February has always been my favorite month of the year because it’s Black History Month. I know in February I will be able to find all kinds of Black books, apparel, and information that isn’t readily available in stores throughout the rest of the year. During February I know I will be able to watch some of my favorite movies like A Raisin In the Sun, School Daze, 10,000 Men Named George, Carmen Jones, and the Wiz on regular TV without finding a streaming network. I celebrate Black History 365 days a year, but there’s just something about February that hits just a little different.
This February is even more special because I have been able to put my own touch on Black History Month by curating a display of my hometown African American high school, W. F. Branch High School. Branch High is the school of my grandmother, my parents, and my community. This is the high school that all the African American children in Newport had to attend because of segregation, until the school closed in 1970 and integrated with Newport High. This is the school I heard stories about from my grandmother, parents, and other family members during my youth. As a teenager I attended the school reunion picnics and was told to volunteer at the reunion banquets.
All the books I have read and all the genealogy conferences I have attended all say researching your family ancestry must include researching your ancestor’s community, for me and my family that has always included researching Branch High. I have written blogs about Branch High. I have featured Branch High in my Wordless Wednesday series. We have talked about Branch High on the Podcast. Branch High School has always been a part of my family. It’s kind of like food and music, always in the background and always present.
I’m so proud to have partnered with Arkansas State University, Newport campus library and the Jackson County Historical Society to put together some history, photos, and information of this beloved school for Black History Month. I am honored to have this opportunity to bring back memories for former students and faculty as well as their children and grandchildren and the Newport community as a whole. This is Black History at its best and Black excellence. Genealogy is about finding the history within our own community, including Black History. This display honors people like my grandmother, Gladys Denson Mays, other teachers including Mrs. Oats, Mr. Calhoun, Mr. Burton, and Mr. Buckner. This display honors the students that attended this school like my parents, aunts, uncles, and an entire community of children. These are the shoulders that I stand on that have made it possible for me to be the person I am today. It is because of the faculty and students of W. F. Branch that I have the confidence to know that I can achieve anything. It is because of W. F. Branch High School that my journey continues…