Linda Faulkner stood at a podium in front of 65 or 70 of her former Caswell County High School Class of 1969 classmates.
Fifty years had passed since Faulkner and her fellow alumni had walked the halls of CCHS, but Faulkner looked at her former driver’s education teacher, Paul Robinson, and joked — “I still stay in the right lane.”
Such was the mood at the Class of 1969’s 50th class reunion held Saturday at the Caswell County Civic Center.
“I always told them, ‘stay in the right lane and they will always be safe,’” Robinson recalled, laughing.
Mel Battle, former CCHS teacher and current Caswell County Board of Education member, took a minute to appreciate the humor and weight in Faulkner’s joke.
“You never know who you touch when they’re coming through,” said Battle. “When they come up and say something like she told him, even after 50 years, shows she never forgot that.”
“As a teacher, things like that stick. [Robinson] was just doing his job, but it stuck with her all of those years.”
Robinson added, “I tell you one thing. I noticed when I first came here, the number of accidents was phenomenal. It seemed like every Saturday night somebody was getting killed or in a serious accident.”
“But as the years passed, it seemed to subside. So, I don’t know what to attribute that to, but the numbers still went down and that’s one thing I still remember.”
Robinson, currently a pastor, continued by expressing his gratitude for being able to affect so many lives in a positive way.
“My special thing is, God allowed me to save lives, then turned around and allowed me to save souls, so it’s been a huge blessing.”
Former Caswell High School and Bartlett Yancey teacher Mary Graves joined Robinson in telling a story of seeing the impact she had on others.
“I’m on dialysis right now and there’s a young man in dialysis with me says ‘Bonjour, madame,’ every time he sees me walk into the room, because I taught him French,” Graves said, laughing.
“It’s a wonderful feeling and really great to know I can look at somebody like that and say, ‘I taught him.’ It makes me feel good that even 50 years later, he still remembers what I taught him.”
After hearing Graves’ story, a smile crept across Robinson’s face as he looked at Graves and said,
“Now that you’ve mentioned it, there’s a young man that graduated from Bartlett Yancey and he’s a pediatrist now in Reidsville and believe it or not, I walk in there and he’s the one working on my feet.”
“He did a great job and a lot of the other teachers go over there as well. That’s the reward I see. I’m just glad I treated him well.”
The sentiments offered by the three former educators hold a little more weight considering the class’s historical significance.
Funny you should ask; you’re about to find out.
Faulkner closes out her welcome and asks if the bleachers in the left wing of the Civic Center can be pulled out — a task that’s quickly accomplished.
Minutes later, class members are climbing up and down the stairs, taking their seats throughout the nine rows available. A photographer steps into the scene and starts taking the class’s picture, just like they were in high school again.
It was a normal scene for a class reunion, but there was something special, something unique, about this class.
Remember when you were promised a bit of history earlier in the story? Good. Because it here it comes.
The ’69 Caswell County High School class was the last segregated class in the area.
According to Class of ’69 graduate Larry Garland, the historical significance of the class cemented a bond between classmates that can’t be shaken.
“What I love the most about being the last graduating class is the fact we’re like a big family,” Garland said, chuckling.
“There’s a camaraderie here that’s different and more unique than you would find anywhere else. We were unique. We were different. We knew we were the last graduating class and that really cemented our friendship.”
Growing up, Garland, and the rest of his class along with Caswell’s African-American community were singled out and ostracized for their skin color.
The ignorance Garland and the rest of his class was subjected to on an everyday basis was enough to tear even the strongest of people down. However, the Class of ’69 had a few secret weapons in their corner.
“I think we had a more secure class because we were given self-guidance and self-importance from our teachers and family,” Garland said. “I’m full of myself, and I love it. That was drilled into us when we were at Caswell. Loving ourselves.”
“But my fondest memories are the way our teachers demanded we get an education. It wasn’t optional. They demanded we got an education. These teachers did not play. We were made with them most of the time because they didn’t mess around.”
Walking through the parking lot, heading to the entrance of the Civic Center on Saturday, license plates from up-and-down the East coast could be seen.
New York state. Washington, D.C. Pennsylvania. Maryland. North Carolina. Virginia. Just a few of the states where Class of ’69 members matriculated to after graduating.
“It’s just wonderful. Absolutely wonderful,” Graves said. “This is 50 years for them and me being from Caswell and attending Caswell County Training School, it was called back then, 60 years ago, then to have them come through 50 years ago, it’s been a really amazing experience to see so many of them are doing so well.”
Robinson added, “It’s been amazing. “We were talking briefly earlier about the accomplishments they’ve made. They’ve aspired to all levels. Doctors. Teachers. And to come from a low-income community and to what they’ve done, we joke around and say they must’ve had a great foundation.”
For Battle, it was a blessing to see how some of his former students turned out, especially given the circumstances they endured.
“The first students to integrate Bartlett Yancey High School did so on Jan. 23, 1963,” Battle recalled. “You had Brown v. Education in 1954 and it took until 1963 for BY to become integrated.”
“The distance between the two schools is less than a mile but it was so much that separated the two. But they’ve persevered, doing well, and it’s a blessing to see that.”