Alumni from the historic R.L. Cousins school will gather this weekend to celebrate its history and reunite with friends at a picnic, and in advance of the gathering a handful of former students shared fond memories of its existence.
The R.L. Cousins Alumni Association will host a picnic Saturday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Georgia Wildlife Federation, 11600 Hazelbrand Road, Covington.
The picnic is a chance for classmates to reconnect with old friends and remember the historic all-black school, which was in existence from 1957 to 1970 prior to integration in Newton County.
R.L. Cousins served first through 12th grade students.
Lillie Roberts, 68, corresponding secretary for the R.L. Cousins Alumni Association, said when the school opened in 1957, black students from all over Newton County came to attend the school. She said the experience was new and exciting for everyone.
Many students came from small schools, where students were taught by grade level, rather than specific subjects, she said.
“At first it was kind of intimidating because we had come from smaller schools, to the big, big school,” Roberts said. “And to go from there to a big school with a cafeteria, and a library and a stage and a place for home economics and all those extracurricular things, it was really, really exciting to us to have exposure to and be a part of.”
Roberts, who graduated from the school in 1963, said many friendships were made at the school and she can remember meeting a lot of wonderful people. She said the students got along fine and everyone cared about each other.
Chester Benton, 61, president of the R.L. Cousins Alumni Association, said he graduated from the high school in 1969. Benton said while attending the school he gained many leadership qualities. He served as president of his senior class and on the student council and worked on the yearbook staff.
He said a number of students who attended the school extended their education beyond high school, and that’s what made the school special – many students valued education.
“During that time, our parents preached education. A lot of them did not have a high school education. So graduating from high school was almost like getting a doctorate degree. So they preached graduating from high school. That to them was major and it gave us the incentive to do something else beyond high school,” Benton said.
“The faculty, the teachers, the administrators we had at Cousins, they really preached that. Because what we had were residents not really doing anything, but our teachers came from small black colleges,” he said. “So, of course, they valued education very much and they would constantly work with us. They were almost like our second parents.”
Benton explained that faculty members came from historically black colleges, including Morris Brown University, Fort Valley State University, Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta University and others, which motivated students to follow in their teachers’ successful footsteps.
“The number of kids that extended their careers beyond high school from R.L. Cousins…doing trade, going to college, going to the military, entering into apprenticeship programs or whatever else, I think that had a big significance,” he said.
Not only did teachers at the school back the students, Benton said students also gained support from others in the R.L. Cousins community.
“The whole body from the secretaries to the janitor, they supported you. They corrected you and you knew how proud they felt for you to continue your education. We had a good community base that really cared about our future plans,” he said.
Fred Johnson graduated from the school in 1958. The 74-year-old said he remembers R.L. Cousins as a good place to be. Though the school was known for its athletics, winning awards for its basketball teams and other athletic programs, Johnson said, “I wasn’t too athletically inclined.”
He did, however, sing in the chorus for a short period of time. Johnson said students at the school had a sense of pride and enjoyed their new educational endeavors at the school, such as vocational agriculture classes and shop class, which taught carpentry and engineering.
“It was a brand new building, and it was a brand new experience,” Johnson said.
Johnson said this years’ third annual picnic is just like another class reunion.
“You see some of the students that you hadn’t seen since they graduated. Right now, with my class, there are only a few of us left. And the class of 1957 was the first class that graduated there, and it’s only a few of them left. So we’re getting pretty scarce; so this is a good thing,” he said.
Benton said it was a great feeling to be a part of the school and its history to the community.
“There’s nothing like R.L. Cousins, or as we called it RLC. We had great experiences and everyone at some point in their life should at least get that feeling that we had,” Benton said. “I think that we were some of the most blessed teenagers in high school. It was just great times.”