge High School graduate Rahn Fudge, who now resides in San Francisco, Calif. Fudge recalls attending Hutto from grammar school up to about sixth or seventh grade.

Fudge approached Liz Tomlin, a community leader in the African-American community, who has organized the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. parade and celebration each year. He asked her to spearhead the first-ever local black history photo and oral history exhibit for the RISE! weekend.

Preserving Bainbridge’s black history has been the charge given to Tomlin, who decided recognizing Hutto High and the education of the black community was a good place to begin.

Tomlin has made contacts with Hutto High alumni, looking for photos, yearbooks, sports trophies or awards, or any other printed materials bearing the Hutto High logo. Also included are old photos of many of the African-American owned businesses and homes around town, such as that of Thomas Hornsby Bynes, who owned a funeral home on what is now a vacant lot behind Sweets Barbershop and Sweet Shop.

Among some of the items Tomlin has garnered are her original graduation diploma from 1969, signed by Dr. Marcus Hutto, and Principal William David Mann Sr. It actually survived the fire of her home and was found in the ashes; a 1965 Hutto Tigers yearbook, which gave a memorial dedication to Mrs. Addie E. Hutto for her 53 years of service to the school; a photo of Dr. S.T. Thomas, the first black principal at Hutto High School after integration occurred; a photo of the 1964 Homecoming Court; and many, many photos of students and teachers.

1964 HUTTO HOMECOMING COURT, rode in a convertible sponsored by the Elite Pearl Club. The young ladies are, left to right: Hortense Jones, Mary Guyton, seated, and Gwendolyn Campbell.

Another leader in education was Ms. Lillian E. Williams, whose official title was the Jeanes Supervisor of Negro Schools, a name that may be viewed as offensive to some today, but was regarded differently at that time. It is included to give a proper perspective of the times. The Jeanes Foundation, also referred to as the Negro Rural School Fund, was named after Anna T. Jeanes, a Quaker from Philadelphia who sought to improve community and school conditions for rural African Americans. The program was for black teachers to improve the curriculum in their schools. The elementary school that operated in Attapulgus until consolidated in 2009 was named for Ms. Williams.

Fudge and Tomlin both want to be clear that this exhibit is not rooted in resentment nor intended to stir racial ghosts, although some memories of the racial segregation in the Deep South are still painful for many local residents. Instead they want to honor and preserve the good memories and history of Hutto High.

A highlight of Friday night’s events will be a book signing by Tanisha Ray, author of Through it All, a collection of poems that tell stories that will encourage, inspire and uplift the soul. Ms. Ray was born and raised in Bainbridge, is married with three children, and has a passion for writing.

Saturday night there will be a fashion-theater and supper club show. Ticket price includes entrance to the historic exhibit. On Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the exhibit is open to the public, and Tomlin hopes people will bring their children to learn more about their history.