Still Separate After 20 Years

In 1971, Captain Shreve High School in Shreveport, La., had been fully integrated for only a year, and black and white students eyed one another uneasily. It was still the Old South-symbolized by the Confederate monument that occupied a place of honor in the courthouse square. That spring, Captain Shreve students added their own chapter to the city's divided history. When no black girls were elected by their classmates to the cheerleading squad, about a third of the school's 566 black students stormed out of the building. By the next day many of the 969 white kids were also at home. Their parents feared the protest might incite violence.

In the two decades since, the Old South has become New, and the students who once glared at each other across a barrier of misunderstanding are middle-aged. But old wounds, apparently, have yet to heal: this summer, the class of 1972 is holding its 20th reunion. Or, more precisely, reunions-of the separate-but-equal kind. Black alumni scheduled theirs for Labor Day weekend, with a banquet at the Ramada Inn, a picnic in a city park and a family church service. Whites got together this month. They reminisced over hors d'oeuvres at the Elks Club and danced at an all-white country club while an allwhite band, the Voodudes, played Motown. Organizers displayed a bulletin board covered with newspaper clippings about the separate reunions.

Members of the two organizing committees blame miscommunication, not racism, for the separate reunions; they say they were unaware of each other until it was too late. (Alumni organized the two affairs without help from school officials.) The whites, led by Richard Murov, found out about their other classmates' plans in February, when they saw a newspaper ad for the black party. Murov, who had already begun contacting alumni, talked to Jackie Harris Hollins, the chief black organizer, and asked her group to join his. The blacks decided not to. "People feel comfortable with their own," explains Hollins. "They don't know us and we don't know them. They already had their plans; we already had ours." Murov agrees. "They never had acquaintances with us, and we never had acquaintances with them," he says. Still, white organizers say they tried to contact everyone anyway. Some blacks don't believe that. Barry Kimble, a black graduate, should have been easy to find because his parents haven't moved, but he never received word of the whites' affair.

The segregation does not sit well with all class members-or with the city's main newspaper, which editorialized against the separate get-togethers as emblematic of "the mind-set that sometimes impedes progress in education, race relations, urban renewal in Shreveport." The 10th-year reunion also was segregated, and Joe Rhodes, a white alum who is now a journalist in Los Angeles, has had enough. He boycotted this year's party: "To find out 20 years later that we are just as separated, just as isolated as our parents-it breaks my heart." Some blacks see their reunion as a defense against a repeat of past injuries. In the early '70s, the black students were "treated like second-class citizens," Kimble remembers. But "we'll never move forward until we can bury the past. Here we are in 1992 and we're still digging up old bones."

Shreveport isn't the only town that hasn't buried its past. In Arkansas, the Magnolia High School class of 1982 held segregated reunions this summer. "We don't mix a lot," explains Wendy Stuart, a white alumna. "When I went to school, it was blacks with blacks and whites with whites." When it came time to plan the reunion, she says, "I didn't want all of them because I knew there would be problems. Some of them were considerably rougher and into things we did not approve of, like drinking and getting out of hand. Most of them wanted to have their own reunion ... They have their own music and their own kind of food. We have ours." Etta Mack, an organizer of the Magnolia black reunion, was more disappointed than angry: "I don't want to say it's because of racism, but what other reason is there? This is a small town. Things have always been black and white."

But in Shreveport, some younger Captain Shreve graduates say they've moved beyond black and white. Jodi DeHondt, a white 1982 graduate who had her 10th reunion in July, says her class would never hold separate events. "The thought of blacks not being included never crossed my mind, nor would it have been the same without them," she says. "We're certainly much more open-minded and more loving toward each other. I hope this gives us hope for the future." And even some of the older alums are trying to learn from the past. A few white 1972 grads say they're going to the black church service over Labor Day. Perhaps a class that prays together will, someday, play together, too.