Wilfred Dunn and Aleatha Johnson King make history in Lanett

Published 9:30 am Saturday, February 11, 2023

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During Black History Month, Lanett City School System highlighted some of the first African American leaders to work in their system. Counselors Wilfred Dunn and Aleatha Johnson King made history in their hometowns as the first male and female African American counselors in Lanett.

Lanett native Dunn began his career at Lanett in July 2017, bringing 24 years of education experience with him. He graduated from Valley High School in 1989 before moving away for college.

He received his bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Alabama State University in Montgomery. Then, he moved to Arkansas and began teaching in 1995. 

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“I graduated from college on a Saturday, and I started working that Monday,” Dunn said.

After awhile, he returned to school to get a master’s in school counseling from University of Arkansas. 

“I wanted to do more than just help one classroom,” Dunn said. “I’m helping the whole school.”

In 2017, Dunn returned to his hometown to help his mother after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He started working for Lanett City Schools in 2017, and now serves as the counselor for W.O. Lance Elementary School.

Whereas King, also from Lanett, started working for the school system in June 1981 and retired in September 2010. 

However, once she got home, she realized she couldn’t stay away. King returned to the position in December 2010 as a part-time employee. During that time, she assisted the full-time counselor with any needs.

“When I retired, I had been in the system the longest,” King said.

King returned to retirement in August 2019, but even at “74-years-young,” she still works closely with students writing letters of recommendation and helping with financial aid applications. 

According to King, when she attended Lanett High School the transition of integration was smooth. King remembered how the principal at the time chose both white and Black students and form a student council to ask them what they wanted to see changed about Lanett High School. 

Over the years, King said that there has been a lot of change, some progress and some that she has yet to make her peace with. However, Lanett City Schools has seen a lot of representation of Black leaders. 

“Lanett has been progressive, and there’s always room for improvement,” King said. 

Not just during this month, but every day that Dunn comes to work, he knows it’s good for students see themselves in the successful adults around them. He also said students need the space to celebrate their heritage. 

“It lets children know that ‘this is important for me to know, because I can do better,’” Dunn said. “And I’m not just talking about African Americans, I’m talking about when they have Hispanic month in October, all different types of showing off where the heritage comes from. And it’s good for kids to know that because they don’t have to be sitting out doing things that they shouldn’t do.”

Dunn said he’s grateful for the opportunity to come home and show students that anybody can make something more of themselves. He stands as an example of someone from Lanett, who left home and found success that they could bring back to the community.

“I do think the kids need to know that I am from here. I know your parents, I know your grandparents, I know your cousins,” Dunn said. “And somebody from this area can go live somewhere and come back and make the biggest impact on the area.”

King worked for 50 years in education. For 38 years, she worked for the Lanett City School System. Her history with the Lanett City School System is intrinsically linked with racial and gender representation.

“I think it had a positive impact … It made them feel good, and it made them realize that all things are possible,” King said.

However, making history was never King’s aim. Her students don’t remember her for marking that ‘first’ but for the lasting relationships that she cultivated.

“I just tried to put my all in,” King said. “Not to be the first Black counselor, but to be an excellent educator.”

During his time at Lanett City Schools, Dunn said he felt like a part of a big family. He said he had the support to be able to “be a light to the students.”