CRESTVIEW — Understanding a community's history and revisiting an era of academic triumph amid racial strife are important, George Stakley, the Carver-Hill Memorial and Historical Society's president, said Tuesday.
The Crestview Public Library's First Tuesday series celebrated Black History Month with a presentation on Carver Hill High School, a K-12 institution that exclusively taught black students during a period when students of different races didn't mix.
"Some people don't know how important the Carver-Hill Memorial and Historical Society is to this community," Stakley said. "If we had no history, where would we be?"
"I guess we wouldn't have anything to talk about."
Understanding Carver-Hill High School's complicated past would provide plenty of discussion topics.
The institution — 1954-1969 — on School Avenue was named after scientist George Washington Carver and the Rev. Edward Hill, a local advocate for funding black students' schools.
"He was a Martin Luther King of his day," Stakley said, adding that Hill's efforts were instrumental in the Okaloosa County School Board's decision to establish Carver-Hill High School.
Stakley — who attended the school in the ninth and 10th grades — remembers that time well.
The building was small with no air conditioning.
"There was a clay basketball court for our basketball team, which I played for," he said.
Despite the school's condition — substandard contrasted with Crestview's schools today — Stakley said it still has a proud history.
"There were not too many bad days at Carver-Hill," Stakley said.
The Okaloosa County School System converted the former school — which it closed following its desegregation decision — into an office building.
The Carver-Hill Museum, on McClelland Street, preserves the school's history with sports memorabilia, yearbooks and photos.
The society continues to run the museum, with help from volunteers and donations.
Memories of the 12-classroom institution, and particularly, the 18 teachers who pushed students to perform their best, drive supporters to continue the school's legacy.
"It has meaning," Stakley said. "Those memories stayed with us."
And former students can help share them.
The museum still accepts historical donations from local families.
"We even have a personal area for you and your family, so if you want to include pictures or books, we will try to find a place for it," Stakley said.
The society's board members elected Stakley to replace Shannon Hayes, who resigned to focus on his Crestview city council election bid.
Stakley, who previously served as the vice president, has been involved with the society since 1974.
Florence Lembeck came to the event to support her former coworker.
"We both taught at Crestview High School," she said. Stakley was an ROTC instructor following his career in the United States Army; he retired as a sergeant.
Lembeck recently became a Carver-Hill society member.
When asked why she joined, she said, "I guess it's something I have always believed in."
Want to go?
The Carver-Hill Museum, 895 McClelland St., has no set hours, but opens upon request. Contact George Stakley, 803-3459, for details. See carverhillmemorialandhistoricalsocietyinc.org for more information.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Matthew Brown at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbMatthew.