The concept of the ALTON FRIENDS OF THE 60's / ALTON BLACK ALUMNI (FOS/ABA) all began back in the late ‘90’s/early 2000’s. It was during that timeframe that several local alumni talked about…and…debated the virtues of a black reunion experience. The debates revolved around questions/concerns like: “wouldn’t this conflict / compete with the Alton HS reunion tradition?”; “won’t we tick folks off?”; “won’t the ‘black’ alumni label offend?”; “will the black community respond and support?”; etc. This informal debate went on for a couple of years until, finally, in 2003 a core group of friends decided to make that concept a reality. As a result, the Alton Friends of the 60's (FOS) organization was formed and the inaugural Alton Black Alumni reunion was planned for 2004.
What was really behind the push for a black reunion experience?
Alton elementary and junior high schools were segregated until the mid 50’s. Alton Sr. HS had always been ‘integrated’ (although for many years blacks were not allowed to participate in most of the school’s extra-curricula activities). For young black and white pre-HS students integration provided a new cultural awareness…a new experience. There were new friendships developed among black and white students. Kids played together…both at school and after school. Kids were kids and race did not seem to matter.
As these students moved on to high school, the friendships became more strained and distant. There was very little after-school mixing or socializing. Virtually all of the after school hang-outs were off-limits to blacks (e.g., Blocks). Even the movie theaters had designated seating for blacks. As a result, black students pulled together during school hours, as well as, after school. In other words, we reverted back into our segregated ways. During school hours, blacks would gather each morning before classes to socialize and network in “boot hall”. At noon, blacks would eat together. Outside of school and especially on the weekends blacks would socialize at local teen venues. Among the favorites were: the ‘Center’ (the old Central Jr HS), Blue Eagle, and Gurdon’s.
At the high school…blacks were really on their own. Unless parents were involved, there was little or no mentoring or career / college prep counseling. Unfortunately, most of the parents were really struggling “to make ends meet’ and had no exposure or experience with college. The major exception was athletics. Alton was a powerhouse in football and track & field and black athletes thrived and were the superstars and leaders. They were fortunate to be mentored by Richard Johnson. Mr. Johnson was instrumental in helping many of our young men get athletic scholarships. Non-athletes and females (athletics for girls was virtually non-existent) were not so fortunate. If parents did not prepare them and push them to college, it did not happen right out of high school. The good news…the Alton economy was booming; and jobs were plentiful. Most former students of the 60’s were able to find gainful employment and start young families.
Fast forward ten years to the first set of official AHS 60’s reunions. Blacks from each class attending AHS reunions had similar experiences. There were usually 8 – 12 blacks among 200-300 total attendees. Why? Blacks usually did not attend because they “felt they had little in common with their white classmates”…or…they “really did not have shared experiences or memories of their times together in HS”. The exception, of course, was sports. This continued over the years (the 20, 30, and 40 year AHS reunions). In reflecting on the history outlined above, it is no wonder.
As members of the various classes of the 60’s shared their AHS reunion experiences, it was much the same perception. That is when the discussions regarding a black reunion took root. We realized that we were products of a unique time and place in history…a decade that ushered in a new era for the country and the Alton community. We shared a rich history and we decided that we needed to celebrate it…and…each other.
Alton Friends of the 60’s / Alton Black Alumni host a reunion on Labor Day weekend biennially in even-numbered years.
The Alton Friends of the 60's (FOS) organization was formed and the inaugural Alton Black Alumni reunion was planned for 2004.
The inaugural event took place Labor Day weekend 2004. The venue was Lewis & Clark Community College (LCCC) campus. The Saturday night signature event was held in the Riverbend Arena (re-named the George Terry Riverbend Arena). It was a major success with more than 150 people from far and near in attendance. It was a joyful and emotion-filled weekend. For many, it was the first return trip to Alton in 25-30 years. It proved to be a homecoming as well as a reunion. It was a time for reflection and reconnection to the events, people, and environment that helped shape and influence their formative years. One of the highlights of that first reunion event was a $500 donation to the ‘new’ Alton High School. A commemorative brick inscribed with “Alton Friends of the 60’s” became a part of the new facility.
The second reunion with more than 200 participants was even more successful than the inaugural. For both the first and second biennial reunions, we were blessed to have some of our former teachers present. Special tributes were made to honor these educators who were instrumental in mentoring, shaping and nurturing our (then) young minds.
FOS/ABA voted to expand its reach to include classes ’55 – ‘75
During the third reunion, the tradition of sharing love and memories with old friends continued. By this time, the experience had really morphed into much, much more than a “redbird” reunion. It had become more like a homecoming for Alton black folks who shared common history and experiences…especially during the historical civil rights movement/era.
The fourth biennial reunion was a rousing success. The decline in the economy did not stop classmates from traveling across the country. We started off on Friday night at the Argosy Casino Alton. On Saturday at the Commons on the LCCC campus, the banquet was fabulous, featuring the David Dee band (of “Goin’ Fishin’ fame). Sunday's activities included church services and a cook-out… all held at Gordon Moore Park.
We added members from the classes of ’79 and ’85 to the steering committee.
Much like the previous four reunions, the fifth was a great, fun-filled homecoming/reunion weekend. On Friday we had our biggest turnout of the weekend. More than 200 friends and classmates (from the 50s through the early 90s) came together, mingled, and partied at Alton’s Jazz on Broadway Club. One of the evening’s highlights was the Karaoke competition among classes. On Saturday evening we had the “Black & White with Red” dinner dance in the Trimpe Room at the Lewis & Clark Community College. We wrapped up the weekend with church services and a cookout on Sunday at Gordon Moore Park.
FOS/ABA voted to officially designate its reunion as an ‘all class’ event (classes ’55 thru ’95).
We lost Leo Cox, one of our most dedicated and hard-working charter members.
In 2014 we enjoyed Fantastic Voyage, our 10th Anniversary reunion (our sixth biennial). With nearly 400 attendees for the weekend…it was our biggest and, arguably, our best reunion to date.
• Native son, Shawn Banks, headlined comedy show at Friday night’s meet & greet, Bon Voyage
• Saturday nights, All White Affair event, had Flirt & No-ID band featuring Alton’s own, Jesse Prather.
• Weekend wrap up with Sunday services and cook-out
• Created a scholarship fund with $500 start-up
• Grad Shawn Taylor, filmed the weekend as a part of her ‘in-the-works’ documentary “Gone too Soon”
There was a sad beginning to the year. We lost charter member, Geneva (Williams) Perry. Geneva hosted the inaugural FOS meeting in 2003.
Significant 2015 achievements:
• Conducted our first annual Strategic Planning Workshop – defined our Mission, Vision, Values and Goals
• Changed the name to Friends of the 60’s/Alton Black Alumni Association
• Established the Leo C. Cox Scholarship Fund – named in honor/memory of FOS/ABAA charter member Leo Cox
• Decided to transition from a social-only organization to a civic/community-focused entity
• We made community involvement our year-round responsibility (for more details…see Community Activities)