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Virgil Johnson, Dunbar-Struggs High School principal, addresses a crowd of students and East Lubbock residents in 1991 during a vigil held for the litigants in a Lubbock Independent School District reorganization plan
Virgil Johnson, Dunbar-Struggs High School principal, addresses a crowd of students and East Lubbock residents in 1991 during a vigil held for the litigants in a Lubbock Independent School District reorganization plan.

Dunbar more than building to community

For the Avalanche-Journal

It was only a building, yet it was so much more than that. Through seven decades, those who called its halls home transformed it into a living, breathing part of the community — filled with promise and potential.

At Dunbar High School, anything and everything was possible because no one would dare tell — or believe — otherwise.

Quincy White
Quincy White

“It was a real special place,” said Quincy White, a 1965 Dunbar graduate who now is an assistant city manager. “I have always thought Dunbar was the best high school in America.”

White said the school’s longstanding and multifaceted reputation for excellence was built by administrators and faculty members who treated students like their own children.

“In the 1950s and ’60s, there were not a lot of options for black college graduates, so many of them became educators,” he said. “At Dunbar, we had the cream of the crop in the classroom. That is not a shot at teachers today; the difference is they did not have as many opportunities then because of the times.”

According to Lubbock Independent School District records, the school originally was built in 1922 and upgraded in 1935. It was named for Paul Lawrence Dunbar, an eminent and prolific African-American poet and writer. William Wilson was the school’s first principal and served until 1930. That year, E.C. Struggs took over and building a first-class school aimed at preparing young people for the future — despite segregation — became his legacy.

Dr. Charles Henry, a longtime science teacher at Dunbar, said Struggs’ impact on those who taught at Dunbar cannot be underestimated.

“I came to Dunbar in September of 1956, and the principal at that time was Dr. Struggs,” Henry said. “We had very experienced people on the faculty, so as a first-year teacher, I was mentored in a very excellent way by these experienced teachers.

Dunbar Panther running back William Meridith is shown carrying the ball in a 1964 game
Dunbar Panther running back William Meridith is shown carrying the ball in a 1964 game.

“They took new teachers under their wing and provided a lot of guidance and mentoring. Dr. Struggs was quite an experienced administrator, and the students always came first. ... If a student failed, in the eyes of Dr. Struggs, the teacher failed. He believed once students entered your classroom, they were supposed to leave there better than when they entered.”

Struggs oversaw the Dunbar campus until his 1965 retirement. During his tenure, a new facility was built in 1958 at its present location on 28th Street and Teak Avenue. Struggs and the faculty receive enormous credit from the school’s graduates for building a close-knit community, which is one reason the school later honored its former principal by renaming the facility Dunbar-Struggs High School.

“The teachers, the counselors, the principals, all of us lived in the same community,” said Jackie Porch, a 1969 Dunbar graduate. “There was a sense of community and of family. Any time you got in trouble, you couldn’t get away because the principal lived right across the street from you.

“I know I am who I am because of the education I received at Dunbar.”

Graduates recalled the school’s reputation for excellence in all aspects of campus life.

Dunbar’s athletic teams won a number of state championships while the band and choir collected regular statewide honors, as well.

“Professor Struggs hired teachers who could relate to issues of poverty, segregation and parents of a limited educational background,” said Oscar Jones, a 1964 graduate. “He convinced all of us we could succeed despite the incredible odds against us. The teachers he hired taught us why character, honor and integrity mattered, and they really and truly did create a family learning atmosphere.”

Vernita Holmes, who attended first through 12th grade at Dunbar and finished in the 1950s, said those close relationships made the school something special in the eyes of anyone associated with it.

“Right across the street from me was my principal and my first-grade teacher,” she said. “My teachers were friends of my family, and a couple of my teachers were relatives. It was such a close-knit community.”

1964 Dunbar Majorettes
1964 Dunbar majorettes, from left, Madlyn Travenia (drum majorette), Bilie Eddins, Dora Crockett and Sandra Alford.

According to LISD records, William Powell was principal during the 1970-71 academic year, and Roy Roberts, who built the school’s outstanding band program, served as principal from 1972-84.

“Roy Roberts had the ability to bring out the talents of students who participated,” Porch said. “He had leadership in pulling the parents in and getting them involved in the band, and he was a great musician himself. When you are able to lead based on your own ability, it is just wonderful.”

But change was on the Dunbar horizon. LISD found itself involved in a protracted legal case regarding its integration policies. The case, which began in August 1970, came to an end in September 1991 when the district’s reorganization plan was accepted by a U.S. district judge. One controversial part of the plan required converting Dunbar to a junior high effective with the 1992-93 school year.

“I still feel bad about it closing,” said Virgil Johnson, who served as Dunbar’s principal during that time. “It was a great school, and it was such a part of the community and part of the city and part of the history of Lubbock, Texas, that I hated to see it close.”

White, who now also serves as president of the Dunbar alumni association, remains philosophic about the way it played out:

“It was tough,. “My wife and I both graduated from Dunbar, and we moved back here in 1991, which was about the time the movement started. It was emotional for us. I felt like a part of me was being taken away.

“It was such a special place that prepared kids to do productive things with the rest of their lives.”

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SPECIAL SECTIONS: 1909-1933 / 1934-1958 / 1959-1983 / 1984-PRESENT | PRINT VERSION