Former Lincoln High School classmates celebrate 65th reunion

BY KAYLA ROBINS
kayla@theitem.com
Posted 5/31/18

Friends and classmates often get together for a sleepover and to reminisce, but one group of former high school peers who did so on Tuesday have grandchildren who were their age when they met.

The Class of 1953 celebrated its 65th anniversary of …

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Former Lincoln High School classmates celebrate 65th reunion

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Friends and classmates often get together for a sleepover and to reminisce, but one group of former high school peers who did so on Tuesday have grandchildren who were their age when they met.

The Class of 1953 celebrated its 65th anniversary of graduating from Lincoln High School with a meet and greet at the Hyatt Hotel in downtown, a dinner banquet at their old school on Council Street and a night's stay at the newly opened hotel.

"Being in high school, we were always a very unique class. We were smart, but we were witty. And the guys in our class, they were typical mischievous boys," said Dorothy Randolph Toney.

The group gets together every year at Christmas and every two years at another time, but Toney said they wanted to do something special this year in honor of their 65th reunion.

"And I thought, I hope that new hotel is open by then. Let's do a sleepover," she said.

The banquet welcomed some back for the first time since leaving. One couple came from as far as Tampa, Florida.

When it opened in 1874, Lincoln was the first and only public school for black children in Sumter County. In addition to it being an elementary and junior high school, it was also eventually a feeder school for the rest of the elementary schools for black students.

Toney said she remembers clearly walking from school to First Baptist Church at the corner of Washington and Dingle streets for graduation because her class was too big for Lincoln's auditorium.

"I am blessed to have started in first grade. From first through 12th grade at Lincoln, then I went just to Columbia for five years of schooling and returned and retired from Tuomey Hospital after 38-and-a-half years of nursing," she said. "So, Sumter is my home."

Beginning on its 50th anniversary, the '53 class gives Bulldog Loyalty Awards to those who "exemplify the tenacity of a bulldog," their mascot.

This year, they recognized the Lincoln High School Preservation Alumni Association and its commitment to turning the former school, which closed in 1970 when schools were integrated, into a museum and the alumnus' own.

"On Aug. 24, 2016, we purchased our school," Toney said.

After being passed through the Catholic Church and other agencies for use, Trinity United Methodist Church sold the alumni association its former school for $850,000, which was raised by former students in three years, according to James "Jim" L. Felder.

Felder, who would go on after graduating in 1957 to become a voter and civil rights activist, is a member and past president of the association and said he thinks the building staying in the hands of the former Lincoln students will preserve its history.

"This building is our history. This is our history, and we wanted to preserve it for generations to come," he said.

Felder said Sumter, and especially the classrooms of Lincoln High School, has a "rich history of providing leaders not just for South Carolina, but for the country and for the military."

He said the education he received at Lincoln prepared him for "almost everything."

"We had great teachers. They didn't have a lot of resources, but they used what they had," he said.

He recalled a teacher who was adviser for the school newspaper, The Echo. Agnes Hildebrand Wilson, who would in 1969 become the first black teacher of the year in South Carolina, would take eight to 12 students to New York every year for the Columbia University Scholastic Press Association.

"And our little newspaper won first prize every year in that category," he said. "That's when I learned to write."

Felder, a veteran who, as the top noncommissioned member of the military honor guard headed the casket team for President John F. Kennedy's funeral - he wrote a book about it - and one of the first three black men elected to the South Carolina Legislature in 1970 since Reconstruction, said you don't want to lose your history.

"If you don't keep links to it, it gets lost in the shuffle. After a while, there will be no building. It would get demolished. If no one kept the building, it would eventually become, well, an ugly sight," he said. "Those persons whose shoulders we stand on now, we feel we don't want them to be forgotten."

Toney said she looks back on her time in high school fondly.

"I always remember that we loved each other, and that love still permeates throughout our lives today," she said. "And that is why we are back home celebrating this great occasion."