Hampton Roads Community News

BTW Class of ‘55 To Celebrate 60th Reunion

Submitted By Malverse Nicholson

Special to the 

New Journal and Guide


The Booker T. Washington High School Class of 1955 will celebrate its 60th class reunion at the Quality Suites Lake Wright-Norfolk Airport Oct. 16-18 using the theme: “Enjoying the Journey.”


The three-day gathering will feature fun-filled social activities with a getting reacquainted meet-and-greet affair Friday evening, a banquet Saturday night, followed by Sunday worship at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Berkley.

More than 100 are scheduled to participate in the activities.  Most live in Virginia, primarily the Hampton Roads area with a dozen from the Washington, DC-Maryland area. The person traveling the greatest distance (Louise Godsey McCray) will arrive from Columbus, Ohio, some 600 miles away.

The Class of ‘55 departed Booker T. a year after the historic Brown vs. the Board of Education decision on desegregation of the public schools. However, before leaving the segregated high school, teachers and administrators developed pride in the students and taught and inspired them to thirst for knowledge.  They also instilled in them the notion that in order to become employable, they had to be twice as good as their competition.

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This indoctrination, undoubtedly, led class members to aspire to achieve at a high level after graduating.  Over the years, the class produced a world class women’s track coach, a military aviator, several businessmen, a probation supervisor, an attorney and a university administrator and lobbyist.

One classmate helped to inspire a movie and several others became school teachers, health care professionals, postal workers, military service personnel, factory workers and members of the International Longshoremen’s Association.

As a fitting tribute to the hard work and dedication of the faculty, eight members of the class more than emulated faculty members by earning the ultimate academic and scholarly distinction: doctorate degrees from some of America’s most prestigious universities.

Dr. Ernest Holmes earned his doctorate degree at the Catholic University of America; Dr. Joyce Hardy Williams earned hers at the University of South Carolina; Dr. Joseph Whittaker, the University of Nebraska; Dr. Delores Brumley Robertson, Western Michigan University; Dr. Rosalyn Lawrence Ewing-Brown, Virginia Tech; Dr. James Johnson, Sojourner-Douglass College; and the late Dr. Mary Agnes Green Wyche, the University of Maryland, College Park.

Perhaps. the most widely known and highly decorated member of the class is Laverne Holmes Sweat who coached women’s track at Hampton and Norfolk State universities. She developed world-class athletes who competed throughout the United States as well as other parts of the world. Some even won in the Olympic Games.

Sweat’s illustrious coaching career took her from the Hampton Roads universities to track venues around the world. She served as Head Coach of the World University Games in Bucharest, Romania; Head Coach, Junior Pan American Games, Winnepeg, Canada; Assistant Coach, World University Games, Palma de Mallorca, Spain; and Assistant Coach, Olympic Games, Sydney, Australia.

Meanwhile, back home she continued to enjoy success winning awards as coach of the year on numerous occasions and earning national acclaim for her coaching acumen.

Among her other accomplishments Laverne Sweat has been inducted into the New Journal and Guide Hall of Fame, The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Hall of Fame, The Hampton Roads African-American Hall of Fame, The Hampton Roads Sports Hall of Fame and the Virginia State Hall of Fame Honors Court.

Meanwhile, Velter King spent 35 years in the Army, mostly as a helicopter and airplane pilot. King excelled as a test pilot, combat pilot and solo pilot. He holds a commercial pilot’s license.

He also graduated from guided missile school and was one of the few African-Americans who taught America’s Allies the guided missile systems as he was a major player in deploying the missiles.

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There are at least 10 other retired military members of the class who served with distinction and were honorably discharged. They are James Howard (vice president of the class), Catherine Wilson (assistant secretary), Augustus Haskins, Lawrence Buffaloe, Lawrence Hopkins, Leon Staton, Cleophus (Sandy) Hockaday, Harvey Forrest, Samuel Sears and Barbara Whittaker.

Two of the most successful businessmen from the class are Leavy Harold and Herman Valentine. Harold built a real estate enterprise by purchasing, renovating and remodeling houses then renting them at a reasonable rate. The total of his real estate holdings are valued well above one million dollars.

Valentine, on the other hand, built a small computer company into Systems Management American, a firm that in its hey-day was awarded multi-million dollar contracts by the government. It had a huge payroll and several satellite offices in addition to its headquarters in Norfolk.

Also, in the class was Robert Gregory, who in 1972 as a deputy probation officer in the Norfolk Juvenile Justice System, founded a youth basketball leaguethat continues even today, after more than 40 years.

Gregory and a fellow deputy reasoned that there wasn’t enough to do in the area for kids on probation, so they started a basketball league to provide a competitive activity which children could enjoy and look forward to on a regular basis.

Their legacy of service to Norfolk’s troubled youth has served more than 3,000 young men and women. A true testament of the value of the program is the fact that it channels their competitiveness into sports which often transcends all other things in their lives. Gregory rose to the rank of probation supervisor.

After passing the Virginia Bar Association exam, James A. Winstead established a successful law firm in Chesapeake.

As a high school football coach and teacher in Northern Virginia, the late Paul Hines was held in very high esteem. So much so that he inspired the movie

“Remember the Titans” which starred Denzel Washington.

Malverse Nicholson served as the chief lobbyist for Norfolk State University at the Virginia General Assembly. Through his efforts and those of the university’s president, NSU was awarded millions of dollars for buildings, programs, property, salaries and other projects. He held the position assistant to the president for legislative and community relations.

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For years, Jean McNair Watson was the head nurse at Norfolk Community Hospital.

Class officers are Annie J. Hayes, president; James Howard, vice president; Delores U. Joyner, secretary; Catherine Wilson, assistant secretary; Marlene

Smith, financial secretary; Robert Wilson, treasurer; Shirley M. Jones, chaplain; and Leland Hines, email correspondent.

In addition to the class officers, The Reunion Planning Committee members are Melvin Blount, Vera S. Beans, Rufus Bell, Mildred W. Cooper, Harold

Goodman, Jean Jeffrey, Frances Rolan, John Sanderlin, Laverne H. Sweat, Bernice S. Warren, Barbara J. Whittaker, EarleneIe. Wiggins and James Winstead.

Of the 316 students who graduated that year, 139 have passed away.

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