BLACK HISTORY Hughes recalls family vibe at Bate High School – The Advocate-Messenger
Michael Hughes has an amazing memory, easily recalling the events of his life up to the day. He has always loved history, he said, and is president of the Danville-Boyle County African American Historical Society. He is also a graduate of Danville Schools.
He started school at Bate High School in 1955. At that time, it was a school for black students. William Summers was manager at the time Hughes was present.
“Bate was like a family atmosphere, especially socially,” Hughes said. “And it was a great school, educationally.”
When Bate graduates have gathered for reunions over the years, Hughes said it was always joyous, noting the smiles on people’s faces and it was always a highlight of the year.
In late 1964 when integration began, Bate High School was discontinued and Hughes started at Danville High School.
He was due to graduate in 1966 and dropped out. He had been out of school for nearly a year when the then vice-principal contacted him and encouraged him to return to school. It was around this time that Hughes decided he wanted to go back to school and graduate. He graduated from DHS in 1968.
“One thing I remember was when I walked across the stage I got a standing ovation from the class,” he said with a smile.
At school, Hughes was a self-proclaimed track star, earning the nickname “Meadowlark”, something many people still call him.
He sang in a choir and was in a band called The Mystics. After graduating, he joined the Marine Corps and became a combat soldier in the Vietnam War. He served from November 1, 1968 to March 10, 1970.
Hughes said the only interaction between DHS and Bate High School was athletics, and when they did, black students were subject to disadvantages, such as having to start 2 feet behind athletes whites in track events when black and white students competed together.
There were a handful of black students attending DHS as early as 1956, but most elementary through high school students attended Bate.
He noted that black people were subjected to backdoor service at restaurants, movie theaters limited seating for black visitors and did not allow them to use facility bathrooms or the same ticket booths or concession stands. than white visitors, they were denied service in barbershops. and other settlements and Jim Crow laws were in place. Most of the jobs available to blacks were “menial,” as Hughes described it.
It was during the 1964 March on Frankfurt, when Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders led a peaceful rally with Hughes as one of the thousands in attendance, that Hughes sensed a change in the air. It was a cold day in March and the pupils rode to the rally in a school bus from Bate High School.
“It was the first time I really felt like there was a change and people were hungry for change,” he said.
Hughes noted some of the things King said during the march, including “Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated” and “Law cannot change men’s hearts, but it can change habits. “.
On the way back from Frankfurt, the students sang “We Shall Overcome”. Hughes described a “sense of euphoria” that swept through the crowd at the rally. In the schools, the students knew that integration was coming. Sure enough, later that year, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law.
“Even though integration of Danville schools did occur, the town did not integrate during this period,” Hughes said. “It was a much slower move.”
He said, “Kids were kind of put out there, testing the waters.”
When King was assassinated in 1968, Hughes recalled that the DHS lobby was flooded with upset, crying and disbelieving people. Some students “wanted to take to the streets”, but other students and teachers convinced them that violence would not be productive and that it went against King’s peaceful methods. He said the school came together and prayed and cried over the news. The school administration allowed students who wished to stay home on April 9, 1968 to remember King and watch his funeral on television.
Now Hughes is president of the DBCAAAHS, spearheading an effort to tell the story of black people in the community. The History Center, located on Second Street, has collected tons of photos, memorabilia from Bate High School and other areas, articles and writings chronicling the black history of the community, including the neighborhood of black business that was on Second Street before the 70s.
Hughes said he loves being able to connect people. For example, he posted a photo online and a man reached out and said it was his dad and he had never seen a photo of his dad. He thanked Hughes for sharing it, and the interaction meant a lot to Hughes.
He describes the work the DBCAAAHS is doing as “something that caught fire” and will last – the community will tell stories about black history in Danville and Boyle County for generations, not just in small social circles, but on a larger scale.