GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — 2023 marks 50 years since the graduation of the first integrated class at Dudley High School in Greensboro.
While other cities like Clinton, Tennessee, and Little Rock, Arkansas, experienced angry mobs, protests, and in some cases, violence, the graduates of that first integrated class at Dudley say their experience was much more positive. Some of them came away from the experience with lasting friendships.
Steve Allen and Allen Wall are two former students that still keep in touch. Their 50-plus-year friendship has stood the test of time and distance.
Up until 1971, Greensboro public schools were mostly segregated. The freedom of choice plan allowed students to go to schools outside of their designated districts as long as they had transportation.
At the time, James B. Dudley High School was one of the last predominantly Black high schools left in Greensboro. Wall was one of the white students that transferred from Page High School to Dudley when the Freedom of Choice plan was enacted.
Among all the new faces, there was at least one that was familiar to Wall. Allen, a Black student Wall had known from attending Mendenhall Junior High School was also at Dudley.
“We were probably 13 when we first got to know each other. That’s a long time to know and be friends with someone,” Wall said.
Based on where Allen Wall lived, his natural progression would have been to go to Page High School. When the Freedom of Choice plan was enacted, and the landmark Supreme Court decision in Swann vs. Mecklenburg County — which helped students who lived far from their school of choice have access to busing programs to promote integration in public schools — he attended Dudley instead.
Both men say the integration overall was a success. Everyone got along, and that was in part due to Dudley allowing all students to participate in the same sports and extracurriculars they were in at their previous schools.
“I think we probably were the model, and I think Allen would agree for the South as to what did take place. I don’t recall any major flareups,” Allen said.
They also say that by this time, the climate was changing. This was on the back end of the Civil Rights Movement after several other public school system integrations and a decade after the Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins. More people were ready to accept the idea of integration and racial equality.
Once reunited at Dudley, Allen and Wall became fast friends. They shared many honors classes and at least one after-school activity together.
“We’re both driven. Both of us were very good students. We were opinionated, loved to argue and probably is why we both ended up being lawyers at some later point in our lives,” Allen said.
“We were in many of the same classes together. We were in an honors track as I recall, and we kind of traveled together from class to class. We literally lived together during the school day,” Wall said.
Allen remembers Wall as a bright and kind student and friend. Being in school together day after day eliminated the proverbial line in the sand that separated white and Black students, bringing everyone closer.
“I believe that the class sort of collectively supported each other … and I believe allowed us to become our best selves through the two years that we got to live together at Dudley high School,” Wall said.
Even after graduation, starting their own lives and Wall eventually moving to Chicago, the two kept in touch. They were able to catch up in person for the first time in years at their 50th class reunion.
“I think it was very special. I think it was good because we were able to see people that we hadn’t really seen. Sometimes I had not been able to attend some of the class reunions because of other commitments, but to have us all together to see people and to reminisce and to really go back,” Allen said.
The lessons they learned during those high school years are ones they carry with them even today.
“It teaches us about humanity. It teaches us that you got good people of all persuasions. And that it is up to us to be the best people. To be human. To try to treat others as we would have others to treat us,” Allen said.
“I believe that the experience of being there and becoming friends with Steve and other folks — Black students who were at the school when I and my white classmates got there — it allowed us to develop … empathy that I think … is an exceedingly important thing to carry with us as we move through a society that provides us with the opportunity to experience and learn from differences if we just allow ourselves to do so,” Wall said.
Reflecting on 50 years of progress, the two celebrate all the change that has happened since their childhood but recognize there’s still more progress to make.
“Perhaps we might be the better teachers of what this nation can be and a better example of how we can interact and live together in a way that is harmonious and will bring this nation together so that this nation will be all it should be for everyone,” Allen said.
Allen currently lives in Greensboro and is the pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church. Wall is a practicing lawyer in Chicago.