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Student remembers Langston

By JOHN KIENER
Associate Editor
[email protected]

In describing his life as “blessed,” 1965 Langston High School “lost graduate” Dr. Charles D. Crowe said attending the school was “the biggest thing in Johnson City for African Americans.”

Beginning in 1960 when he was in 7th grade, Crowe said, “My early days at Langston were exciting.” He would go on to college at Berea College and now possesses both undergraduate and master’s degrees.

Crowe served as director of procurements and contracts for the Department of Energy and has been honored by his alma mater Berea College in Kentucky with an honorary doctor’s degree. His presentation via Zoom was the first History Happy Hour program sponsored by the Heritage Alliance Museum in Jonesborough as the non-profit organization began its sixth season in March.

Crowe said his first interest at the school was sports.

“My father had been at Langston and played football” he said, adding, “I wasn’t very mature.” Crowe’s initial academic experience “shocked him” when he discovered he had to change classes every hour. “Suddenly, I went from having one teacher to having five.”

Pauline Douglas, whose father Charles Douglas taught at Langston and later in the Johnson City Schools once integration took place, introduced Crowe when the program began and added comments while questioning him during History Happy Hour.

Following his mention of classes, she said of their school experience, “(Langston) wasn’t just classes, it was a community.”

“All the teachers at Langston were memorable,” Crowe said, in pointing out that Pauline’s father “was hard on me.”

“He taught science. I was curious and at home I took apart everything I could. What I couldn’t put back together, my father usually could.”

Math teacher Ms. Williams “made math come to life,” Crowe said. “I called her a gentle giant. You wanted to please her. Math carried me through college and the rest of my life.

Mrs. Sherrill, the Tennessee history teacher, was another remembered teacher. “If I was prepared, class became easy,” Crowe said. “She knew my parents. My mother had taught at Langston. By the time you got home, your parents knew what had happened at school – even if it involved a paddling.”

Ms. Callie Redd taught English and French at the school. “She was a cousin of my best friend,” Crowe said. “The teachers at Langston cared. I got life messages there. I’m on the Board of Trustees at Berea, and I now understand I really didn’t know what I had at Berea until I went to another college and the same was true at Langston.”

He said he learned by the time he left the school the meaning of the school’s motto: “Enter to Learn – Depart to Service.”

Three men – his father, Mr. Elmer Crowe, and Coach Douglas and Paul Christman were major influences in Crowe’s life. Another influence in Crowe’s life was Ernest McKinney.

Crowe said, “He was a teacher I could talk to. The year I was at Science Hill, I would ride to school with him.”

Crowe’s parents did not let him play sports until 8th grade when he became a member of the football team. Practices were held at the Carver Recreation Center and the coaches made the players run to and from practice sessions.

“We were the Langston Golden Tigers,” Crowe said. “Langston was a winner. We only lost three games in the three years I played. When we got on the bus, we sang.”

His saddest day at Langston was the day his class learned that they would not graduate from the school. His 1965 class would spend their
senior year at Science Hill in Johnson City.

“I also played football and baseball when I went to Science Hill,” Crowe said. It was clear to him when he went to Science Hill for his last year
of high school that Langston had hand-me-downs for sports equipment. Crowe received his first new pairs of athletic shoes during his year at
Science Hill.

“Their facilities were fabulous,” he said.

Even though the football team at Science Hill was undefeated the senior year he played, Crowe’s fondest memories are of Langston.
He had known every one there and had participated in all of the school’s activities.

At Science Hill, he went to class, then went to practice and then went home. Some of those he met at the school have remained friends and
he believes that athletic participation made his experience in an integrated school easier. It also prepared him for college where he was one of 35 African American students in a school of 1,500.

The Langston Centre was built in 1893 and named after Virginia congressional representative John Mercer Langston. It served as a school for African American students until 1965 – hence the name of the program and Crowe’s class – “The Lost Class of 1965.”

Today, the Langston Education and Arts Development organization has helped restore the property as a multicultural and community center focused on arts and education.

“We’re excited to share more stories from Langston,” Heritage Alliance Executive Director Anne Mason said.

Starting in April, the History Happy Hour will be held on the third Thursday of every month beginning at 6:30 p.m.. A full lineup of the season is available on the Heritage Alliance website – heritageall.org and the Chester Inn Museum’s Facebook page.

The project has been funded under an agreement with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the Tennessee Historical Commission.

For more information call (423) 753-9580 or the Chester Inn Museum at (423) 753-4580.