The Berkeley High School graduating class of 1968 will celebrate its 50th Class Reunion in 2018. In a 1997 research report "A History of Black Education and Bruton Heights, Williamsburg, Virginia,” published by The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library, author Linda H. Rowe provides an account of black education in the Williamsburg-James City County School District. Part II of this written account traces the development of Bruton Heights from 1938 through 1968.
Unfortunately, this history of black education does not speak to the value and/or influence of the class of 1968 or the class of 1967. These were the only two documented graduating classes from Berkeley High School.
During this important transitional period, as desegregation began to take form, the researcher ends with the perils of the class of 1966, which entered Berkeley, as well, but insisted that their diplomas and class rings read, “Bruton Heights School”. Both the class of 1967 and 1968 proudly accepted their Berkeley High School diploma, recognizing that Bruton Heights was their foundation.
The Berkeley classes of 1967 and 1968 played a major role in history during the period of desegregation.
The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy and the Vietnam war had a great impact on these individual’s choices. Educational opportunities were more abundant for this group as a reaction to the political, economic and social climate throughout the world. More importantly, the graduating class of 1968 was the last segregated class to graduate from the W-JCC schools.
Many have gone on to achieve prominence in education, government, engineering, health professions, business, the hospitality and service industry, technology and other professions of note.
While the research article speaks to the influence of D.J. Montague and Madeline Gee, for whom we have a great deal of respect, nothing is mentioned about Caleb Brown, who served as principal of Berkeley High School.
The article does not present a realistic accounting of life in the school system during the transition period of desegregation.
There were other leaders in the Berkeley and Bruton Heights schools who had a major impact on shaping black students’ lives. We should never forget A.K. Talbots, Albert Nettles, Shade Palmer, Oscar Prater, Hattie and James Bowman, Alan Clarke, Hattie Anderson, Bobbi Alexander, Nancy James, Dorothy Cooke, Virgie Deal-Jackson, Clemenza Braxton, Thomas and Chestine Fallen, Ruth Grant, Phyllis Crudup, Fleming Pierce, Floyd Stokes, Wilbur Hunter, Mr. and Mrs. Blair, Zelda Gary, Anna Ferguson and a host of other faculty and administrators who had an impact on molding members of these classes.
Upon visiting the archives at the Bruton Heights facility to compile our history of “the forgotten classes,” we were told there is not much information available. But this was during the time of microfilm, a system set in place to preserve records. Bruton Heights School was the foundation of these two classes. Historical records should be available, as I am sure documentation is available for students at James Blair during this same time.
Fortunately, members of the graduating class of 1968 have fond memories embedded in their minds, which serves as documentation of our foundation, growth and contributions to the Williamsburg-James City County school system and the black community.
Ferguson served as president of his high school class and is spearheading the reunion with other class members. He is Executive Director of the National Association for College Admission Counseling in Arlington, Va.