Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Dwight Morrow's '63 Grads Reminisce

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Dwight Morrow's '63 Grads Reminisce

Article excerpt

ENGLEWOOD -- Lew Simmons once told Ramsay Laing that she had the most beautiful eyes of all the girls at Dwight Morrow High School.

And so Simmons, the football star, would eventually take Laing, the academic star, to their senior prom. It's not much of a milestone until you consider that Simmons is black and Laing is white.

And the year was 1963.

"The racial climate in the country was crazy at that time," Simmons said. "But here at Dwight Morrow, we were all together, black, white. It was different."

Simmons, Laing and many of the 75 Dwight Morrow alums who gathered Saturday for their 50th reunion remembered a time when the school was racially mixed -- a stark contrast to a district that is now, and has long been, disproportionately black and Hispanic.

"The school system was much more integrated when all of us were there," said Rich Allen, a 1963 Dwight Morrow graduate who is black and recently moved back to Englewood.

An almost even mix of black and white alums spent Saturday reminiscing about their glory days over a buffet breakfast in the school's cafeteria. Graduates came from 18 states. They talked about the mashed potatoes and "turkey squares" once served in the cafeteria. The men who served in the Vietnam War were asked to stand and received a round of applause. The class collected money and donated a bench to the school.

But a common conversation was how unique their racially-mixed class was considering they graduated before the peak of the civil rights movement and only months before Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C.

"It really prepared you for the world," Allen said. "You didn't get that at many other schools."

In the decades since the Class of 1963 left, Dwight Morrow has been a battleground over segregation.

In the 1970s and 1980s, white families gradually began pulling their kids out of the district in favor of private schools. Neighboring Englewood Cliffs, would wage a long legal battle against sending its students to Dwight Morrow.

Despite the creation of magnet schools on Dwight Morrow's campus 10 years ago to increase diversity, black and Hispanic students made up 85 percent of the school district in 2011, even though they account for only 51 percent of the city's population. …

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