'Dear Old Douglass High School'

A homemade Douglass High School face mask lies on top of a Douglass T-shirt. The Douglass reunion would have been happening this weekend in Murray, but organizers had to cancel because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

MURRAY – For the first time in five decades, the Douglass community will not unite in Murray the first weekend in August for the annual homecoming reunion.

Douglass High School was the source of education for Murray’s African-American community until the public schools were integrated in the 1960s and the student body was brought into the Murray Independent School District. Several years after the school dissolved, former students began holding reunions with their families, and the tradition has held ever since.

Regina Hudspeth, a longtime member of the Douglass Reunion Committee, said the committee started meeting via Zoom in March after the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools and many businesses to close. She said it wasn’t long before committee members realized conditions probably weren’t going to be safe enough by August to hold the event, so they officially made the decision to cancel it in May and began sending letters to businesses who had sponsored the reunion in the past to inform them.

“We decided this pandemic looked like it was going to follow us into the fall, unfortunately, and it didn’t make sense to bring folks from out of town and jeopardize them bringing something into Murray or vice versa, them catching something,” Hudspeth said. “It was a hard decision, but we decided to postpone it this year and hopefully try to make next year a bigger event in light of all of this.”

This would have been the 51st annual homecoming reunion, which has always brought multiple generations descended from former Douglass students back to Murray. Many of the younger attendees have never lived in Murray but have grown up coming every year and look forward to a long list of traditional activities, including a community barbecue at Murray State University’s Curris Center, swimming and cookout at the park, Bingo and bowling. The event climaxes every year on  Saturday night when the Douglass Bulldog Banquet is held and attendees listen to that year’s keynote speaker and honor a large roster of young Douglass scholarship recipients.

Hudspeth said several staples of the Douglass community have died in the last year, including Earl Hudspeth, who died July 22 at the age of 99. If the reunion had taken place, attendees would have mourned and paid tribute to them, so Hudspeth said it is sad that won’t happen this year.

“It was definitely a hard blow, made even harder because we’ve lost some of the lifetime people that have been coming for years,” she said. “Here recently, Mr. Hudspeth passed, and we’re losing people with all that history and all that knowledge. We’ve lost him and one of his best friends from Toledo, Ohio, Mr. Charles Williams. They all went to school together, and a third gentleman by the name of Vernon Jones, when they would come to Douglass events before he moved back to Murray, it was like, ‘Then the Douglass Reunion can start,’ because those three individuals held a lot of history and came back every year despite everything. We’ve lost them all now. We’ve also lost Mary Margaret Pruitt, who was a teacher at Douglass, so we’ve lost a lot of history and a lot of people that everyone looked forward to seeing every year.”

Any time an organization has to skip an annual event for any reason, it can be difficult to stage it again the next time. Of course, too many events to name have been canceled all over the world in 2020, so the Douglass Reunion Committee will have some of the same challenges many will be facing as they plan for 2021. Despite that and the challenge of aging alumni, Hudspeth said she is hopeful next year will be as big as ever.

“It’s so easy for younger people to not want to rekindle (the reunion) once it’s disjointed or disconnected,” Hudspeth said. “That’s a challenge for us, but we think we may be up for it.”

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