The year 1969 was a historic one for Dillard High School. Its last body of seniors would be graduating before mandatory consolidation with Goldsboro High School the following year.

Dillard had enjoyed a storied past and had a reputation for turning out well educated graduates, students who would go on to make their mark in the world.

Several months ago I was visiting Wayne Memorial Hospital. A lady at the information desk greeted me with a smile. I was surprised when she called me by name. Turns out she had been a reader of my weekly column for some time. Although she was kind enough not to say so, I think she recognized the forehead wrinkles as being the same as pictured with the column.

Over a period of time I learned that she had been a member of the last graduating class of Dillard High. With future visits to the hospital we began to chat more. She felt me out about the possibility of writing a column as time drew near for their 50th class reunion. Many of you will know that “young” lady as Neida (Neil) McCoy Hall.

This is not my first exposure to Dillard High School and some of the folks associated with the institution. On Feb. 26, 2014, I ran a column titled “A man to remember” which was all about the Rev. Clarence Dillard, the school’s namesake.

In another column I shared brief details of a 1939 football game in which the Tigers manhandled a Snow Hill team 112 to 0. It was written that the Dillard coach sent in everything but the water bucket.

On Feb. 21, 2016, my column was all about the graduating class of 1947 featuring but 40 seniors. I included a photograph of the best looking boy and girl — Mary A. Parks and William White. I included names of each graduate. Class president was Kenneth McNeil. This was the first edition of the Dillardite yearbook, a name still in use for the class of 1969.

I have written columns featuring Eddie Moses who, at 102, is the oldest living Dillard graduate. I have written about the Gavin family, featuring Ray H. Gavin, Ph.D., professor emeritus, Brooklyn College, N.Y., and his sister Geraldine and brother Charles, both retired and living in Goldsboro.

Dillard, originally known as the “Colored School,” was from its inception a fine institution of learning and I believe loved by all of its graduates. It is from the last year of the school’s existence and their high school yearbook that I have gleaned the following information about some of its graduates — 240 strong. For the 1969 school year, seniors had been given a choice of completing their final year at Dillard or transferring to Goldsboro High. Only 16 Dillard students elected to switch.

No doubt every graduating Dillard senior of that last class accomplished something worthwhile and would be deserving of my mentioning each by name, however space is too limited.

The introduction to the yearbook reads: “Despite all of our frustrations and anxious moments, we are indeed happy to present this treasury of lasting memories to you. May it serve as a constant reminder of those joyous times you experienced at ‘DEAR OLE DILLARD.’ As you peruse these pages, let there be one picture or one word that will bring a tear or perhaps, a smile.”

The book was dedicated to parents of the students. Mr. John H. Wooten Sr. was the principal. Of the faculty someone wrote: “As you peruse through the following pages please note that our faculty represents many things to us, but in essence they will always represent a fountain of knowledge, of which we all may drink.”

In speaking with Mrs. Neida Hall I asked if she recalls having a favorite teacher at Dillard. Without hesitation she said, “Mrs. E.L. Harris, Choral Club director — she taught me how to sing.”

The school had every major sport, including football, basketball, baseball and track. A squad of nine lovely girls cheered them on and aroused excitement among a dedicated fan base. Captain of the group was Brenda Holloway with Doris Johnson as co-captain. Head cheerleader was Marketa Hill. In addition they had a dozen high-stepping majorettes and a spirited marching band. Unfortunately neither majorettes nor band members were identified.

A chapter of the National Honor Society included some 30 members. Vivian Carlisle served as president.

Dillard had a strong debating team and were state champions in 1969. They had won the same contest two years prior. Theresa Ann Howell was president of the debating society. Obviously she was a natural born leader as you will see through the remainder of this column. There was an active varsity club with Phyllis Lee serving as its president.

The football team had a successful final year with a 6-4 record and took third place in the state tournament. In the final two games they won over J.T. Barber of New Bern, 44-0, and over Darden of Wilson, 20-0. A primary player on the team was Jarvis Williams, who also played basketball and was named as the most athletic senior superlative. Willette Ward was named as the most athletic girl.

Captain and co-captain of the basketball team were pictured, but names were omitted. Same with head coach with a caption below his name: “Eastern 4-A Conference coach of the year.” No results of games were mentioned.

The yearbook contained a photograph of a fine looking baseball team but only identified Coach R.O. Hawkins and team captain, Osceola Hicks. Same was true of the track team. Pictured were a dozen members; only identified were the coach, Sheffield Altice, and captain of the team, Collie Bryant, and co-captain, Robert Young.

If there was an organized girls’ team in any sport, they were not mentioned.

Jo Ann Gerald was Miss Dillard High with Linda Bishop first runner-up and Linda Carraway second runner-up.

Interesting occupations of a few: Marva Shearod and Elbert Johnson were named Miss and Mr. Journalism. Today Mr. Johnson is a successful Goldsboro dentist. He completed pre-doctorate work at Howard University, his doctorate at the University of Maryland and his post doctorate at Harvard. His stated aim when he graduated at Dillard was to be a dentist.

It was prophesized that Bernardo Rhodes would become a mortician. You are familiar with the Rhodes funeral homes in Goldsboro and Warsaw. Edward Stevens’ aim, likewise, was to become a mortician. He began working for Hamilton Funeral Home while in high school. That led to his own successful mortuary business in Wilson. He passed away a couple of years ago.

Nine senior class officers were listed with Theresa Ann Howell as president. Jo Ann Gerald was vice president. Delores Brewington was secretary.

As was tradition, class superlatives were named. You may have already guessed who was voted best all-around-girl. It was Miss Theresa Ann Howell. Best all-around-boy was Winston Barnes. Other superlatives were: Jo Ann Gerald and Alonza Holloway, most liked; Audrey Hill and Booker T. McFarland, most likely to succeed; Geraldine King and Edward Wooten, most attractive.

It was Sandra Blount and Waddell Swinson, most dependable; Brenda Heath and Willie Crawford, most considerate; Alice Hobbs and Osceola Hicks, most zealous; Delores Brewington and Dennis Coley, best dressed; Vivian Carlisle and Willie Johnson, most studious; Bernice Whitfield and Carl Sampson, most religious.

And there were more: Dorothy Waters and Herbert Edwards, cutest; Marketa Hill and William Reid, most talkative; Linda Howe and James Edwards, best dancers; Patsy Bryant and Willie Kennon, most talented.

Beside Patsy Bryant’s senior photograph was listed her aim: concert soloist. The class prophecy projected that Patsy and Wilton Raynor would entertain at Carnegie Hall to thousands of admirers. (Would be interesting to know what happened with Patsy’s singing career).

According to Neida (known in high school as Neil Ann McCoy), Willie Kennon, named the most talented, was an outstanding artist. His future as prophesied: “Willie Kennon’s art shall be appraised and compared to the works of Michelangelo.” Unfortunately he died tragically in a house fire from smoke inhalation.

As for “Miss Everything” in high school it was prophesied: “American Ambassador to Great Britain, Theresa Ann Howell, shall return to have a conference with the President of the United States, Willie C. Johnson.” Miss Howell, as president of her class, gave the main address during graduation exercises.

Former principal H.V. (Hugh Victor) Brown wrote a final tribute to Dillard High: “Now with all the ramifications of integration, we must sadly say: ‘Dillard Adieu.’

“You have had some wonderful souls who made up your history; some have passed on; some still live, but let it be my hope that those who passed through the corridors of both the old and the new Dillard High School building will have contributed to eternity, some measure of life that will not perish but will live on forever.” 

Theresa Ann Howell, editor of the 1969 “Dillardite” and class president, in poetic fashion wrote words that likely expressed feelings of all graduates:

“I wonder should I laugh or cry, Must I say ‘hello’ or bid ‘good-bye?’ My mind is uncertain, my steps are not sure ... Frankly, I’m in no great haste to ever leave you.

“Sometimes, my mouth will form a laugh, while my eyes seem to shed tears. Yes, these are my thoughts as I recall my glorious Dillard years. Good-bye, good luck and thank-you.”

Some years ago a former Dillard graduate and well-known citizen of Goldsboro called to discuss a column I had written about the African-American community. We had a rather lengthy and congenial chat. During the conversation he stated rather frankly, “You know, sir, one of the greatest mistakes they ever made was closing Dillard High School.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if others may not share his sentiments. Dr. Ray Gavin, 1958 Dillard grad, and honor society president and I communicate on a regular basis. As recently as 30 days ago he shared this comment: “My fondness and appreciation for Dillard increases as I age. I cannot imagine what kind of life I would have had without the nurturing that Dillard gave me.”

Thanks, Mrs. Hall, for suggesting I write about Dillard’s last year. I trust that you and your classmates will enjoy sweet and boundless memories as you gather for your upcoming 50th class reunion.

Sherwood Williford writes a weekly column for the News-Argus. Contact him at 919-440-8811, or P.O. Box 175, Princeton, NC 27569.