Pine Forest Community High School alumni celebrated their historic roots with a sign unveiling ceremony Feb. 8 in Callahan.
Dozens of former students were in attendance to commemorate the school they still hold dear decades after it closed for consolidation. Students integrated with West Nassau High School students in the fall of 1968.
Class of 1956 alumni Ernestine Taylor, Doris Walker and Joseph Walker revealed the marker amid cheers and applause. Several county and municipal representatives also attended.
Callahan Middle School stands on the campus that previously served African-American students from across western Nassau when it opened in 1951. The new sign stands near the gymnasium, which is the only remaining building associated with the former school. Alumni raised funds and planned for more than a year to receive the $2,200 marker.
James Williamson attended Pine Forest from first grade until graduation in 1965. He never had a chance to play in the gym – it was under construction in his senior year.
“We played outdoors on the outside court – night games, cold and all,” he said.
Williamson is pleased with the historical marker’s installation.
“It means the world for us to be recognized,” he said.
Williamson recalled how students often received second-hand textbooks and sat in desks reissued from the county’s supply. Classrooms were without air conditioning and the children didn’t have locker rooms to access after physical activities.
“We didn’t know we were that handicapped,” he said. “The teachers were excellent and they were all linked to the outside world.”
Female teachers Eileen Donaldson, Elizabeth Tisdale and Ernie Albert are still living. Albert addressed the crowd, saying, “I’m just so happy you invited me back.”
She taught at the school from 1958-68 and completed her teaching career at Yulee Elementary School in 1998.
“I came here and this was my start, and I was here until time for integration,” Albert recalled. “I didn’t want to leave. I fought it hard.”
Phyllis Alderman attended the school from 1964-68 before transferring in fifth grade to Callahan Elementary School.
“It’s been a long time coming,” she said. “I remember the basketball court. This used to be our outside time.”
Walter Cooper said that the historical marker highlights the school’s history for younger students.
“It’s a good conversation piece at the dinner table,” he added. “It all starts with dialogue at the dinner table between the children and the parents, especially when they see it and read it.”
Lois White Harebey attended Pine Forest from 1956-68, serving as the class valedictorian. She believes the marker will serve as a community reminder in the years ahead.
“It means we’re not forgotten – not forgotten,” she said.