Reginald Wright recounts memories from Lanier High

Published 10:03 am Saturday, February 10, 2024

LANETT — At Monday’s gathering at the Lanett Senior Center, an IT specialist who today lives in Rochester, New York spoke about having grown up in the local area and the impact it had on his life. Reginald Wright was raised in the Jackson Heights neighborhood and graduated from Lanett High in 1983. As a special presentation during Black History Month, Wright talked about the important influence family members and his teachers had on him in his youth. Especially important to him were adults in the community who had graduated from Historic Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) such as Alabama State, Tuskegee, Alabama A&M and Morehouse.

“I can remember being in Joe Greenwood’s barber shop on a Saturday afternoon and talking with Mr. R.B. Dallas,” Wright said. “He told me how he had went to Alabama State in the 1930s and was involved in starting Lanier High in Lanett.”

At that time, the Chambers County Training School in LaFayette was the only school in Chambers County where Black students could earn a high school diploma. Having a new school meant getting the land and constructing a building. The Darden family donated a site that would be annexed into the city and what became Lanier High was built. A school coming to the area is what got water and sewer lines in Jackson Heights for the first time.

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Dallas would become the first principal at Lanier High. He was a deacon at Ebenezer Baptist Church and a lecturer for the Bowen East District at the time. He was widely known in the local area as “Prof” Dallas. That was short for Professor and showed the respect he had as a college-educated man. 

“During my years in the Lanett City School System, I was blessed to have had nine educators who had taught at Lanier High,” Wright said.

These teachers included people like James and Oreatha Hardy, Essie Mae Harris, Shirley Nelson, Marjorie King, Rose Wood, Dorothy Parker and Rosa Barrow. 

“My mother graduated from Lanier High in 1949,” Wright said. “It only takes a small seed to nurture the treasure we have in us. My cousin, Hannah Boyd, graduated from Lanier in 1943. She was my English teacher and had a big influence on me. I can still remember the parts of speech because of the way she drilled it into us.”

Wright then rattled off the eight distinct parts of speech: noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction and interjection.

“Marjory Jackson King helped get me into Morehouse College in Atlanta,” Wright said. “It was the place people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Julian Bond has attended, and I wanted to go there. People like Yvonne Cumberlander Stanford and Lewis Hoggs had an influence on me when I was in school here.”

Wright loved the black onyx class ring Hoggs wore and dreamed of having one like it one day.

He would get one when he graduated from Morehouse. “My aunt got it for me,” he said. “She saved money from her Social Security checks to come up with the $268 it cost.”

Class rings cost a little bit more than that today, but Wright has something on his finger he proudly wears each day. It’s a constant reminder to him how others paved the way for a good life for him.

“There’s a moral to all of this,” Wright said. “Each one of us has a treasure inside this earthen vessel we live in. God has given each one of us a treasure. We should use it to his glory. Black history is celebrated every year in the month of February. Black history is everyone’s history. A man who was born over 90 years ago now (Martin Luther King Jr.) had a vision to make this world a better place. We owe a debt to those of his generation who helped make it happen. What a marvelous God we serve.”

Mayor Jamie Heard thanked Wright for his comments. “I’ve lived here all my life, and he knew things about this area I didn’t know,” he said.

Senior Center Manager Sandra Thornton said she enjoyed hearing Wright talk about some people in the community she knew when she was growing up in Jackson Heights. “I had some of those same teachers,” she said. “I can remember being in a beauty shop and having Hannah Boyd shape my hair into an Afro. Our teachers believed in discipline and practiced it every day. I can remember Prof. Sykes jumping on me for being late to school. ‘Since you live so close, why are you ever late?’ he would ask me. ‘Do you wait till the bell rings to leave home?’”

Wright told senior center members of one interesting tidbit he’d discovered in his research of local history. The great scientist Dr. George Washington Carver once walked the campus of Lanier High. He made a visit to what was then a new school when he came to the local area to speak to a civic club at the General Tyler Hotel in West Point. “He came here with the Tuskegee president,” Wright said.

Wright still has strong ties to Lanett and frequently keeps in touch with his family. His brother and sister-in-law, Gary and Brenda Wright, are on the senior center staff. Gary drives one of the senior center buses.