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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

Unsung American Heroes

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

By Donald V. Watkins

©Copyrighted and Published (via Facebook) on March 9, 2017; Updated and Republished on April 3, 2018

Americans rarely see their schoolteachers as heroes. I do. They shape the lives of the children who determine our future.

I attended K-4 grade school at Alonzo Lott, a small public elementary school in Memphis, Tennessee. From the fifth grade through high school graduation, I attended the Laboratory School on the campus of what is now Alabama State University.

Both of these schools had all-black teachers and students. The Laboratory School had only one class of about 30 students for each grade.

What these schools lacked in size and financial resources, they made up for in the heart, intellectual acumen, dignity, and high moral fiber of their teachers and students.

By the time the Watkins family arrived back in Montgomery in 1959 to begin my father’s second period of employment at ASU, I had learned to appreciate the knowledge, skills and abilities of my teachers. They were super-smart educators and larger than life figures in my world. They demanded academic excellence from each student and spared no effort to prepare us for success in life.

The educational preparation we received was intense, practical, and very forward-looking. These teachers produced an academic “dream team” every year. We never felt inferior to any ethnic group or competitor.

Racism was never viewed as an acceptable excuse for failing to reach our goals in life. We were taught to treat racism like turbulent weather. It was real and pervasive, but we were trained to find a way around, under, over, or through racism in order to reach our destination in life.

Our dedicated and caring teachers, along with our loving parents, synchronized our developing minds, growing bodies, and unconquerable spirit. They prepared us to become agents for the positive changes we sought in the world.

Looking back on it today, these teachers were visionaries and unsung heroes. What they achieved in the field of education with limited segregation-era resources and unlimited creative genius was nothing short of a miracle.

My friends frequently ask me why I love climbing the mountain of international business, especially since it is filled with daunting challenges and only occasional successes. I do it because I am a flag-bearer for my K-12 teachers. I climb the mountain for them.

I will not stop climbing the mountain until I have exhausted every ounce of strength in my body and applied every modicum of knowledge my teachers gave me during the 1950s and 60s. I am the embodiment of their sacrifices, preparation, hopes and dreams. Only when I hoist the flag of excellence in their honor on top of the highest mountain peak of international business will my job be done.

I want all of my readers to know who these unsung heroes are. I want their names and faces memorialized in the annals of recorded history.

My heroes in elementary and secondary education were: (a) Messrs. W. J. Coston and Moses Clark, Laboratory School principals; (b) Mr. Thomas Robinson, assistant principal and woodshop teacher; and (c) Mrs. Sadie G. Penn, Mrs. Clara Davie, Messrs. A.C. Henry, Joseph Gilchrest, W.C Allmon, Tim Sanders, Charles Moss, R. Thomas, David Stott and Clyde Edmonson, Ms. Annetta Baugh, Mrs. Ollie Phillips, Ms. Murrillo Garner, Mrs. Etta Myrtle Alexander, Mrs. Faustine Dunn, Ms. Athalee Smiley, Mrs. Althea Thomas, Mrs. Mary Bell, Mrs. Mattie Gilchrist, Mrs. Evelyn Young, Mrs. Frizette Lee, and Mesdames M.G. Brown, C. Clark, S. Singley, C. Taylor, Draper, Rice and Sneed, all of whom were distinguished educators.

We learned Latin, French and Spanish before we could drink from “Whites-Only” water fountains. We learned how to communicate orally and in writing from the best English teachers in America. Our math and science teachers contributed greatly to the success of those students whose algorithms would later transform the telecommunications and technology industries. We learned the countries and cultures of the world from brilliant geography teachers who rarely traveled beyond the state of Alabama.

By the time we graduated from high school, these teachers had molded our will to win and given us all of the confidence we needed to achieve success against all odds.

The students who were educated in this small all-black school in Montgomery went on to favorably impact every aspect of American society, including law, medicine, engineering, civil and criminal justice, science and technology, mathematics, education, business and finance, aerospace, energy, diplomatic services, and international relations.

Our teachers were the best of the best. It is time for these fine educators to take their rightful place in American history.

PHOTO: ASU Laboratory Class of 1966.

PHOTO: The faculty at Lab High in the 1960s.

PHOTO: Mr. W. J. Coston was my first principal. He was as solid as a rock.

PHOTO: Moses Clark was my second principal. He was brilliant and strong.

PHOTO: Donald Watkins receiving his high school diploma from ASU President Levi Watkins, Sr. (center) in May 1966, while Lab High principal Moses Clark (left) looks on.


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