Blackshear Junior-Senior High School reunion is coming up June 29 through June 30 and July 1 at the MCM Eleganté Hotel.

Reunion Treasurer Gene Collins said about 180 people are expected and Deborah Peoples, a retired AT&T executive who is now chair of the Tarrant County Democratic Party, will be the speaker at the banquet.

The reunion is held every other year. This will be the 19th reunion and this is the 52nd anniversary of the closing of Blackshear. Collins’ sister, Shelia, founded the reunion.

The gathering is bittersweet. People come from as far away as Hawaii and there are always a couple of people from Washington, D.C. This year, some new people are expected from Kansas City.

“… We have a balloon release. We encourage people to write the names of loved ones on the balloons. It’s a very somber moment. …,” Collins said.

But he added that it’s always good to see everyone.

“That’s what makes it great. We plan the program, but the stories that are being told in the small groups is really what does it. There are so many great stories; success stories,” he said.

Blackshear operated from 1932 to 1966. Collins graduated from Ector High School. In fact, he attended and spoke at a June 16 ceremony where a historic marker was installed at the campus along with other dignitaries.

Collins said there have been many successful people who came out of Blackshear including his first cousin LaFayette Collins, who among other things was a U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Texas and a U.S. Secret Service agent, attorney Gary Bledsoe and Dorothy Greene Jackson, dean of the College of Nursing at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin.

He said so many Blackshear students excelled because of the culture at the school.

“The curriculum was different. The emphasis was different. They taught history differently. Things that we learned in history they don’t even teach today in any of the schools. As a result, it gave us a firmer foundation in life. We could understand things better. Remember, we were still in the midst of segregation where we were prohibited from going across the railroad tracks at night,” Collins said.

Blackshear students got hand-me-down books from Odessa and Permian high school.

“They would kind of put a piece of paper over the old names. Remember how you sign your name in your book? When they ran out of space, they gave us the books and pasted a deal on top of it,” Collins said.

Collins said teachers at Blackshear prepared students for a segregated society.

“… There were no accelerated classes, but the teachers created curriculums to fit in with the students,” he said.

For example, he started singing in the varsity choir when he was in fourth grade under music teacher James Elkins. Collins named his group, the James Elkins Singers, after his teacher.

Elkins had been director of Wings Over Jordan, an internationally known choir that sang worldwide.

LaFayette Collins said he’s working toward attending the reunion.

He enjoys seeing classmates from years ago and it brings back memories. LaFayette Collins added that you get to see people who pushed you, friends and older students you idolized.

“My graduating class was the last class at Blackshear,” LaFayette Collins said.

The year the school closed in 1966 was a time when segregation was the law of the land, but there were a lot of positive things going on at Blackshear. He said the school offered a lot of opportunities for black educators.

“We had probably the cream of the crop as far as black educators were concerned,” LaFayette Collins said.

He said there were about 50 students in his graduating class and the school had a family atmosphere. He said his class had about four doctors and a lot of students went above and beyond what was expected.

“The principal was respected and he ruled; the teachers were respected and ruled. There was not a lot of conflict between parents and administration, so everything was pretty tight woven,” LaFayette Collins said.

Blackshear is now an elementary school. When he graduated and Blackshear was shutting down as a high school, many of the athletes went to Permian High School.

Gene Collins said the reunions used to include basketball games, but since attendees have aged, they bowl.

Collins said the event includes a banquet featuring a student who has done well. This year, it’s Deborah Peoples, a former AT&T executive and now chair of the Tarrant County Democratic Party.