This week Wilson High School and all of its community members will celebrate 155 years of existence.
I place a special emphasis on ALL, because what was founded in 1866 under the Freedman’s Bureau at the southwest corner of Palmetto and Dargan Streets for colored students now has a student population that is comprised of 292 white students, 61 Asian students, 17 Hispanic students, 1 American Indian, 9 students of two or more races, 7 Native Hawaiian students, and 875 African-American students.
This is enough to celebrate here and now. Show me another formerly predominately African-American high school student body that has an inclusive enrollment such as this. The fact that the majority, if not all, of the students want to be a Wilson Tiger is an outstanding accomplishment. Implementation of the International Baccalaureate Program contributed to this success. So we extend a hearty and sincere “Welcome Back” to all graduates, former students who transferred, moved or left Wilson for some other legitimate reason, retired faculty, support staff, adopted businesses (past and present) and families of all. Too, we acknowledge and express appreciation for the current administration, faculty, support staff and students at Wilson High School.
Because of the current health crisis, we recognize this year’s celebration being a challenge yet, we encourage all participants to wear your masks, social distance, get vaccinated if you have not already done so, wash your hands and follow the other guidelines as outlined by our health professionals.
Other high schools, colleges, universities and churches celebrate homecomings locally, statewide and nationally, but the culture and tradition of Wilson High School’s homecoming is not only special but unique. Those among us who are graduates and or former attendees can relate to various experiences – some bitter, some sweet.
During the years of segregation, we remember how as students, faculty, support staff and administrators we had to achieve excellence with “less than.” Too, the inequities were seasoned with racially discriminatory practices. Nevertheless, Wilson High School produced graduates that became teachers, medical professionals, judges, attorneys, law enforcement officers, college and university professors, officers and non-commissioned officers in the military, successful entrepreneurs and successful working people in many other aspects of life. Perhaps the major reason why Wilson High School exists today is not only because of its overwhelming alumni and community support, but because of its curriculum of excellence in academics and extracurricular activities. As students we were blessed to have some of the best teachers in the classroom and the arts, in spite of adversities.
How wonderful and proud I was to read on the front page of the September 28th edition of the Morning News about Wilson’s International Baccalaureate Program being recognized by the South Carolina State Department of Education as the No. 1 program of its nature in our state. It reminded me of the fact that while I served as principal, Wilson High School’s faculty, administrators, academic programs and fine arts performances got more recognition for excellence outside of Florence School District One than internally.
Space will not permit me to personally list the names and accomplishments of administrators, teachers, coaches, clerical staff, guidance counselors, media specialists, cafeteria and custodial staff members who helped produce excellence on academic and mathematics district, state and national teams, as well as excellent meals and clean buildings and grounds. The leadership of what was formerly Peoples Natural Gas Company, located on North Irby Street, adopted Wilson High School and provided Honor Roll Badges for students each quarter of the school year, provided badges that identified Very Important Parents, stickers for teachers to present to students that read “Catch Me Being Nice” and “I Got Caught.”
Let us remember the parents and guardians who trusted, over the years, the administrators of Wilson High School to not only successfully produce excellence in their children but provide a safe environment, day and night. Yes, Wilson High School’s homecomings are special and unique. However, looking beyond the football game, the parade, block party, Tigerfest and other activities that are planned, I call upon all of us to use this year’s celebration to build positive relationships between Tigers we know and do not know. After all, if the words of our Alma Mater have any meaning to us, we will greet Tigers who look like us as well as those who do not look like us with a smile and a “pawsitive” disposition. Let us remember those who are no longer in our midst, and throughout the homecoming celebrations, let us model a life that has been blessed.
Lift happy voices praises unfold,
Hail the Purple and the Gold,
Let songs of gladness rise to the sky,
For Dear ol’ Wilson High
And strive to show, as on we go,
Ability and power
To do the right with all our might
Through every changing hour.
With loyalty, courage and hope
Our lives shall e’er be blessed
And ever for our Alma Mater
We work and do our best
As on we go, our aim shall grow
Our cheers will ever cry,
To do the right, with all our might
For thee, dear Wilson High.
Allie E. Brooks Jr. is the former superintendent of Florence School District One and past principal of Wilson High School.