During the 45th reunion of the East High School class of 1967, a group of classmates looked around and noticed that very few of their black classmates had showed up. This had been true for nearly all the reunions, they realized, despite being the largest school in the state then and being 22 percent black.
A group of white alumni vowed to change that for the 50th reunion, which is happening this weekend. They approached the Kansas African American Museum to see what they might do to bring out more of their black classmates.
As they reached out, they found that many of their black classmates had traumatic and not entirely positive memories from 1967. That was the year that a riot broke out after school when no black cheerleaders had been selected, despite a team led by many black football players.
“1967 I consider the worst time of my life. Most people have fond memories of high school especially because you are upperclassmen, but for me it was the most awful thing,” said Annie Montgomery, about her experiences that year. “... Most of my time I felt invisible, I felt as if I was not a part of the school, and most of us black students kind of stuck together, encouraged one another and had our own little circle of friends.”
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That quote is from a documentary film, which will be shown for free at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at East High School, and made up mostly of interviews from students at the time and some historical footage and photos. The museum and group of alumni created the documentary about the rediscovery of their shared history and hope it will extend what they learned to the rest of their class and the community.
The interviews are both a retelling of Wichita’s racially divided past, as well as moments of realization. A few highlights:
Larry Cracraft, a member of the class of 1967, talked about how his mom became upset when he brought home a black friend to play music with. “My parents had both instilled in me that we were not to be prejudiced or discriminate,” Cracraft said. “Then mom found somebody black in our driveway and that was different.”
Oscar Jones, who had been a quarterback his sophomore and junior years at East High, was skipped over for a white player his senior year, he remembered, along with having to fight the low expectations of his teachers. “It’s kind of intimidating to go ask the instructor after class when you know he didn’t like you, but you had to do it. He’d yell at you, and I would give him that look, ‘You didn’t answer my question – I need an answer.’”
Shannon Mandel, another alum from 1967, remembered a black classmate being turned away from a slumber party. “She had come to get out of the car, her mother dropped her off ... knocked on the door, whoever’s home she was at, apparently she had to leave, carry her suitcase and was just devastated,” Mandel said.
Dave Ranney remembered that, even though he was a C-student at best, the counselors at East encouraged him to go to the University of Kansas. But one of his studious black classmates – a straight A student – returned from the college counselor, unusually angry. “He wasn’t somebody who riled easily and he was livid, there was smoke coming out of his ears,” Ranney remembered. “We were getting our books and whatever and I’ll never forget it, ‘They told me, vocational.’ In other words, they were encouraging him to go to vocational school rather than college.”
1965 to 1968: Wichita remembered
What: documentary about East High’s, and Wichita’s, racially-divided past
When: 10:30 a.m. Saturday
Where: media room, East High School, 2301 E. Douglas
Admission: free and open to the public
For more information: Mark McCormick, 316-262-7651 or 316-841-8288