Granite Quarry, Shuford School reunion honors integration pioneers
GRANITE QUARRY — At nearly every job he has held, Dr. John Thompson was the first African-American.
That includes his position as a mathematics teacher and basketball coach at East Rowan High School, where he worked for one year starting in 1966.
Though Thompson didn’t attend Shuford Memorial School, once known as Granite Quarry Colored School, he was recognized at its reunion banquet Saturday.
Granite Quarry/Shuford School has held a reunion every other year since 1987. This was the 14th, and it marks 45 years since the closing of the school. The Pink and Gray Banquet was the last of several events Friday and Saturday, including a “mix and mingle” party, a breakfast gathering and a memorial service.
Before the banquet began, Thompson said he didn’t know exactly what he was getting into when he took the job at East Rowan, which had been segregated until just three years earlier.
“We knew integration was coming, but I didn’t know what my role would be,” he said. “When I showed up, I found out very quickly that I was the only black person in the school.”
Thompson, who grew up in Graham, had taken the job at East Rowan High School soon after graduating from Livingstone College. He then took the same position at Reidsville junior and senior high schools in Reidsville. In 1974, he became assistant principal of Reidsville Senior High School.
Thompson, of Greensboro, would move on to become principal at Durham High School before serving as superintendent of three more school systems, as well as Deputy Commissioner for the Kentucky Department of Education. At all except for one superintendent position, he was the first African-American in the job.
“I refused to let people use me as just a symbol,” he said. “I worked to be real part of what was going on.”
Students who led integration in the Rowan County School System also were honored Saturday evening. They included Calvin Strawder, the first African-American student to enroll at East Rowan High — or any white school in Rowan County.
As he accepted his plaque, Strawder said it was the loving community that made it possible for him and other black students to begin the process of integration.
“It represents to me the joy and gratitude I have for my hometown, which is a special hometown,” he said. “From any other place in the world, if you come to Granite Quarry, you know what I mean.”
Strawder, who now lives in Mableton, Ga., thanked those who followed him to and from school, staying with him to make sure he was safe.
“You didn’t think I knew you were back there, but I did,” he said. “Those are the things that have lived with me for years.”
Doug Trexler, a white classmate of Strawder’s, said before the banquet that he attended the reunion to honor Strawder for his courage.
“I don’t know if people realize how tense things were back then,” he said. “He was a brave person to do what he did.”
Rayfield Oglesby, Dolan Hubbard and John Hawkins (posthumously) also were recognized for being among the first students to integrate East Rowan High. They all enrolled the year after Strawder.
Oglesby, who lives in Granite Quarry, said before the banquet that he attends as many of these reunions as he can, because he and his classmates are friends for life. He said he was honored to receive recognition from them Saturday.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Oglesby said.
Granite Quarry Mayor Mary Ponds thanked the teachers of the town for giving valuable lessons, even though their students might not have seen that value until later.
“If you look at us now, and where we are now, the things they were teaching us were well worthwhile,” she said.
The keynote speaker Saturday evening was minister Ronald Staley of Norfolk, Va.
He is the son of Montina K. Fox, a former student of Granite Quarry/Shuford School.
“You paved the way for me so I could be able to attend Salisbury High School — something you could not do,” Staley said. “I reap the blessings from what you did for me. … Your work is not in vain, and it’s not over.”
His sermon focused on the idea of passing the baton — of knowledge, experience and faith — to the next generation and beyond. He said younger generations will be lost without their elders’ guidance.
“I’ve got some knowledge, but it’s nothing compared to what you’ve gone though,” Staley said. “I need what you have. And my children — whatever I learn from you, my obligation is to share it with them. … Our job is to make sure the baton is passed, because they have to run it, too.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.