LYNCHBURG — When Lynchburg students walked through the doors of Dunbar High School nearly a half-century ago in 1970, much of the student body was on edge.

For the first time that fall, the historically all-black high school would serve both black and white students under the same roof — a consequence of a long delayed court-order integration.

Many anticipated unrest. Armed police officers swarmed the school’s campus, surveying the area for disruptions.

But as the school year began and unfamiliar students came to know each other in the classroom and on the athletic fields, much of that anxiety subsided.

“The negativity went out the window,” said Frank Mack. “We figured, we’re all here we better make the best of it.”

Now, 45 years after the class of 1974 graduated from E.C. Glass High School following two years at Dunbar, more than 200 alumni gathered in the city this weekend to celebrate the anniversary.

The three-day reunion, held at the Kirkley Hotel , has revived memories of the class’ unique identity as both the “Poets” of Dunbar and the “Hilltoppers” of Glass.

The students entered high school during a time of momentous change. The 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision came to Lynchburg as a result of lawsuits filed in the early 1960’s, and the city’s segregated high schools become integrated.

Dunbar became a junior high school in the summer of 1970 and was demolished in 1979. During the early 1970s, Dunbar served 9th and 10th graders while Glass took in 11th and 12th graders. Organizers for the reunion made a conscious effort to honor both schools.

Outside of integration, there were other adjustments students were forced to make. Chuck Cater noted the changes that took place also meant that every student from every corner of the city — no matter their socioeconomic status — would attend the same central high school together for the first time.

Carter’s shock was attending a school with his more wealthy neighbors.

“Am I gonna get along with rich kids or we gonna end up looking down our noses at each other and not getting along?” Carter recalled asking himself before the first day of classes.

“But we didn’t,” he said. “Everything blended, everything worked .”

“We started as two and ended up as one,” 1974 grad and reunion organizer Barry McLane said. “And with what’s going on in society today with so much dissension, we think that our story is something to be proud of.”

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Richard Chumney covers breaking news and public safety for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5547. 

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