By GINA KINSLOW
Glasgow Daily Times
Richard Wilson was the only black student to graduate from Caverna High School in 1958, the first integrated graduating class.
The Horse Cave resident’s recollection of attending an integrated school is that things went rather smoothly, which wasn’t the case in some communities when public schools integrated.
“As far as I can remember everything went along just fine,” he said. “I don’t think there were any problems.”
While he was attending classes in a new school, he was not a stranger to his classmates thanks to living in a small town.
“Most of them I already knew,” he said.
Wilson’s personal story about the integration of public schools in Horse Cave and Cave City, among others’ stories, will be documented as part of an oral history project funded by a $2,000 grant awarded to the Horse Cave Development Corporation Inc., the city of Horse Cave and the Caverna Alumni Association by the Kentucky Oral History Commission. Once the stories are gathered they will be archived and held at the Kentucky Oral Commission and posted on a website called Horse Cave Stories.
“We’re trying to get different views of the integration; not tell just one side,” said Kenny Russell, president of the Horse Cave Development Corporation Inc. and project coordinator.
Prior to attending Caverna High School, Wilson attended the Horse Cave Colored School, which was merged along with Horse Cave and Cave City’s public schools to form the Caverna Independent School System. The merger took place in 1950.
The principal of the Horse Cave Colored School at the time of the merger was Newton Thomas. He was also the school’s basketball coach.
During his time as coach, the basketball team won the Negro League State Championship in 1944 and 1945.
“He came into the new system at the high school as a science teacher,” Russell said, adding Thomas was the first black teacher at an integrated school in the state. “Most of the teachers in the colored school system were not actually state certified. He was the only one actually certified to be a teacher.”
An earlier oral history project documenting Horse Cave’s black community was done around 2003. Thomas was interviewed at that time. Thomas died in 2004.
Two of Thomas’ players, Clarence “Cave” Wilson and Carl Helem, went on to play for the Harlem Globetrotters, Russell said.
Both Wilson and Helem are also deceased, however, Wilson’s brother, Curtis, lives in Horse Cave, and was interviewed as part of the first oral history project.
Both Thomas and Curtis Wilson’s stories are featured on the Horse Cave Stories website.
“There will also be an interview with Mayor Randall Curry, who spent his first two years of elementary school in the segregated school system,” Russell said.
An interview from one of Thomas’ students, Ann Matera, of Horse Cave, will also be included.
Matera was a member of the 1958 class and one of Richard Wilson’s classmates. She recently described Thomas as “a wonderful man and a good chemistry teacher.”
Project officials want to gather the history of the time period before the information is lost forever.
Roy Dickie Reynolds was the first principal of Caverna High School.
“He passed away a couple of months ago, so we see the urgency of getting this done right away,” Russell said. “He was one of the people we had on our interview list but he passed away and we did not get [the interview] done.”
The interviews will take place this summer and will be done by Joanna Hay Productions of Frankfort.