A group of “Indians” is gathering this weekend in northern Mount Airy — not to go on the warpath, but maintain the tradition of a formerly all-black campus in this area.
Students who attended J.J. Jones High School, which saw its last graduating class walk across the stage in 1966 — due to the desegregation of public schools in Surry County — are holding what planners call a three-day “grand” reunion that begins today.
The reunion events will be held at the former campus site on Jones School Road, which is now home to the L.H. Jones Family Resource Center — but before that legions of students whose sports teams were known as the Indians.
Along with activities geared toward allowing former Jones students to reminisce about their school days, everyone is invited to some of the reunion events. This includes a traditional Friday night fish fry and variety show this evening, for which admission will be charged to the general public.
Tonight’s festivities also will include a winding of the maypole, an important tradition for faculty and students of Jones School over the years, which is scheduled for 6 p.m.
Admission for the fish fry, planned from 5 to 6:45 p.m., will cost $5 and the variety show, 7 to 8:30 p.m., in L.H. Jones Auditorium, $10.
“It’s going to be nice,” one of the reunion organizers, Edward McDaniels, said of the show.
In addition, an “old school” music and social event is scheduled in the auditorium tonight from 8:30 to 11.
McDaniels also is excited about the maypole winding, recalling his days as a student when boys at the school were required to wear Scottish kilts and dance the Highland Fling. “There is a lady who is going to tell the history of it,” he said of the maypole tradition.
Unique bond shared
This weekend’s gathering of J.J. Jones alumni marks the 51st year since the high school closed in 1966.
The reunions are held in Mount Airy every two years, which is done for a reason, according to McDaniels, a member of the Class of 1964.
“One of the main reasons is to give us a rest, because we do put a lot of time and work into it,” he said of a reunion planning committee made up of around 20 members of the J.J. Jones Alumni Association.
About 150 people usually attend the every-other-year reunions, which has included graduates from places such as Alaska, California and Florida.
Registration will be held today from 3 to 5:30 p.m. at the resource center, with exhibits, a hospitality session and a cruise-in by cars and motorcycles also planned.
Saturday’s slate includes a morning brunch and business session, and a reunion banquet and gala is on tap for Saturday night. Reunion activities conclude Sunday with a worship service in the auditorium.
While it is not unusual for former students of a high school to reunite periodically, the J.J. Jones gathering enters a different dimension due to the special history its graduates share.
“We were put in a unique situation by being an all-black school,” McDaniels said of the turbulent integration period set against the backdrop of the 1960s civil rights struggle.
After the high school’s last graduation ceremony in 1966 in the auditorium, the students left behind were absorbed into predominantly white schools such as Mount Airy High.
Jones later served as an elementary school for both white and African-American pupils until the mid-1990s, when a new J.J. Jones campus opened on Riverside Drive, which serves the city’s intermediate pupils.
Students from the all-black Jones High School days have keep its memory alive in the 51 years since the closing and maintained their bond, although McDaniels admits a need for younger folks to help perpetuate that.
“We are dying out so fast,” he said of Jones High grads. “We’re trying to get new people to carry on the old Jones tradition.”
He said this year’s reunion is more important than ever in that regard.
It marks the 70th anniversary of the auditorium’s construction in 1947 by teachers and students. In addition to graduation ceremonies, it hosted basketball games, school plays and social events.
The Surry County Board of Commissioners deeded the auditorium to the Jones alumni group in 2003.
It is named for Leonidas Harold Jones, the only principal of Jones High during its 30 years of operation beginning in 1936. His father was J.J. Jones.
“We’re honoring our teachers this year,” McDaniels said of another reunion activity.
“There are still a few around.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.