Carver High School in Delray Beach is a symbol for many of its alumni. It’s representative of a slower time, a more peaceful time and ironically enough a segregated time where African-Americans in West Palm Beach were limited to their communities.
And yet, despite the obvious racism and apparent differences in lifestyle, the former students of Carver look back on their hometown with fondness. It was for these four years they were all “Fighting Eagles.” Around 1 p.m. on a Friday afternoon in Lake Ida Park, 20 or so graduates gathered together to reminisce on their high school days.
It was the perfect afternoon for a good barbecue, and while the smell of ribs and chicken wafted down the road, a number of different voices were heard greeting one another with hugs and familiar smiles, give or take a couple of well-earned wrinkles.
They were at the very last concrete pavilion of the park, and some of the last living remembrances of Carver, many decked out in T-shirts boasting, “Carver High School all-class reunion 1939-1970.”
The majority of the students were from the class of ’58, but after 50 years or so nobody was counting. Each individual had their own tale, their own contribution to the colorful quilt that was their experience at Caver.
Like, Raymond “Yank” McDougal, 76, who sat at the end of one of the picnic tables; he was one of the school’s outstanding athletes.
“He played every sport; football, baseball, he ran track and he excelled at every one,” raved his wife, who met her husband later in college.
McDougal or “Yank” as he was called at Carver was humble about his achievements. “I remember our practices, we had about 27 students in total in my graduating class,” McDougal said. “It was small, but we were close and had a winning streak that season in football.”
Barbara Stevens Williamson went by Barbara Stevens when she was “Miss Team Sweetheart” for the Class of ’58.
“I traveled to all the games and dressed up and just looked pretty,” Williamson said laughing.
She noted that even today, at the picnic, her fellow classmates were “very visible.”
She was the first editor-in-chief of the yearbook, and others were involved in typical student activities. One was student council president, another president of the glee club.
“We kept up on each other after all these years,” she said. “Even when someone dies or there’s something going on they call us all for a gathering at a church to have a service.”
During her days at Carver, Williamson said she and her classmates lived in a protective triangle, loved on all sides by the entire community.
“We had the church, our teachers and our parents,” she said. “We couldn’t get away with anything, but there was always someone watching out for us.”
Despite having used text books and old school supplies, the students learned lessons from teachers like C. Spencer Pompei, who coached all sports, and Principal S.D. Spady. Both brought their knowledge and wisdom to the students.
“They were the ones who instilled those values of having to be somebody,” she said.
“ ‘You’ve got to make it,’ they’d tell us.”
On their home front, it was the community that held all the students to very high standards.
“It’s so different today,” said Vernise W. Butler, a former educator of 30 years.
In 1953, Miss Butler, now 77, taught almost every person in that pavilion from 1953 until the school closed seventeen years later.
She laughed as she boasted that they always needed to open up spots because her business education classes were always filled.
“I taught business education, bookkeeping, accounting and English,” she said. “I tried to help my students by resolving the problems in the classroom instead of sending them to the principal’s office. If they were kicked out, they wouldn’t have been able to get the education they needed.”
She said she taught her students to not be just “as good,” but to work long and hard to overcome obstacles and succeed.
Sure, there were hard times and racism, according to Butler, but it wasn’t what they focused on. Integration, when it finally did come, was viewed by many as a double-edged sword.
“It seems to me that when we won our so-called freedom, we also lost it,” she said. “Because we forgot how we arrived and lost that sense of togetherness we had as a community.”
Carver High School eventually closed in 1970 when integration began uniting schools. But, because the white students were not going to go to the black schools, the black students had to leave Carver and their memories behind.
“It was really sad actually,” said Bill Condry, 80. Condry was a Class of ’49 graduate and the first quarterback for the school’s first football team.
“When they eliminated the school because of integration, very little was saved from the school besides some trophies and photographs. We lost track of the history of the school.”
What was preserved is now open to the public at The Spady Cultural Heritage museum in Delray, Beach.
The museum featured the Carver High School exhibit two years ago for the 2006 all-class reunion, showing old photographs of the teams and their cheerleaders, as well as old jerseys and a timeline of the history of the school.
Brandy Brownlee, museum educator said the exhibit gives a new meaning to the word “community,” showing how they come together to take part in improving their children’s future.
“Though the school is no longer there, the spirit of old Carver is what we will always hold on to,” Condry said.
To these alum, they will always be the “Fighting Eagles.”
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Carver High School exhibit
WHEN: July 12 through Sept. 27. The museum is open Monday-Friday 11 a.m. — 4 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
WHERE: The Spady Cultural Heritage Museum, 170 NW 5th Ave, Delray Beach
COST: $5 adults, $3 seniors, Students and Members Free
CONTACT: Phone: 561-279-8883 or visit the website at www.spadymuseum.com