It has been 50 years since they graduated from high school and nearly three-quarters of the students who got their diplomas will be in town this weekend for the golden anniversary of their graduation. On top of that, the annual Grand Reunion of Union High School students will also be in town in a separate reunion.
The class of 1964 was the largest number of seniors from the old black high school to ever graduate and nearly 80 of them will be on hand this week for the reunion.
“We expect 77 people out of the 110 from the class,” said Gloria Jefferson. “This class is the largest the high school ever had.”
To celebrate the 50th anniversary, there is going to be a meet and greet at the Stay Inn from noon-3 p.m., Wednesday, July 23. Also that night a banquet is planned at the Bartow Civic Center, from 6-11 p.m. It costs $45 per person per couple (for a total of $90). If a guest joins the couple, the additional cost is only $20. Though the banquet deadline was Tuesday, arrangements can be made for more. Those interested can call Jefferson at 863-812-0726.
To shed some light on the willingness of people to come back to Bartow to see their old friends, Kelly Mosely, a 1964 graduate who now lives in Tampa said people are coming in from all over the country.
“We’ve got a young lady coming from Duluth, Minn. There are people coming from California, three from Rochester, New York and from New Jersey,” he said, trying to recall from the top of his head. Mosely chaired a committee for this job. He said though there are a lot coming, it took planning and graduates worked for almost two years on this reunion.
“This is a big, big deal for us … the one day is ours. We just don’t want to impede on the Grand Reunion.”
In a separate reunion, the annual Grand Reunion, 200 former students are set to come into town, said Charlotte Sabb. The highlight of the weekend of getting with former classmates and friends for the annual scholarship dinner.
During the ceremony at the Bartow Civic Center on Friday night, eight students in Polk County will each be awarded $500 college scholarship.
To earn them, students must have had at least a 2.7 grade point average and must have been — or currently be — a student in the Polk County school district. Also, students in college must take 12 credit hours, Jefferson said.
The scholarship program is scheduled at 10 a.m., Friday morning at the Carver Recreation Center. Before that starts there will be a breakfast at Carver at 7:30 a.m.
Following the scholarship program will be a tour of the old high school at noon.
That is something that will bring back memories, for sure.
Later that day will be the annual banquet. Tickets for the affair are $75 each and extra tickets can be bought from George R. Sabb at 863-559-0153.
On Saturday, classmates from the old high school will have a picnic at noon and later that evening a dance is scheduled at the Carver Recreation Center from 8 p.m.-1 a.m.
The reunion wraps up Sunday with a church service at Burkett Chapple Primitive Baptist Church at 415 S. Third Ave., Bartow. That takes place at 11 a.m., followed at 1:30 p.m. with a dinner served afterward at the Carver Recreation Center.
About Union High School
Union High School was a second high school in Bartow, until 1969. It was for black students, where the Summerlin Institute was for white students. When ended by desegregation, all students went to Summerlin Institute, by then renamed Bartow High School.
While desegregation marked problems in many parts of the United States, Union High students remember it never seemed to cause much trouble in Bartow.
“During that time we didn’t seem to have any problems,” Jefferson said. “In 1967, black kids were allowed to go to Summerlin or stay at Union and the transfer seemed to work very good. But I had graduated by then.”
In his time at school here, Mosely said he doesn’t remember any black and white tension, adding that when desegregation happened he was no longer in school nor in Bartow. He does recall thumbing for rides when he lived here and never ran into any racial trouble.
“There was nothing of that magnitude,” Mosely recalled. “We didn’t have any problems such as that. My friend and I hitchhiked from Bartow to Tampa to go shopping. It was mostly white folks who picked us up and we never ran into any problems.”
The backing of the people who made up the black school still continues as it was outlined in the proclamation the Bartow City Council gave to George Sabb Monday recognizing this week for Union High School and the Grand Reunion for the school that has existed since 1897.
“Union Academy was and continues to be the backbone of this community, providing young people with the tools they need to be successful. … ” it says in part.