HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - Two Hattiesburg residents who came of age during racial segregation have produced a new book that seeks to fill in the gaps of local history through their own voices as well as those of their contemporaries.
The Class of 1968, L. J. Rowan High School, Hattiesburg, Mississippi: A Thread through Time was produced by Doris Townsend Gaines and Carolyn Hall Abrams, both graduates of Hattiesburg’s L.J. Rowan High School.
The Class of 1968 at Rowan, then designated for Black students in the segregated South, was one of the last classes at the all-Black school,
The school remains a part of the Hattiesburg Public School District, operating now as L.J. Rowan Elementary School.
The book touches on the themes of segregation, the civil rights movement and everyday life in the Hattiesburg community, cleaved between two races of people in an oppressive, apartheid system.
Gaines and Abrams, along with their classmates, also chronicle the love for their school, where caring, devoted teachers and administrators inspired them to achieve their dreams despite the obstacles before them.
The book also delves into the family and community traditions, friendships and strong community networks that sustained them then and now.
“I cannot thank my classmates enough for their contributions to this book,” Abrams said. “In telling our stories, we have preserved for ourselves and posterity our memorable journey through the segregated public school system of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. We write in depth about the neighborhoods and communities that shaped, shielded and nurtured us. “Our collective memories allow us to further express our gratitude to the teachers, principals and school staff who inspired us to always do, and be, our best.”
Gaines said she hopes the book also helps those who lived during that era “to remember the innocence of those simpler times, which were full of hope but also sometimes despair,” and for those who did not grow up in those times, “to understand how different life is today, and what impact our generation had on American and world history.”
Assisting Abrams and Gaines with production of the book were University of Southern Mississippi professor Thomas V. O’Brien and Olivia Moore, a doctoral candidate in the USM History program.
“This project is a joy to be part of,” O’Brien said. “I’ve learned so much about Hattiesburg, and made three life-long friends along the way.”
For almost two years O’Brien, Moore, Gaines and Abrams spent most Fridays working on the project at the Hattiesburg Public Library. When COVID-19 hit, they met on Zoom to continue their efforts on the book. “The experiences documented throughout the book are a crucial component of Hattiesburg’s history, and serve as an incredibly valuable source base,” Moore said. “I can’t wait for the public to see the finished product.
“It’s also wonderful to have watched the project evolve over the past few years, and I’m thankful I’ve had the opportunity to work with three amazing individuals who are now some of my closest friends.”
The Class of 1968, L. J. Rowan High School, Hattiesburg, Mississippi: A Thread through Time is available for online purchase at https://www.pagepublishing.com/books/?book=the-class-of-1968.