Eugenia Calloway flipped through the pages of the 1968 Cross Keys High School yearbook, glancing over the photographs of many white faces. But in the back of the yearbook she found first the boys’ basketball team and then the girls’ basketball team.

“That’s me,” she said, pointing to the smiling girl at the far right in the girls’ varsity team photo. One other black girl was on the far left; all the players and the coaches in between were white.

“That’s when I had the most fun, when I was playing basketball,” she said.

Jamie Chatman, one of the “Lynwood Integrators,” attends a Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day dinner and celebration honoring the 17 students who integrated Cross Keys High School nearly 50 years ago. (Photo Phil Mosier)

Calloway was one of 17 students who integrated Cross Keys High School nearly 50 years ago, part of that first group of black students to attend an all-white school in DeKalb County and now known as the “Lynwood Integrators.”

“It was interesting, to be taken from a predominantly black school to an all-white school,” Calloway said. “There were a lot of interesting days. We made it through.”

‘Difficult transition’ to be forced to attend white school

On Jan. 18, at Lynwood Park Community Center, the city of Brookhaven honored Calloway and the other Lynwood Integrators during a dinner and ceremony to also commemorate its first Martin Luther King Jr. Day event.

Lynwood Park Community Center was once the elementary and high school in Brookhaven’s historic African-American community. Some students also integrated Chamblee High School.

Councilmember Linley Jones organized the event along with many Lynwood Park residents. She explained that it wasn’t until 1968 — 14 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that public schools were to be desegregated — that DeKalb County schools became integrated.

Much of the evening was given to the integrators to talk about their experiences of having to leave the “safe haven” of their community’s Lynwood school to ride buses to the formerly all-white schools.

Dr. Melvin Pender, left, and wife Debbie, right, listen intently to the program. Pender, a former Lynwood Park resident, competed in the 1964 Olympics, and won a gold medal running the 4×100 meter relay in the 1968 Summer Olympics. (Photo Phil Mosier)

“It was a very difficult transition,” said Kelly Wells, who became a DeKalb educator and principal at Montgomery and Montclair Elementary schools.

“Teachers were frightened of us. We were treated practically as foreigners. We were smart at our school and all of a sudden we were dumb. But we rose to the occasion and we had to support each other.”

Margaret Sawyer said she remembered being spit on when attending Cross Keys High School. “I remember telling my parents, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ And it was there I found out I really was a colored girl,” she recalled.

Gary McDaniel remembered the first day he and the 16 other students pulled up to Cross Keys High School on the bus.

“There were 500 people waiting, looking at you dead in the eye. When we got to school that first day … I didn’t get scared. I had butterflies, but I couldn’t get scared because I had to protect,” he said.

City issues proclamation honoring Lynwood Integrators

The evening ended with Mayor John Ernst reading a proclamation to pay a tribute to the students for their “courage and contribution” to the city’s Civil Rights movement and the crowd singing the Lynwood Park High School’s alma mater.

Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst, left, with Pastor Donald Sawyer of Rise Again Ministries, right, attended the Martin Luther King Jr. Day dinner and celebration honoring the “Lynwood Integrators” on Jan. 18. (Photo Phil Mosier)

Special guests included former Lynwood Park residents Dr. Melvin Pender, who won Olympic gold for the 4×100 meter relay at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City; and Steve Wallace, who helped win Super Bowls for the San Francisco 49ers in 1988, 1989 and 1994.

The proclamation from the city of Brookhaven

The following is the full text of the city’s proclamation:

Historical Lynwood Park was once home to segregated, all-black public schools known as Lynwood Park Elementary School and Lynwood Park High School; and

In 1954, the United States Supreme Court found racial segregation of public schools to be illegal and unconstitutional in the case of Brown v. Board of Education Topeka; and

In 1955 the United States Supreme Court, in the case of Brown v. Board of Education Topeka, ordered all segregated public schools like Lynwood Park Elementary School and Lynwood Park High School to be desegregated, and

In many instances the all-black public schools were not integrated but, instead, the students were removed from their schools and placed in all-white public schools; and

In 1968, a small group of black students from the Lynwood Park schools bravely integrated the DeKalb County school system, leaving Lynwood Park schools and entering previously all-white DeKalb County schools; and

These individuals, known as the “Lynwood Integrators,” were participants in one of the most important civil rights advancements in our nation’s history, the integration of American public schools; and

The Lynwood Integrators withstood hardship, discrimination and all challenges attendant to their historic action; and

The Lynwood Schools were subsequently shut down and converted to the Lynwood Community Center, serving the residents of Lynwood and Brookhaven to this day; and

The city of Brookhaven wishes to honor the courage and contribution of the Lynwood Integrators.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.