The first integrated class of Orangeburg High School came together to celebrate their 56th reunion, and also reflect on how far they’ve come since the tumultuous times of integration in the 1960s.
More than 100 people, including more than 60 classmates, converged upon D&B Fried Fish and Barbecue at 851 John C Calhoun Dr. in Orangeburg on April 29.
Some of the classmates hadn’t seen each other since they graduated in 1967.
Tyrone Dash, the owner of D&B Fried Fish and Barbecue, was one of three Black sophomores who desegregated OHS in 1964.
He hosted the reunion luncheon at his restaurant, the former Berry’s on the Hill.
Dash, who was surrounded by a sea of classmates, was happy to see the gathering take place and see how far race relations have come since he suffered abuse as a student.
As he walked around the restaurant greeting individuals, many of his classmates thanked him for hosting the event.
“As a child, we sacrificed ourselves in going to the integrated school to make this world a better place for everybody. To see the progress that’s been made since 1964, our investment is paying off. This world is a better place,” Dash said.
“Here today at my restaurant, I have schoolmates here to fellowship with one another, with me, to eat our food at a place where at one time Blacks were not allowed to come in. So we have made progress,” he said.
During a brief program held prior to the luncheon, Dash spoke to his class about the importance of change.
“We really have made this world a better place. This event today is a step pushing us forward in making this world a better place. It means a whole lot to us that you are here. I am so grateful that we’re still here,” he said.
Dash’s wife, Mary, said her husband considered the reunion luncheon a part of “the healing process.”
“He stated that when they had their 45th class reunion, so many of the classmates came up to him and apologized for some of the things that occurred when they first integrated the school. This is a historic event here today, it really is,” Mrs. Dash said.
Clarence Bonnette was another African-American member of the OHS Class of 1967. He attended the reunion with his wife, Ann.
Bonnette said it was good to be able to see his classmates and how things have changed since 1967.
“We were invited to the 25th year reunion, and I don’t recall another reunion after the 25 years. But this one is unique because we’ve been out of school 50-plus years. When you meet classmates now around town, it’s different from what it was in the ‘60s when we went to school,” Bonnette said.
He continued, “I think on both sides, the Black community and the white community, the youngsters didn’t really understand what was going on. A lot of our elders were pushing it in one direction or the other, but since the 25th anniversary, I’ve seen a lot of my classmates, talking with them on the phone, or just seeing them at their businesses. It’s just a unique feeling to see the change in how we react toward each other.”
Bonnette said he would like to one day conduct a roundtable with the class members to talk about how they can make race relations “better going forward for our young kids.”
“I think that would be ideal because there’s so much going on in the country now. People are confused. Everybody that says something, somebody’s got a unique way of putting it in another perspective,” he said.
Claire “Cookie” Clyburn Sprouse said she worked with a committee of more than 10 members to plan the reunion luncheon. A memorial wall was erected in memory of the more than 40 deceased class members, and biographies were also put together for each class member as part of the event.
Sprouse said it was good for her “history-making class” to come together again to see each other, particularly since she and her husband, Walt, were in a near-fatal auto accident less than two years ago.
“We decided that it’s time to appreciate the fact that we’re still here. … I’m just glad we got together. When I went to the last reunion, several people passed within a few months of our being together. When you get over a certain age, you realize our time is fragile. We’ve got a lot people who have health issues. So that’s kind of what generated this,” Sprouse said.
Perry Weeks said it was great to be able to fellowship with his classmates.
“We don’t get together that often. Just seeing how everybody looks and what they been doing and all. I’ve enjoyed it so far. I think this is my fourth one,” he said.
Weeks said he had no problem with the integration of the school and recalled that Dash and Tyrone Robinson, who was also among the first Blacks to desegregate the high school, were “great fellas to be around.”
“It’s great that Tyrone offered this. There’s not many places in town big enough to handle a crowd,” he said.
Al Saunders, also a 1967 OHS graduate, said it was fun seeing many people he had not seen in a while and remembering the relationships that were formed during school.
“It’s just a lot of fun seeing people that you haven’t seen in a while, seeing how older we’re all getting like everybody else. We’re all getting to that point, and it’s good to see them. It’s just a good time to get together,” Saunders said.
“It’s been 56 years now. I never thought I’d make it this far, but it’s just a joy to see everybody and hear some stories. Most of them are staying busy and keep in touch, taking care of the grandchildren. My wife and I are doing the same thing,” he said.
Class of ’67 graduate Martha Jeffcoat Hall, who now lives in Virginia, was joined by her husband, Richard, for her first reunion.
“She’s got some people here she hasn’t seen since graduation,” Richard said.
Martha said, “It’s just a time to come back and see what everyone looks like, what they’ve done, how they’re doing now. I think it’s a special time. It’s good to still be alive.”
Nancy Jo Mobley Swan of Mt. Pleasant was also glad to be among her classmates.
“I’m so excited to be with my classmates here who I haven’t seen in 57 years. It’s only my third reunion. So I’m catching up. It’s wonderful. It’s so nice of Tyrone to have it here. It’s so good. He’s great,” Swan said.
Donnie Dukes, Roger Gramling and Thomas “Tommy” Tatum Jr. addressed their classmates during a short program held before the luncheon.
Dukes said deceased classmates were missed, but were in everyone’s “memories and hearts.”
“I know we’ve had our ups and downs and recoveries or whatever, but that’s life in general. I think generally we don’t have too much to complain about. So that’s kind of my message,” he said.
Gramling, a preacher, thanked God for the gift of memory and asked him to help individuals dedicate their lives to “purposeful and thoughtful living.”
While not all memories were good and “still weigh upon us,” Gramling said he was still thankful that God brought the group together.
“We ask you to use our time of reflecting on the years that have passed as a way of growing and our appreciation of life as indeed a gift. … We’re aware that some of our classmates are gone. We miss them and note their passing. We commit their lives to your care and keeping even as we ask that you continue to keep us in your care,” Gramling prayed.
Tatum, who was student body president, drew laughs when he opened an old yearbook and said he couldn’t believe how much everyone looked the same.
“I don’t know where the time has gone, but it sure has gone rapidly. We were young back in 1967, full of hope, dreams for the future and just looking forward to life and following the path on our journey. But now we’re here for today and everything that we have done has culminated into us coming here today,” Tatum said.
He continued, “While we have different backgrounds, we bonded through sports, music, academic, etc., and became the awesome OHS Class of 1967. I think of it as we’re part of a team.
“Each of us came from different places, different backgrounds and we went on to do our work in the world. We helped improve the world. … Each of us has talents that we share with the world. … With a team, celebrating individual activities is nice, but we (also) have to remember as individuals that we work for the common good of the team.”
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