Sunday, April 6, 2008 - Kathy Kemp,
© 2008 The
Birmingham News - © 2008 al.com All Rights Reserved
enshrouded in faith and loyalty,
Stands our alma mater,
dear Ole West End High ... "
day, that verse of the school song stirs souls, including mine. The expansive
red-brick building, on Pearson Avenue, seemed like a city unto itself to
teenagers passing through its wide hallways, starting in the early 1930s.
up there," my fellow alum, Cliff Walker, reminds me. "It's where we began to
develop our social skills. Many of us kissed our first sweetheart in those
us and so many others, our dear West End will close at the end of this school
year, along with four other Birmingham schools. Another 11 will close over the
next couple years, all part of an effort to make the Birmingham school system
people are all upset about it, but I'm not sentimental about old buildings,"
Cliff says. "It's the people and memories that count."
West End graduate is doing his part in keeping people in touch and memories
alive through his one-man Web site, West End Online, www.westendhigh.com. The
photos are great and the bios delightful, especially for the graduating classes
of 1959-1963, to whom the site is geared.
learn that "Big" Jerry Thomas, class of '59, is chair of the department of
health and human performance at Iowa State University in Ames; that Kay
Forrester Barnes, class of '61, has 11 grandchildren; and that Molly McKee,
class of '63, has toured the world working in the travel industry.
created the site in 2001 as a rallying spot for a reunion he put together with
classmate Kaye Fulbright. More than 400 people attended the reunion, and before
Cliff knew what happened, he had a monster on his hands.
down the site after the reunion, thinking we didn't need it anymore," he says.
Hundreds of e-mailers and phone callers begged to differ.
the site has had more than 163,000 visitors. It features 1,228 photos and 255
classmate bios. Nearly 1,000 people are listed in its e-mail-a-friend section.
They share stories about favorite teachers, such as Mrs. Whaley, who kept
telling a student to stop leaning out her third-floor window. Before class one
day, the offender went outside and laid down on the ground below the window.
When Mrs. Whaley came in and saw him, "I thought she was having a heart attack,"
the site when he's not running his company, which buys and sells used computer
equipment. The site has spawned other reunions and the West End Girls lunch
bunch group. Cliff plans to keep it going as long as interest is strong. That
leads us back to the school song:
May she ever be.
Hail to our Alma Mater,
dear ole West End High."
Sunday, May 18, 2008 -
Anne Ruisi, News Staff Writer
© 2008 The
Birmingham News - © 2008 al.com All Rights Reserved
Over eight decades, tens of thousands of students have left their
imprint on West End High School - literally. Depressions on each step of
its interior staircases are a testament to 78 years of people walking up
and down those staircases to go to class.
Tuesday, the Class of 2008 will receive the school's last diplomas at
Fair Park Arena. On May 29, underclassmen will be dismissed for the
final time as West End High School is closed forever.
"We are heartbroken," said Jacqueline G. Jackson, a business education
teacher who's been at West End for almost 30 years.
It's a bittersweet time, with sadness overshadowing the excitement the
end of the school year normally brings. Students "get very teary eyed,"
said English teacher Becky Whitworth, who started teaching there in
"It's a good school; we don't want it closed," said sophomore Keyonna
Richburg. "They needed to renovate it. It's a good location."
The Birmingham Board of Education ended hopes the school would be spared
when it voted this winter to close 16 schools, West End among them, to
avoid state takeover. Closing the schools over three years is part of a
larger plan to cut costs in the cash-strapped system.
For West End's underclassmen, it means starting over at a new school
next year. Eighty-eight will transfer to Jackson-Olin, 201 to Parker and
201 to Wenonah high schools, said William Prosser, West End's assistant
the school prepares to close, some alumni recalled their days at the
Pearson Avenue landmark.
"There was a lot of school spirit. I had lots of fun and enjoyed the
sports," said Henry W. Hartsfield Jr., Class of 1950.
thought so much of the school that 32 years after graduation, he carried
a made-to-order memento of his alma mater into space. A school banner
was aboard the space shuttle Columbia when it lifted off on June 27,
1982. Hartsfield, making the first of three spaceflights, was in the
High school was fun for Cliff Walker, Class of 1961, and he keeps up
with his high school friends - thousands of them. His 299-page Web site,
www.westendhigh.com, covers the years 1959-63 and has had 166,000
For Jesse W. Watts Jr., Class of 1972, there were moments of levity, but
high school was a time of high racial tension. He was among the first
wave of black students to integrate West End.
remember the first day, stepping off the bus and you got all these
whites. They were shocked to see black students getting off the bus. The
people were like in a freeze frame," he recalled.
Initially, not all the white students were hostile, but those who became
friends with the black students were ostracized by their white peers,
Watts said. And black students friendly with their white counterparts
were condemned by their black classmates. By the time he graduated,
things had settled down, he said.
But the white exodus to the suburbs had begun. As the years went by, the
student population became mostly black.
Moving on: While the school is closing, preparations have been under way to help
everyone make the transition, including safety concerns, said Michaelle
Chapman, spokeswoman for Birmingham schools.
Some students said they and many of their classmates are wary of going
to the new schools, noting the fights that broke out a few years ago
when Ensley High students were sent to Jackson-Olin after their school
know there's going to be some kind of drama when we get over there,"
said Jermaine Cole, a rising senior who will be at Wenonah next year.
student transition team has organized activities to introduce students
to their new schools and meet their future classmates. Jackson-Olin High
hosted a luau and Parker High a cookout for the students transferring to
those schools, and other activities are being planned for the summer,
"We're all going our separate ways, but we'll always love West End,"
said Jackson, the business education teacher.