Tuesday, August 25, 2009


High school was fun.  That's the first thing that comes to mind when I think of my years at Phillips High School in Chicago.  Friends, classes, athletics, parties--everything was the best.  We walked to school in a group, picking up classmates along the way. Couldn't afford bus fare.

We were not allowed to wear pants in school.  In the winter we wore pants under our dresses or skirts and had to take them off at the door.

When I went to high school in 1949 high schools were as segregated as our elementary schools, but we didn't care or notice because we had wonderful teachers and stimulating classes.  It goes without saying that our athletic teams were at the top.  Some of the famous alumni from Phillips include:  Nat King Cole, Gwendolyn Brooks, first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize; Archibald Carey, Jr., lawyer, judge, politician, diplomat and clergyman; Sam Cooke, Pop and gospel recording star; Paul Des Jardien, Member of College Football Hall of Fame; George E. Johnson, Sr., Founder, Johnson Products, the first African-American owned company listed on American Stock Exchange; Buddy Young, football legend; Alonzo S. Parham, the second African-American to attend West Point;  Al Pullins: Original member, Harlem Globetrotters; and Dinah Washington, legendary recording artist.

Our principal in 1949 was Maudelle Brown Bousfield, the first Black principal in Chicago.  She retired in 1950 and was replaced by Dr. Virginia F. Lewis who at the age of 100 remained involved in her career, making frequent visits to Eckerd College engaging students as a lecturer.  Her teaching and administrative career experience included the roles of teacher, principal, district superintendent and assistant superintendent with Chicago Public Schools.  She died in 2008 at the age of 101.

Dr. Lewis is the person who saved my life.  Okay, I'll admit it.  Even though I was a good student I was pretty bad.  I liked to fight and caused trouble.  When Dr. Lewis "adopted" me instead of suspending me, (which surely would happen today) my entire present and future changed.  She got me out of gangs and put me in academic and athletic activities.  The only thing she could not change in me was my habit of cutting classes.  When I was in my 50s she told me that she used to follow me in the halls and could not understand how I cut so many classes.  I told her my secret.  I had a permanent hallway pass.
  • Before Dr. Lewis (BAL) I was an excellent student but after Dr. Lewis (ADL) I became ambitious.  I wanted to do something with my life.
  • BDL I didn't know much about college.  ADL I wanted to go to college.
  • BDL I took regular classes.  ADL I took honors classes.
  • BDL I thought of myself as ugly and unworthy.  ADL I thought I had possibilities.
  • BDL I was a gang leader.  ADL I was a school leader.
  • We had a college preparatory class where we learned social graces, how to study, how to take a test, and other things that weren't taught in regular classes.  The class was taught by Miss Hogan, a petite, white haired, white woman who terrified everyone in the school.  Best foundation I could have had for college. 
  • Dr. Lewis took me to restaurants so I could learn how to eat in a restaurant.
Our school was a nine period day. We had major regular subjects and minors, such as art, music, and physical education.  Our teachers were the cream of the crop because at that time it was hard for African Americans and women to get jobs in many fields.  The students reaped this benefit.

Our biggest rival in athletics, was DuSable High School.  We were the two premier Black high schools and we competed on and off the field.  

We had many clubs at Phillips, even a trigonometry club, service clubs, a school newspaper that everyone read for the latest gossip, and honor societies.  We had clubs and activities at the YMCA and the Lincoln Center.  We were as busy as students are today.  We also competed with other schools in debates and other intellectual pursuits.
Pictures tell a better story than words.

Elaine, Toots, Chris, and Elaine

Cheerleading Team

The Football Team - A Legend in its own time.

Phillips High School Students in Springfield, IL when students took over the government.

Chris as Director of Revenue in Springfield

Chris at Red Cross Camp in Lake Forest, IL

Prom in 1952 - Chris and Carl

Prom 1953 - Chris and Danny

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