The history of Douglass High School mirrors the
history of the Riverview Community in Kingsport,
despite the fact that when educating their children in
the Kingsport community was a big priority for African
American parents in Kingsport, the only available school
for them was the old school the Kingsport Public School
vacated in 1913. That school, known as the Oklahoma
Grove School, was re-opened for "colored" students that year.
"The Oklahoma Grove School"
The first principal was Professor H. L. Moss, and
he found the Oklahoma Grove School in bad shape.
African-American parents requested the city build
their children a new school.
That request was not considered for several
years until 1919, when, the Kingsport Board of
Education heard recommendations to build two other
white schools at the same time, the future Jackson
Elementary, the future Lincoln Elementary, in
addition to the "Colored" Children's School.
The Lincoln and Jackson schools were eventually
built, but the new school for "colored" children was
never built; as a result, African-American children
continued to attend the Oklahoma Grove School. Their
parents never gave up hope, and eventually the Board
of Education funded a new school, to be built at the
intersection of Walnut and Myrtle Streets. It was in
1924, Albert Howell and his wife Ellen arrived from
Tennessee A & I State College in Nashville to lead the
The rapid growth of students quickly outgrew the
building, and in 1924, another school building was
built in the 700-block of Sullivan Street at Center
Street, near the railroad "Y." The approximate
location is where an office building, a former Wendy's
Restaurant, and the former Cawood Buick Motor Company
were located. Still, even that building was quickly
outgrown, and the Kingsport Board of Education realized
that it would simply have to build a large school that
would be around for a while.
"Douglass Elementary-High School"
A contract was awarded in 1928 for a new school
for African-American children. The school was to be
called the Frederick Douglass School, named after the
great orator, journalist and abolishionist during the
anti-slavery movement of the 1800's. The school was
built at the corner of Center Street and East Sevier
In 1927, the school transitioned from an
elementary school to a combination elementary-high
school. It was during this time in 1931, music teacher
Bessie French wrote the school song:
We are the Sons and Daughters of Douglass,
Most loyal and true.
We love our school colors,
The gold and the blue.
We love the task set before us,
We always try to win.
Is the motto of Douglass High!
From 1924 to 1942, Doctor Howell helped Douglass
High School become well known in most athletic
circles. There was no budget for athletic equipment
and uniforms, and the hand-me-down uniforms and
equipment from Dobyns-Bennett High School soon
became the property of the Douglass High School
Tigers. Doctor Howell, who was also the basketball
coach, was known to dye the uniforms in the
school-supplied blue ink. But when the players
sweated while running up and down the court, puddles
of blue dotted both players and the gym floor.
During the 1930's and 1940's, Negroes were
settling in various areas in cities around the
country, and Kingsport was no exception. Around this
time, the city proposed a new development for Negroes
between the Tennessee Eastman plant and the Penn-Dixie
Cement plant. Most black citizens balked at the
location, which was basically dried-up swampland
that even percolated in some areas. The area was bordered on two sides
by railroads, and the other two sides by industrial factories.
As a result, the area was the
dumpsite for various surrounding industries, and the flat bottom
accumulated all the smells, odors and pollution from
those industries. Nevertheless, the city leased the
property from owner Eastman (reportedly for one dollar),
rocked the land, put in tons of fill dirt, divided the
area into lots, and established dirt streets. The
land sold cheap, the government built low-rent
housing, businesses moved in, and "Riverview" was
born, although from nowhere in the neighborhood was
the nearby Holston River evenly remotely visible.
When Professor Howell resigned in 1942, V. O.
Dobbins, Senior, a Douglass science and math teacher,
was appointed principal. "Festa" (short for
Professor) Dobbins started the free lunch program at
Douglass School. During the summers, he grew
vegetables behind his home and the homes that lined
Dunbar Street, and, along with ladies of the community
and his sister Leola Allen, canned food and fed the
students hot lunches during the winters.
The Douglass building still outgrew its
surroundings, and in 1951, a new school building for
black students was built, that still stands on Louis
Street today. The building was expanded in 1962, and
within the walls of the combined elementary-high
school, fiercely-competitive sports teams were
nurtured. The Douglass trophy case was a display of
superiority in basketball and football. Top-notch
marching bands and choruses also earned superior
ratings, and Professor Dobbins and faculty were able
to both entertain and educate the community through
"Miss Douglass" competitions and various plays and
pageants, funded mostly through the sale of sports
concessions. The teachers fostered a togetherness
that united each student with a sense of family, that
was taught right along with the school subjects.
Academically, Douglass gained accreditation from the
Southern Association of Secondary Schools and
Colleges, assuring its graduating seniors that their
educations would further them at quality
Alas, all of this glory was short-lived, for
Douglass Elementary-High School closed its doors on
June 8th, 1966. The students who had not graduated
yet, were all assimilated into the all-white schools
of Kingsport, and, at a vulnerable point in Black
History, were in danger of losing their own economic
and social identities.
The Douglass High School Alumni Association has,
as its basic charge, to remind and lead school
graduates and former students with the "Tiger Spirit"
that forever binds them with their African-American
heritage in Kingsport, and a reminder that our school's
rich tradition and neighborhood pride are to be
passed on to future generations.
Click Here To View Our Riverview Oral Histories
Click Here To View Our Douglass Teacher Memories