Graduates of segregated high school became trailblazers
An AP Member Exchange shared by the Bowling Green Daily News
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) — When Al Moses was attending Bowling Green’s all black high school, High Street High, during the Jim Crow era, he didn’t imagine himself participating in the civil rights sit-ins in Nashville that would have him cross paths with John Lewis and Nikki Giovanni.
Lewis and Giovanni both became well-known civil rights activists. Lewis is a Georgia congressman and Giovanni, a poet.
It was Moses’ dedication to his education that eventually led him to the Nashville sit-ins and he attributes his hunger for lifelong learning to his teachers, mother and grandmother.
“The teachers were extraordinary to say the least,” he said.
“It was an attitude thing,” Moses said of his educators at High Street. “They were determined given the circumstances of segregation at the time, to give us a first-class education. I remember that. It was that kind of determination.”
Moses was the salutatorian of the Class of 1960.
Like many High Street High graduates, Moses continued his education and became a trailblazer.
Just after graduation, Moses along with two of his friends were selected by their church to attend the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tenn. It had been described to him and his parents as a summer camp of sorts. In reality it was a civil rights institute, a place to learn about initiatives of the movement.
“We were on a Harry Belafonte scholarship. Belafonte was involved with civil rights long before people knew it. We got there, and it was just like a summer camp.”
That is with one exception, instead of the black and white complexion of Bowling Green, it was at Highlander that Moses met people of other races and ethnic backgrounds.
“This was the first time I had seen other races. Latinos, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, Filipinos all of that was there. You interact with all these people. We were there for a month. Rosa Parks had been there four years before that time. That enabled me to be involved in the sit-ins. I had a comfort level with that.
“The thing I worried most about was TV and my parents seeing me on TV doing the sit-ins. I can hear my father saying ‘We didn’t send you down there for that,'” he said.
Moses’ next stop was Fisk University in Nashville, where he obtained his undergraduate degree in biology.
He later earned a master’s degree in zoology from the University of Kentucky and worked in the research field for years in Pasadena, Calif., where he is now a real estate attorney. After working for several years in research and later in medical equipment sales, Moses had some extra time on his hands and thought he should continue his education and learn about business.
His friend Johnnie Cochran — famous for defending O.J. Simpson during the trial in which Simpson was accused and acquitted of killing his former wife and one of her friends — talked Moses into trying out just one year of law school at Loyola Law School to see if he liked it. Moses was hooked and became an attorney.
He was also active in Pasadena politics. He worked to help Loretta Glickman become the first African-American mayor of Pasadena and served as her personal attorney. He became legal counsel to the city and helped to draft the Affirmative Action Ordinance for Pasadena. He was also a vice chairman of the Pasadena Planning Commission and the founding president of the Rose Bowl Operating Co., the municipal organization that oversees Rose Bowl Stadium.
Moses chaired the Pasadena Robinson Memorial, a nonprofit organization that raised more than $500,000 to create a permanent art display honoring Jackie and Mack Robinson in the Pasadena Civic Center.
One of Moses’ contemporaries, Angela Townsend, was the valedictorian of the Class of 1960 at High Street High.
While she appreciates what her teachers did for her, she said it was her mother who had the greatest impact on her to study hard, make good grades and continue moving forward with her education.
“She had a desire for me to do better and go further than she did,” Townsend said.
Townsend’s mother was a nurse at Graves Gilbert Clinic.
“Each generation does better,” Townsend said. “My kids did a lot more than I did.
“Parents are key. You have to have parents that know what to do. My avenue was going to school. I was always interested in things like that.
“I liked my teachers. They were really good. They seemed to be tuned in with the fact that I was interested in school, interested in learning and interested in what I was doing. I had a math teacher that pushed. I was well behaved and they gave me a lot of attention.”
Townsend left High Street and attended college at the University of Kentucky. She attended Fisk University for her sophomore year of college but returned to UK to complete her bachelor’s degree. She earned her master’s degree and Rank 1 at Western Kentucky University.
Townsend became a teacher and taught school for 38 years.
Townsend began teaching senior English at Bowling Green High School in 1966. She taught at Lincoln Elementary School in Louisville and Princeton Junior High School in Cincinnati before returning to Bowling Green to teach at Bowling Green Junior High School, Bowling Green High School, Warren Central High School and Greenwood High School.
In March 2016, Townsend was inducted into the Gov. Louie B. Nunn Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame.
Townsend started the first diversity class in the county at Greenwood High School.
She recently completed an 85-page booklet “Growing up black in Bowling Green Kentucky” that she hopes to publish.
Herbert Oldham taught science at High Street High School from 1957 until desegregation in 1966 when the High street students moved to Bowling Green High School.
High Street students excelled because that’s what they were taught and encouraged to do, Oldham said.
“Most of the it was due to the fact the students were encouraged to achieve higher levels of education, social adjustment, civic involvement in the community, just to do better. When you come from nothing to something it takes a lot of hard work.
“It was just a unique situation. You had good cooperation with the school staff and the parents. Anytime you have that cooperation, you are going to have good results,” he said.