By JOHN KIENER
“What a crowd!” Adam Dixon, Langston Centre Supervisor, exclaimed as he began the facility’s Grand Opening Ceremony on Sunday, Nov. 17. Continuing, he recited a history of Langston High School’s opening in 1893 telling the overflow audience in the building’s former gymnasium that the African-American school was an anchor in the community.
“This is the day the Lord has made…it is marvelous,” intoned the Rev. Aaron Murphy at the Invocation. He added, “Civil rights were born at the (Langston) institute.” Standing, the crowd then joined the Science Hill High School Chorus in singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Science Hill would be a topic in the following comments by Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock. She was a student at Science Hill in 1965 when the school was integrated. She said of the new students, some of who were in the crowd on Sunday, “We learned from you — you set the best example possible.” The effort to restore the Langston had special meaning to her as she told the audience, “It all begins with a dream. November 17th is a great day.”
The mayor said she wanted to acknowledge community leader Mary A. Alexander’s saying “Let’s do something” in the initial effort to save the building from the wrecking ball. Alexander, who died this year, was one of the founders of the Langston Heritage Group – a precursor to LEAD: the Langston Education & Arts Development organization.
LEAD Chairman Michael Young followed Mayor Brock on the podium beginning his comments with the exclamation, “Wow!” Young remembered basketball contests at the school saying, “There was a time the gym was full.”
He outline how LEAD’s efforts to save Langston as a multicultural arts, education and leadership center aligning with Langston’s motto, “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve.”
Young also announced that two $1,000 scholarships to East Tennessee State University were being awarded in association with LEAD. Brian Noland, President of ETSU, was a special guest at the event along with a number of past and present city commissioners and officials.
Callie Redd, both a student and teacher at Langston, received the greatest audience reaction with her stories laced with fascinating experience laced with humorous incidents. She began by saying, “This is such an honor to be home again.” She started school in 1949 when 11 years old and later came to teach at the school after graduating from Knoxville College. Mrs. Redd pointed out that ETSU did not allow African-Americans to attend school when she graduated from high school in 1955.
An English teacher she outlined class adventures in trips to Washington, D.C. and the World’s Fair in New York City. Upon Langston’s closure, she also taught in the Johnson City Schools. She told the group after 36 years in education,“I loved my students. I enjoyed my teaching.”
Final speaker was LEAD Student Ambassador Drew Keith who has spent a year and a half working on the Langston project. He talked of the difference that Langston will make to the community’s children and grandchildren, saying that the restoration of Langston means “We have chosen to invest in our future.”
The singing of the Langston Alma Mater, printed on the back of the day’s program, rang out before the Rev C.H. Charlton rose for the Benediction. Before he could begin, Tennessee State Senator Rusty Crowe said he had a Legislative Resolution to present to the minister and former city commissioner. Senator Crowe was joined by Congressman Phil Roe and Mayor Brock in presenting the document signed by Governor Bill Lee.
Following the formal program, attendees were invited to enjoy refreshments and take tours of the facilities. In addition, there was time for a number of Langston graduates to talk about events of the past and their hopes for the future.