High school trophies found after 38 years

Monday, September 10, 2001

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- They didn't look like much sitting on the cloth-covered table, this assortment of trophies -- tarnished, obviously old -- symbols of a brighter glory long gone.

Accompanied by two faded black-and-white photos of sports teams and a blue band uniform, they looked like an odd group of items, certainly not like the lost treasure that they really were.

"Oh, these are treasures all right," said Delores Albritton, executive director of the Attucks Community Service Board and a member of the Attucks High School Alumni Association. "We have been trying to locate these trophies for years, and no one knew where they were."

For Fred Wills, a 1960 graduate, finding the awards brings to an end another chapter in the history of Attucks High School, which was a school for blacks from 1924 until 1964 -- 10 years after the Supreme Court had outlawed the practice of segregating schoolchildren by race. But the discovery begins another. There are still more treasures to be located.

"When we found those trophies, I was amazed to see them, but I was also alarmed to see so many were missing," Wills said. "So much of our heritage has been thrown away. A lot of people know that Attucks graduated many, many great ball players, but I don't think they realize that we received many awards for music, too. I would say that about 35 to 40 percent of all of our trophies are for music."

In a basement

Albritton said the items were found after students in a Carbondale high school summer filmmaking program received an anonymous tip.

"They were in a basement, some in standing water," Albritton said about the discovery of the items, which were found in a house used for storage near the high school.

"I was kind of hurt by that, to think that our once shining trophies, accomplishments that we had been asking about for years, were sitting like discarded junk in a basement of water," she said. "I have arthritis, and I should not have gone down those steep steps into that basement. But when I saw those trophies, I just couldn't help myself."

"I guess we never did integrate, for one thing," she said, speaking of the 100-year history of the school. "They tore the grade school down and shut the high school. ... It was like we had a death and burial, but no mourning."

Albritton and Wills belong to a group that brings Attucks High School graduates back to Carbondale each July for a reunion. They call the event the Spirit of Attucks. One of the main purposes of the reunion is to provide young people with the same kind of guidance and support that they were shown as Attucks students.

"It can't be called a reunion anymore, because it is too big," Wills said. "This is more of a celebration for the east side. You know, the bylaws of the community service board say that we are here to help youth grow with dignity. It does not say black or white, just youth, and that is important to us all.

"We come together each year -- and believe me, that is no easy task -- and try to do some good, give out scholarships to help kids continue their education, share ideas, celebrate. This year we will have these wonderful trophies to show."

Both Albritton and Wills give a big part of the credit for the return of the trophies to the students in the Forgotten History Filmmakers Project at Carbondale Community High School. The film class started a preliminary exploration of the integration of the two Carbondale schools in 1965 and the effect it had on the students.

"I just think that they deserve so much praise," Wills said. "If it weren't for them, these lost treasures maybe would not have ever been found."

"I think, too, that throughout all these years to find these items, and to keep the spirit of Attucks alive, it has shown the children, our children, one thing that they should not forget: Don't give up on your dreams," Albritton said.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: