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Boys' High memories: In 1983, 36 years after its closing, alumni gathered for first time

George Goodwin, a prize-winning reporter and alumni of Boys' High, tells the school's story. His story is republished as Boys’ High alumni gather one last time in 2018

Atlanta’s Boys’ High, closed in 1947, will hold its final all-class reunion on Friday. The AJC’s Get Schooled blogger Maureen Downey reports the event is a bittersweet recognition that relatively few of the school’s alumni are still living.

The reunion luncheon will be held Friday at Cherokee Town Club in Buckhead for an expected crowd that includes 75 alumni.

The AJC is also republishing a 1983 story about Boys’ High written a distinguished alum from the world of Atlanta journalism, the late George Goodwin, who died in 2015. He was in the Boys’ High class ‘35. 1983 was the year of the first alumni party. 2018 will be the last.

By George Goodwin, Class of '35 

On a Monday morning last September, a messenger circulated around downtown delivering bottles of champagne. With the gifts was a note recalling that the recipients and the sender had met in a wooden portable classroom of Atlanta's Boys' High school exactly 50 years before, on another September Monday morning in 1932. 

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Atlanta is replete with similar examples of camaraderie among alumni of Boys' High -- a unique, all-male institution that existed for 75 years prior to June 1947, when it was eliminated in favor of a community high school system. 

Boys’ High had several locations, but its last was on the site of Atlanta’s Henry W. Grady High School  near Piedmont Park. Credit: Photograph by Robert M. Craig."Henry W. Grady High School" in SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/GA-01-121-0071. Accessed 2018-04-18.

During its 75 years, perhaps 20,000 boys from all parts of the city enrolled in Boys' High. Far fewer graduated. Indeed, in the school's earliest years, barely one in 10 made it through. 

Now, 111 years after the school's founding and 36 years after its closing, the dwindling number of Boys' High alumni -- all of them older than 50 -- will hold the school's first alumni meeting and organize an alumni association. 

Appropriately, the meeting will be held at Henry Grady High School, which stands on the site of what once was Boys' High near the intersection of Charles Allen Drive and 10th Street N.E. 

More than 1,000 of the known 2,500 living alumni will meet Friday with an hour of reacquaintance preceding the barbecue dinner. Principal speaker will be former Secretary of State Dean Rusk, class of 1925. He will be introduced by another distinguished alumnus, former Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen Jr., class of 1929. 

All who ever attended Boys' High, whether they graduated or not, are invited. Faithful to Boys' High tradition, the event will be for men only -- no wives. 

Here is a very short list of the many distinguished Atlantans who attended Boys’ High, with their graduation year if known.

Truett S. Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-a

Leon Eplan, former Atlanta city planning commissioner, ‘46

Dean Rusk, U.S. Secretary of State under John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, ‘25

Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen Jr., ‘29

Sidney Marcus, former state legislator

Bob Bell, former chairman Georgia Republican Party, ‘46

Hamilton Lokey, former state legislator and attorney, ‘27

Dr. Harrison L. Rogers, Jr., president of the American Medical Association

Boisfeullet Jones, president of the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation

Truett S. Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-a

Congressman Elliott H. Levitas

RELATED: From WABE - Famous people who started as Atlanta Public School alumni

The reunion results primarily from the efforts of Ed Negri, Atlanta restaurateur. Late last year, he began to recruit Atlanta alumni who agreed to be responsible for their respective classes. Using yearbooks and other resources, including personal recollections, they listed the known dead and launched efforts to locate the living, wherever they might be. 

Thus far, responses have come primarily from Atlanta, but also from most of the other major cities of America as well. Reflecting retirements, they have come from resort areas, from nursing homes. Ten have come from outside the United States. 

Boy's High and a companion school, Girls' High, were established along with three public grammar schools at the beginning of public education in Atlanta in 1872. Original plans were for a coeducational high school, but at the last moment sexes were separated. 

For its inception, Boys' High emphasizing the classics and preparation for college, maintained demanding academic standards. Its course of studies included Latin, Greek and German, as well as the usual modern languages; rhetoric, in addition to English composition, grammar and literature; and levels of physics and chemistry not usually found in Southern preparatory schools. Debates and declamations were weekly events, and every student had to participate. 

Throughout its history, Boys' High's physical facilities were as makeshift as its curriculum was demanding. Between 1872 and the opening of the only permanent building at Courtland and Gilmer Streets (site of Georgia State University now) in 1896, the school operated in eight temporary locations. The four-story building at Courtland and Gilmer Streets lasted only 28 years. It was destroyed by fire in January 1924; and Boys' High went back into temporary quarters for the rest of its life. 

After the fire Boys' High finished out the school year in the Walker Street Elementary School; and in the fall of 1924 it went to its final location at Charles Allen Drive (then Parkway Drive) and 10th Street. Some of the classes were held in a brick building shared with Tech High, a technological high school which had been carved out of Boys' High in 1909. The rest were in a series of drafty, wooden buildings called portables. 

Eventually those portables housed 24 classrooms and a cafeteria. For a long time there were no connections between the buildings; and, even in the Atomic Age, classrooms continued to be heated by potbellied stoves. 

Primitive physical facilities, however, made no difference in the quality of the school or its products. Indeed, the stoves, the portable and the long trolley rides from all over the city to get to them created among the Boys' High students a unique camaraderie as well as a sense of humor. 

In 2002, the Boys' High alumni donated funds for an entry gate to Grady High School. The plaque on a column says "This entryway into Grady High Schooldedicated on August 28, 2002 by theBoys' High SchoolAlumni Associationto recognizeAcademic and Athletic Excellence.for 75 years, Boys' High produced outstanding examples ofLeadership, Integrity and Service.Boys' High alumni included distinguishedlocal, state and national public officials,military and community leaders, andsuccessful citizens in all areas ofbusiness, the professions, religion, the artsand other fields of human endeavor." (Google Maps Street View)

The Boys' High faculty was a distinguished one, and relatively few men left it prior to retirement. Those who did went to staff other schools. When the school was closed in 1947, many of the faculty members had been there 20 to 30 years and had ingrained their personalities and their disciplines on thousands of Atlanta boys. 

The school's dominating figure was H.O. (Herbert Orlando) Smith, who joined the Boys' High faculty in 1909 and became its principal 11 years later -- in 1920. From that post he shaped the school to his own educational antecedents -- the Boston Latin School and Harvard College, where he had graduated in 1903. 

Neat, stocky, with a twinkling eye and a bulldog gait, he personified the school until his retirement in 1946, one year before its closing. He died in 1963. 

Most Boys High alumni remember Smith as a good teacher and a splendid principal, with a sense of humor, a ready retort, an undertanding of boys and a will of iron. Most of them will also remember that, at one time or another during their Boys' High career, they got from H.O. Smith a clear understanding of why they were in school and what an education was all about. 

Sometimes the idea was delivered in an assembly, where Smith was a frequent speaker. Again, it came from a firm, sometimes bruising, talk in the principal's office. Still other students got it from the sonnets that Smith wrote each year for the yearbook. 

Whenever it came, the understanding usually marked the turning of a boy into a man. 

Although Boys' High was demanding -- four to six hours of homework nightly was not unusual -- the school was also broad, with an array of publications, clubs, fraternities and other extra-curricular activities. A student who loved music upon graduation from college returned to teach history and start the Boys' High orchestra, which performed concerts, event as the enthusiastic marching band demonstrated its abilities at athletic contests. 

- ATLANTA, GA. - L-R, Charles Whitt, Phill  Maffett  and Larry Doyal  in front of the original auditorium and basketball court for Boys High School in Midtown Atlanta in June 2004. It is now Grady High School. Boys High, which closed in 1947, has a rich sports tradition that includes 10 state titles in football.. Larry Doyal is the son of the late football coach at Boys’ High, R.L. “Shorty” Doyal. (LOUIE FAVORITE / STAFF)  (Louie Favorite/AJC staff)

Athletics were a major part of Boys' High life. The football team, which engaged in a lasting rivalry with Tech High, played most of its home games at nearby Ponce de Leon Park (now the site of a shopping center across from Ponce City Market). The Boys' High-Tech High football rivalry was close. When the two schools were closed, Boys' High had won 16 of the annual games, and Tech High 18. 

Over more than 110 years, Boys' High alumni have distinguished themselves in every field of human endeavor. They have been mayors and governors, congressmen and cabinet officers, businessmen and judges, scientists and college presidents, journalists and doctors, athletes and poets. 

By the thousands in five wars, from the Spanish-American War to Vietnam, Boys' High almumni fought for their country. At least 115, many of whom saw their first rifle in the Boys' High military units, were killed during World War II. 

Although Boys' High alumni have made their careers all over the world, a surprising number remained in Atlanta, contributing to the city's professions, business and politics in ways that made their former principal proud. Many have been identified with the Westminster and Lovett schools, where as trustees they have pressed for levels of scholarship and citizenship comparable to those of their beloved Boys' High. 

George Goodwin, Boys' High class of 1935, was a reporter for The Atlanta Journal from 1945-1952. In 1948, he received a Pulitzer prize for his series on the Telfair County voting fraud. Goodwin is chairman of a local public relations firm. His article was published in The Atlanta Constitution in 1983.

An image of George Goodwin's article from 1983.

RELATED: Boys’ High alumni remember early Atlanta public school (WABE.org)

RELATED: How Atlanta Public Schools integrated in 1961 (photos)

RELATED: Grady High School marked its 70th anniversary in 2017

Q: What year did Atlanta's Boys High and Tech High combine to become Grady High School? 

---George Getz, Decatur 

 

A: This is a popular question from our readers, so even though I answered a similar one a couple of years ago, here's a short refresher on one of Atlanta's most intense all-time high school rivalries. Students at Boys and Tech High tried to best one another in all aspects of life until the schools merged to form Henry W. Grady High School in 1947. They had different campuses until 1924, when Boys High burned. When it reopened, it was next to Tech High, basically where Grady High is now, just south of Piedmont Park on Charles Allen Drive. Football games between the rival teams often were played either in the Ponce de Leon Park or at Georgia Tech's Grant Field to accommodate the huge crowds. The winning team often would try to walk to The Varsity, but "After the game against Tech High, you would go down (to) the streets with your fists clenched and ready to fight and die," according to "Living Atlanta: An Oral History of the City, 1914-1948."

-Question and answer column item written by Andy Johnston

This Atlanta Boys’ High page was researched and edited by Brian O’Shea, bposhea@ajc.com

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