(photos courtesy http://www.sonsanddaughtersofdouglass.org)
From 1913 to 1966, Kingsport’s Douglass High School served as a shining example of community and excellence, educating generations of children and serving as the centerpiece of the Riverview Community. It stood as the largest African-American high school in upper east Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and southeast Kentucky, leaving a legacy that positively impacted countless students and families. The Sons and Daughters of Douglass continue to celebrate that tradition by both remembering the history of the school and supporting the Kingsport students of today.
This week, let’s look back on the heritage of Douglass High School and learn more about the vital role it played in the history and development of the City of Kingsport.
- Built on the corner of Center Street and East Sevier Avenue, the Douglass School was named after Frederick Douglass, the great African-American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. Douglass once famously stated that it is “easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” The school, it’s staff, and the entire Douglass community certainly reflected this mindset. Prior to the construction of the Douglass School, the original public African-American school in Kingsport was the Oklahoma Grove School, beginning in 1913. Overcrowding and the growth of the African-American community forced several moves that resulted in the building of the Douglass School in 1929. It was built partially with money from the Rosenwald Fund, which was started by philanthropist Julius Rosenwald to help build improved black schools across the South.
- You’ll likely recognize the name V.O. Dobbins, who in 1942 moved from his position as a science and math teacher to become Douglass principal. Mr. Dobbins went above and beyond in his support of the school, starting a free lunch program and even growing and canning vegetables for children to eat while at school.
- Strong academics were a hallmark for the school, providing students with the education needed for life-long success. Douglass teachers and staff were well known for fostering a family atmosphere that created an environment for learning. Additionally, Douglass was accredited by the Southern Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges, ensuring that graduates would be in good standing when moving on to colleges and universities. The academics taught at Douglass represented a continuation of educational excellence for African-American students in the community!
- In addition to academics, Douglass High School was well known throughout the state for excellence in a variety of athletic and extra-curricular programs. The basketball and football teams were both powerhouses in the region, and the school also featured highly regarded band, chorus, and theater programs.
- Douglass High School closed its doors for the final time on June 8, 1966. In the Fall of 1966, Douglass students then began attending Kingsport City Schools, marking a time of significant educational and social transition in the history of the community.
- The spirit of Douglass lives on through The Sons and Daughters of Douglass, Inc. Its goal is to, “Lead (Douglass) school graduates and former students with the ‘Tiger Spirit’ that forever binds them with their African-American heritage in Kingsport, and to remind that the school’s rich tradition and neighborhood pride are to be passed on to future generations (by Virginia Ellis, 80 Years of Enlightenment).”
Today, the spirit of Douglass High School continues to shine brightly, connecting Kingsport’s past with its future. You are encouraged to learn more about The Sons and Daughters of Douglass, the history of Douglass High School, and the heritage of South Central Kingsport by visiting www.sonsanddaughtersofdouglass.org.
Next week in the Saturday Six: It’s Valentine’s Day week! In a spirit of love, next week’s Saturday Six will feature KCS students who answer the age-old question of “What do you love about school?”