History was made at C.B. Dansby High School in Kilgore and on Saturday that history was memorialized.
Alumni, former teachers, Kilgore city council members and old friends gathered where the school once stood at 630 Bates St. on May 25 to share memories, sing and view the unveiling of an Official Texas Historical Marker commemorating the school’s history.
The marker describes how the school served African-American students during segregation and continued to serve local children after schools were integrated in 1970.
Rev. Ray Geter and Lucenia Taylor, both C.B. Dansby graduates of the class of 1970, opened the gathering with an invocation and welcome message before Johnny King, chairman of the Gregg County Historical Commission, thanked those in attendance for witnessing the historic moment.
“On behalf of the commission, we just want to say thank you and we’re glad we’re a part of this,” King said.
“It was a long process and this is going to be the culmination of that process.”
GCHC was a major force behind the acquisition of the marker and chairwoman Gem Meacham told the audience about the work involved.
“My passion with the commission are these markers because, as you know, the Dansby building is not here anymore but we have what we call a site marker to commemorate and memorialize the fact that it was here. We will pass and generations behind us will know that this was a special place to this neighborhood and to this generation,” Meacham said.
C.B. Dansby High, formerly called Kilgore Colored School, was named after its former principal, who led the school for nearly 25 years. His tenure ended when he died during a graduation ceremony in 1955.
While principal, Dansby expanded the school from six grades to 12 and oversaw the construction of additional classrooms and the installation of indoor plumbing at the school.
The school was constructed in 1935 by Kilgore ISD for the education of African-American students. It was renamed C.B. Dansby High School in 1956, the year after Dansby died.
Odis Turner served as principal until August 8, 1970, when Kilgore schools were desegregated.
The school stayed open for two more years, used for KISD specialty classes. Eventually, investors purchased the property, turning it into a multi-service community facility. The city of Kilgore later took ownership of the property and decided to demolish the buildings in 2013.
De’Lores Arline, leader of the memorial project, read the audience a message from Dr. Phyllis Dansby Fisher, daughter of C.B. Dansby, who was unable to attend the ceremony.
“My father, C.B. Dansby, was always aware of the need of documents to preserve our oral traditions. Surely he is smiling today looking down fondly on the efforts that have been made to preserve the school area. We appreciate all that have worked so hard to make this a reality.”
After a song led by members of the class of 1970, the assembly gathered around the memorial marker, draped in red cloth, at the edge of the field where the Dansby School once stood.
As the covering was pulled away, the crowd, dozens strong, cheered and embraced one another.
After gathering for photos with the marker, the crowd joined their voices to sing the Dansby High School Song. Afterwards, some remarked they hadn’t sung the tune since 1970, yet still remembered the words.
Meacham had one word to sum up the atmosphere of the unveiling.
“Joyful,” she said, looking at the former classmates laughing and reminiscing.
Seeing the alumni happy and knowing a permanent marker was in place made the long effort worth it, she said.
“It’s a lengthy process,” she added, describing the commission’s work filing an application for historical recognition from the state, which took two years.
The process was even lengthier for Arline, who championed the effort years ago when it was just an idea.
“It’s hard to put a number on that because we talked about it for a long time,” she said.
“We actually submitted the marker in 2015 and we received the ‘OK’ in 2016 and we received the marker in 2017. By the time they made (the foundation for the marker), it was 2018.”
The memorial marker was funded by Dansby alumni, she said, and Kilgore Mayor Ronnie Spradlin helped fund it as well.
Arline said the project was vitally important for former students and community members who see the landmark as a way to preserve their history.
“We wanted many of the older people to be able to experience it. We lost a lot of them along the way but we did want them to experience it because it probably means more to them than anyone.”
Another bench with a picture of the school etched into it may be placed in the future. The historical marker is important to preserve the story of Dansby High because not many records were made while the facility was open.
“There only were two annuals printed at the school, in ‘66 and ‘55,” she said. Scanned images from those yearbooks, as well as pictures of students and faculty, are available for viewing at a blog set up to preserve documents from the school. They can be viewed at www.KCHS-CBDHS-EES.blogspot.com.
After years of effort, Arline said the memorial ceremony was a momentous occasion for her and others who want to keep the memory of Dansby High alive.
“If I were not so tired, I would dance,” she said, laughing.
“I am elated. I am just so glad to see this happen.”