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- K i n g s p o r t ,     T e n n e s s e e -
A Non-Profit Charity
Douglass High School Alumni Association
"We are the Sons and Daughters of Douglass...We're Still Roaring to Go!"
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The History of Douglass High School
- Kingsport, Tennessee -


   Portions Reprinted By Permission From An Article By Virgealia Ellis for "80 Years of Enlightenment" Kingsport Retired Teachers Association.

   The history of Douglass High School mirrors the history of the Riverview Community in Kingsport, despite the fact that when educating their children in the Kingsport community was a big priority for African American parents in Kingsport, the only available school for them was the old school the Kingsport Public School vacated in 1913. That school, known as the Oklahoma Grove School, was re-opened for "colored" students that year.

"The Oklahoma Grove School"

   The first principal was Professor H. L. Moss, and he found the Oklahoma Grove School in bad shape. African-American parents requested the city build their children a new school.

   That request was not considered for several years until 1919, when, the Kingsport Board of Education heard recommendations to build two other white schools at the same time, the future Jackson Elementary, the future Lincoln Elementary, in addition to the "Colored" Children's School.

   The Lincoln and Jackson schools were eventually built, but the new school for "colored" children was never built; as a result, African-American children continued to attend the Oklahoma Grove School. Their parents never gave up hope, and eventually the Board of Education funded a new school, to be built at the intersection of Walnut and Myrtle Streets. It was in 1924, Albert Howell and his wife Ellen arrived from Tennessee A & I State College in Nashville to lead the school.

   The rapid growth of students quickly outgrew the building, and in 1924, another school building was built in the 700-block of Sullivan Street at Center Street, near the railroad "Y." The approximate location is where an office building, a former Wendy's Restaurant, and the former Cawood Buick Motor Company were located. Still, even that building was quickly outgrown, and the Kingsport Board of Education realized that it would simply have to build a large school that would be around for a while.

"Douglass Elementary-High School"

   A contract was awarded in 1928 for a new school for African-American children. The school was to be called the Frederick Douglass School, named after the great orator, journalist and abolishionist during the anti-slavery movement of the 1800's. The school was built at the corner of Center Street and East Sevier Avenue.

   In 1927, the school transitioned from an elementary school to a combination elementary-high school. It was during this time in 1931, music teacher Bessie French wrote the school song:

We are the Sons and Daughters of Douglass,
Most loyal and true.
We love our school colors,
The gold and the blue.
We love the task set before us,
We always try to win.
V-I-C-T-O-R-Y,
Is the motto of Douglass High!

   From 1924 to 1942, Doctor Howell helped Douglass High School become well known in most athletic circles. There was no budget for athletic equipment and uniforms, and the hand-me-down uniforms and equipment from Dobyns-Bennett High School soon became the property of the Douglass High School Tigers. Doctor Howell, who was also the basketball coach, was known to dye the uniforms in the school-supplied blue ink. But when the players sweated while running up and down the court, puddles of blue dotted both players and the gym floor.

   During the 1930's and 1940's, Negroes were settling in various areas in cities around the country, and Kingsport was no exception. Around this time, the city proposed a new development for Negroes between the Tennessee Eastman plant and the Penn-Dixie Cement plant. Most black citizens balked at the location, which was basically dried-up swampland that even percolated in some areas. The area was bordered on two sides by railroads, and the other two sides by industrial factories. As a result, the area was the dumpsite for various surrounding industries, and the flat bottom accumulated all the smells, odors and pollution from those industries. Nevertheless, the city leased the property from owner Eastman (reportedly for one dollar), rocked the land, put in tons of fill dirt, divided the area into lots, and established dirt streets. The land sold cheap, the government built low-rent housing, businesses moved in, and "Riverview" was born, although from nowhere in the neighborhood was the nearby Holston River evenly remotely visible.

   When Professor Howell resigned in 1942, V. O. Dobbins, Senior, a Douglass science and math teacher, was appointed principal. "Festa" (short for Professor) Dobbins started the free lunch program at Douglass School. During the summers, he grew vegetables behind his home and the homes that lined Dunbar Street, and, along with ladies of the community and his sister Leola Allen, canned food and fed the students hot lunches during the winters.

   The Douglass building still outgrew its surroundings, and in 1951, a new school building for black students was built, that still stands on Louis Street today. The building was expanded in 1962, and within the walls of the combined elementary-high school, fiercely-competitive sports teams were nurtured. The Douglass trophy case was a display of superiority in basketball and football. Top-notch marching bands and choruses also earned superior ratings, and Professor Dobbins and faculty were able to both entertain and educate the community through "Miss Douglass" competitions and various plays and pageants, funded mostly through the sale of sports concessions. The teachers fostered a togetherness that united each student with a sense of family, that was taught right along with the school subjects. Academically, Douglass gained accreditation from the Southern Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges, assuring its graduating seniors that their educations would further them at quality universities.

   Alas, all of this glory was short-lived, for Douglass Elementary-High School closed its doors on June 8th, 1966. The students who had not graduated yet, were all assimilated into the all-white schools of Kingsport, and, at a vulnerable point in Black History, were in danger of losing their own economic and social identities.

   The Douglass High School Alumni Association has, as its basic charge, to remind and lead school graduates and former students with the "Tiger Spirit" that forever binds them with their African-American heritage in Kingsport, and a reminder that our school's rich tradition and neighborhood pride are to be passed on to future generations.


Click Here To View Our Riverview Oral Histories


Click Here To View Our Douglass Teacher Memories

1921
Oklahoma Grove School
Douglass
Mr. & Mrs. Howell
Mrs. Cox
Mr. Dobbins
1951
Go Tigers!
Go Tigers!
band
French Class
Attendance Certificate
Graduates


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