Douglas community prepares for annual block party

Published 5:00 pm Thursday, August 30, 2018

One Elizabethton community’s heritage will be on full display this weekend, and the public is invited to take part in the festivities.

The Douglas Alumni Association is putting the final touches on their annual back-to-school block party, set for Saturday, Sept. 1, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Douglas Park.

Located on the intersection of Church Street and Watauga Avenue, the park will be a hotbed of traffic as Douglas community members celebrate the start of the school year. Inflatables, games, food and other goodies will be on site for the event. Elizabethton Parks and Recreation is also assisting with the block party.

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Elaine Wash, Douglas Alumni Association vice president, recently penned a letter to Elizabethton City Council asking for streets in the vicinity of the park be closed for the safety of young participants. Council unanimously approved during their August meeting.

While the event is a way to celebrate the current school year, Saturday will also give the public a step back in time and learn about the history of Douglas School. The former school, the current home of Elizabethton City Schools Central Office, is nestled right beside Douglas Park and served as an all-African American school in the community until its closure in 1965 due to the end of school segregation. This year marks the 53rd anniversary since the school closed down.

From the 1890s until its closure in 1965, Douglas School played a pivotal role in Elizabethton’s history. The Rev. W.A.C. Breedlove proved to be a key figure in the beginning phases of Douglas by serving as the school’s principal and teacher, while also serving as the pastor of Phillippi Baptist Church. According to the school’s history, E. Townes Whitley and Hildred T. Shearer also served as teachers at the school in following years.

Douglas was officially recognized as Elizabethton’s first African American high school in 1936, graduating its first class of students in 1940. Led by T.J. Harville, the school graduated its last class in 1965.

The school isn’t the only part of Douglas steeped in tradition, either.

In 2016, Douglas Park received a historical marker from the state to recognize the Elizabethton Blue Grays, the city’s Negro League Baseball Team that competed from 1935-55 across the region. Throughout the Civil Rights era, the Elizabethton-based team proved to be a key part of baseball’s history in the south due to their success. The squad was heavily decorated throughout their existence and competed against top Negro League teams from across the country.