By Pastor Hurmon Hamilton.
While I now live and lead a congregation here in the Northern Bay Area of California, I grew up in Coushatta. As a result, I am super proud to be a former resident of my hometown and a member of the High School Graduation Class of 1982.
Friday and Saturday (July 1 & 2), we are celebrating the 40th Anniversary of our High School graduation. Individuals like myself are returning home from around the country for this momentous event.
Historical Reflections on the Coushatta High School Class of 1982
This weekend, July 1st and 2nd, the members of Coushatta High Class of 1982 will gather to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our graduation. The event will be held at Red River Community Center (Old Red River Drug Store at 1603 Ringgold Avenue Coushatta, LA).
One significant uniqueness of the class of *82 is that, in 1970, we were the first elementary class to be integrated in Red River Parish.
I, like most of my classmates, was born in 1964. That year, the last of the baby boomers entered an era of historic change: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would be passed, outlawing segregation in public places and prohibiting employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The following year would bring the Voting Rights Act of 1965, prohibiting racial discrimination in voting. Both laws would have profound implications for Coushatta and Red River parish. Before these new federal statutes, our town, parish, and state were shaped by rules and practices that ruthlessly disenfranchised countless African Americans and many poor whites.
In 1966, at 2yrs old, I would be brought to Coushatta and handed to my grandaunt and uncle, Mrs. Ola B. Berry and Rev. Clarence Berry. In a house on Springville Road, a frightened, scarred little boy would come to call this new family “mama” and “daddy,” and Coushatta his home. My earliest memory is of sitting in my little red rocking chair listening to excerpts of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” being replayed on television as the world grappled with his assassination amid riots exploding across the U.S.
By 1970, Red River Parish was grappling with forced desegregation. Due to the 1966 (U.S. v. Red River Parish School Board) and a diminishing population, numerous schools throughout Red River Parish had been consolidated or closed. The old East Point Public School property (previously a Black 1st through 8th segregated school) was privately sold for $500. It was renamed Riverdale Academy and reopened in 1970 as a private segregated K-12 school for white students. Its mascot became the Raging Rebels.
The Black segregated Springville School (1st through 12th grades) would become an integrated middle school. All remaining public schools across Red River Parish would also be integrated. As a result, in 1970, our racially integrated class would start its trek toward 1982 from different locations across Red River Parish. Those various streams ultimately intersected at Coushatta High School in 1978-79. After the 10th grade, due to additional parish district rezoning, some of us would be reassigned to graduate from Hall Summit and Martin High Schools. Nevertheless, the class of 1982, while divided among multiple schools across the parish, would always be linked together as a part of one historic journey toward a better world.
Each student’s journey was unique and personal, regardless of race, class, or location. As for me, I was the disfigured kid often teased and picked on. This cruelty was not because of my skin color but because of my head scars resulting from severe chemical burns as a baby. In response, I acted out with outrageous behavior, which surely should have destined me for failure. But God’s grace remarkably worked through Black and white teachers in an integrated system to save my life! I remember an exasperated Ms. Hunter (a white teacher) roping me in my seat. Ms. Marshal (a Black Special Education teacher) reinforced my giftedness by dividing my second-grade class between the two of us, allowing me to help teach reading. I remember Ms. Martha “Tinker” Gahagan (a white Special Education Teacher) successfully fighting to have me transferred from Special Education classrooms to regular classrooms. Along the way, my life would be shaped again and again for the better by grace-filled individuals! Accomplished by both Black and white teachers — all daring to believe in me when I didn’t believe in myself.
Here are a few of the many extraordinary teachers profoundly instrumental in my journey and that of my classmates: Ms. Tommie Sue Levi and Ms. Josephine Patton; Ms. Katherine Hite, Ms. Molly Hite; Ms. Evelyn McDuffy, Mr. Brant Bordelon, Mr. Shane Bordelon; Ms. Clevella “Ma” Gafford, Ms. Gay Kelly, Mr. and Mrs. V.C. Knighton, Ms. Carolyn Taylor, Mr. Roy Murry, Mr. O.C. Hamilton, and Ms. Edna May Price.
I praise God that integration took place in 1970. The remarkable teachers I encountered along the way across race and class were necessary for my improbable future. And together, through many hours of hard work and sacrifice, pain and confusion — they courageously helped forge a future for my classmates and me; and one for Coushatta, Red River Parish, and beyond. Therefore, as the class of 1982 celebrate a remarkable milestone, we salute the brave women and men who dared to teach, encourage, and love us into a brand new world.
The photo is the integrated student council for the class of 1982.