Special to The News Courier
— ATHENS – Students have not attended class at Trinity High School since 1970, but the school’s former staff and students still have homecoming celebrations.Trinity served as an all-black elementary and middle school and as Limestone County’s only all-black high school. It closed 42 years ago amid integration. Every two years, the Class of 1966 holds the Trinity Grand Reunion to keep the school from becoming a distant memory and to bring staff and students back home.
“This year our theme is ‘Legacy Not Forgotten,’ ” said Jimmy Gill, the Athens City Council president and a 1966 Trinity graduate. “About 600 people have bought tickets to attend our events.”
The returning Trinity Panthers will overtake Athens in their school colors of purple and gold to enjoy two days of festivities.
Events start Aug. 31 with a picnic at Lincoln-Bridgeforth Park at noon. A street dance will follow at the park at 7:30 p.m. The park is located adjacent to the Trinity property.
On Sept. 1, there will be a parade at 11 a.m. Participants need to line up by 9:30 a.m. because judging of the floats will start at 10 a.m. Athens High School’s marching band will participate, and some high school bands from Huntsville are expected to march. The parade will start at Trinity and march around The Square and back to Trinity. Everyone is invited to line the parade route and cheer for the Panthers once again.
The banquet will follow at 7 p.m. at the Limestone County Event Center with keynote speaker Susie Flanagan Smith, of Chicago, who is from the Class of 1959.
Those who have not already purchased tickets can attend the picnic and street dance but will not be able to get a T-shirt or eat the meal provided. No more seating is available for the banquet.
On Friday, Mayor Ronnie Marks signed a proclamation honoring the Trinity Grand Reunion Weekend.
“The students and staff from Trinity have contributed so much to our community, but they lost their school, their sports teams and band,” Marks said. “In 1970, Trinity students had to embrace new schools, cheer for new mascots and wear new school colors. This reunion is a great way for Trinity’s staff and students to be Panthers again.”
Tidbits About Trinity
● The current Trinity site was originally a Union fort built in 1862 called Fort Henderson. Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest captured Union troops here, some of them former slaves.
● The first Trinity school opened for freedmen in 1865 and was supported by the American Missionary Association. The first school was near the train depot, now the Limestone County Archives.
● The school burned in 1879 and the black community pledged $2,000 to rebuild it and the labor.
● In 1907 the school burned again and the black community worked to rebuild it in 1908 on the Fort Henderson site.
● Trinity burned a third time in 1913, and the black community rebuilt yet again.
● The Limestone County Board of Education assumed financial control of salaries and bus services in 1943.
● A new school was erected in 1959.
● Trinity closed in 1970 amid integration, with students sent to Athens or Limestone county schools.
● Today, only parts of the school and fort remain. The Athens-Limestone Community Association is raising funds to preserve the fort remains and create a museum to chronicle Limestone County’s history from antebellum times through integration, telling the story of slave to soldier to student.
● Notable graduates include the late C. Eric Lincoln, an author, theologian, ordained Methodist minister and a professor of religion at Duke University. His book "The Avenue, Clayton City" won the Lillian Smith Award for best Southern fiction in 1988; and former slave Patti J. Malone who graduated from Trinity and then went to Fisk University to join the Jubilee Singers. During autumn 1877, she performed with the group for Queen Victoria of England