R.L. Cousins may no longer house high school students, but the high school’s spirit lives on, with its alumni educating Newton County on its history and handing out scholarships so a new generation of students can have an easier time receiving a college education.
The R.L. Cousins Alumni Association will work toward both of those goals Feb. 15 with a Walk of Honor starting at 2 p.m. The alumni association is expecting about 200 people, or roughly 15 students from each of the school’s 13 graduating classes, to walk from the old R.L. Cousins building to the gymnasium. All attendees will also be asked to pose for a group picture.
The event will celebrate the 57 years that have passed since R.L. Cousins High School opened in 1957. The Walk of Honor will open with a speaker telling the history of the school, and recognition of R.L. Cousins’ first graduating class.
"It’s mostly just so that the people never forget," said Flemmie Pitts, an R.L. Cousins High School alumna and historian. "Small kids ask me, ‘How did you graduate from Cousins Middle School?’ You have to keep history alive."
The history of R.L. Cousins High School is important to Newton County. It was the first school built by the state for African Americans. It was constructed in 1955 after the United States Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education began the desegregation of schools, though desegregation was still years away in Newton County.
R.L. Cousins High School led the way for black state schools, with Douglasville, Elberton and Sparta following. Prior to 1957, Newton County’s black students went to community-built schools, including the first one built on Washington Street in 1884. The Washington Street school stayed open until it burned down, and African-American students had to go to a school at Grace United, New Hope and St. Paul churches, according to Pitts.
Then, a woman named Pearl Benton donated land on what is now School Street for another school..
R.L. Cousins continued to educate Newton County’s black students until the schools were desegregated in 1971. Before it closed, Cousins graduated several of Newton County’s most accomplished students and celebrated some of its greatest teams, including the undefeated 1965 basketball team.
The school had its gym renovated in 2007, and its football field dedicated in 2009. In 2010, the alumni association began giving scholarships to descendants of R.L. Cousins High School students, beginning with two or three awards.
This year, 22 students applied for the scholarship, which provides $250 for books.
"We filled nine of the 22 this year, and we’re trying to raise more. We’re trying to get as many descendants scholarship as we can," Pitts said. "We were overwhelmed this year."
Pitts and the rest of the R.L. Cousins High School Alumni Association want the program to continue to grow, and would love to continue to honor the school’s legacy.
That will start with the upcoming Walk of Honor.
"As we move into the year 2014, it is imperative to recognize and appreciate the vital role that R.L. Cousins has played within our great community," said Chester Benton, president of the R.L. Cousins High School Alumni Association. "As citizens of Newton County, we want to remind leaders of the importance of the structure itself."
The R.L. Cousins Alumni Association has previously hosted reunion picnics in each of the past three years.