The memories don't fade

By Scott Unger Published:

The schools are a thing of the past, preserved only by faded and yellow photographs " and the memories of those who attended.

Those recollections were abundant among the more than 50 who gathered this weekend to celebrate the 12th reunion of Frankfort's all black schools " Clinton Street, Mayo-Underwood and Rosenwald Laboratory.

"I think it's nice that people came to mingle together," said Evelyn Williams, a 1947 Mayo-Underwood graduate.

"After they move away you get to see your old classmates."

Clinton Street, Mayo-Underwood and Rosenwald Laboratory educated Frankfort's African American population " first grade to graduation " for more than 70 years.

Clinton Street and Mayo-Underwood were the main black schools locally from 1884 until 1965, when Mayo-Underwood closed its doors for good.

After closing the original Rosenwald School, Rosenwald Laboratory was a learning ground for Kentucky State University's aspiring teachers until 1977.

Although the original schools are gone, most of the graduates vividly remember the days when Mayo-Underwood stood in place of what is now the Capital Plaza complex, its days, too, perhaps numbered.

Hill, a 1951 graduate, remembers walking from her house on Second Street to school every day.

"We walked across that bridge every morning," Hills said. "We had physical fitness, (but) we didn't realize it."

Hill's friend, Catherine Cane, 70, said all the walking made her skinny, earning her the nickname "bean pole" among classmates.

"They'd say when the wind blow(s) I'd have to hold on to a tree I was so skinny," Cane laughed.

Hill said the students had to walk; there was no other option. "We didn't have a bus, we didn't know what a bus was."

The alumni spent the weekend recounting similar stories and catching up with old friends, some from across the nation, for the biennial event.

"Every time we have a reunion, I never miss it," said Abbie Demaree Hill, who makes the trip every two years from her home in Arizona.

"We have a lot of memories."

The memories of these graduates are unique and sometimes paint a picture different than what's taught today in history books.

Robert Davis graduated from Frankfort High School in 1964 after Mayo-Underwood closed.

"I liked Mayo-Underwood better (than FHS)," Davis said. "If they hadn't closed, that's where I'd have gone."

Hill said the all black schools gave students a sense of closeness with teachers that she doesn't see in today's schools.

"They wanted us to be somebody," she said. "(Today), there's not that closeness that we had."

"We didn't have the equipment (in schools), but there's something about that unity that (isn't) in the schools today."

When the schools closed, many teachers were out of a job, Davis said.

"Progress is good, but integration hurt us a little bit," she said. "We lost a lot of our good teachers, only one went to Frankfort High and she (became) a librarian."

Although they were sometimes serious, the group spent most of their time laughing and catching up with old friends.

After a picnic and night of games on Friday, they met Saturday morning for a memorial service at the granite monument to Mayo-Underwood at the Capital Plaza. The weekend culminated in a banquet and dance at Capital Plaza Hotel Saturday night.

The reunion weekends have been held since 1978, according to Barbara White, a reunion organizer. They initially took place every five years, but the tradition was moved to every other year in the mid-nineties, White said.

The schools are an important part of history that must continue to be recognized, White said.

"Who's going to tell people about our heritage, unless we do it ourselves?"

"That's why we brought Rosenwald in here, cause they're younger," White joked.

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  • I was very interested in seeing the photo's of Abbie Demaree Hill and her sister Catherine Demaree Cane, daughters of Jesse Demaree and Catherine Madison Demaree. Catherine is now deceased but I am not sure about Mrs. Hill.  I am interested in obtaining the death date and burial location of their grandfather, Thomas Pierce/Perce Demaree born in 1853, the slave of Samuel Demaree, Sr. and Jr. of Henry County, Kentucky. Pierce was born in the home of Samuel Demaree, Sr in 1853, near Defoe, Henry County. After the death of Samuel Demaree, Sr. in 1858 when Perce was 5 years old He was purchased by Samuel Demaree, Jr. a Civil War Vet who was seriously injured in the war. They lived in the Demaree family home at that date of Elizabeth, Ann and Samuel Demaree, Jr.  Pierce remained with the family after the Civil War ended and lost his arm when he was shot by the KKK in 1870. Pierce and a group of young people were actually on the property of John Milton Demaree, brother of Samuel when the shooting occured. Doctor E. R. Wilson was called to the home of Elizabeth Demaree  but his arm could not be saved and had to be amputated. He remained with Elizabeth Demaree after Samuel, Jr. died until his marriage living next door to John Milton Demaree until about 1900.

     Pierce maintained a close relationship with the Demaree family until his death, date to be determined.  He and his wife Phoebe Rucker were married in the home of James Edwards in the County of Franklin by John Milton Demaree, a minister, in 1900. The marriage which was witnessed by Phoebe's brother Creed Rucker. In 1937 Pierce was living with his sister Sarah Agnes Hawkins at 225 E. 3rd Street by 1924 remaining there until she died in 1937.  Pierce worked as a janitor probably at the state captial for many years as well as at First Baptist and Corinthians Baptist Church. Jesse, his son and his family lived at 327 Dixie for many years.  Jesse died in 1948, his wife Catherine Madison Demaree in 1990 both buried at Greenhill Cemetery. The Robb Funeral home arranged their funerals as well as Sarah Agnes Hawkins, Pierce's sister. Their children were: Lou Agnes, Abbie, Robert, Katherine and Johnny who graduated from Frankfort H. S. in 1961. Pierce's death date and burial locate are uncertain, but if the Records from the Robb Funeral home still exist, they might have the information I need to compete this research.

    If anyone has further information on this family, I would appreciate hearing from them.

    Thank you

    Judith A. Cassidy -