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Remembering the Lost Legacy of Bartlett’s Shadowlawn High School
Remembering the Lost Legacy of Bartlett’s Shadowlawn High School

Remembering the Lost Legacy of Bartlett’s Shadowlawn High School

Although I went to Shadowlawn Middle School north of Ellendale in the 1979-1980 school year, I was not aware there had ever been a high school on that campus. It was not until I arrived at Bartlett High School in 1983 that I discovered a 1971 Panther Parade yearbook in which the majority of the African-American students were listed as “Transferred from Shadowlawn,” and only then did I realize an important part of Bartlett history had been hidden from us. Over my years at Bartlett High School I began researching the truth about the forgotten school, and my efforts were not always appreciated. As I visited the Shelby County Schools headquarters and various school buildings, I occasionally got the impression that at least some people preferred that the story of Shadowlawn High School be kept in the shadows. But as I interviewed what students and former teachers I could find, a picture came together of a school with its own marching band, choir, football team, track team, baseball team, basketball team, traditions and social clubs, like the Elite Club, Gentlemen’s Club and the Gracious Ladies. It even had its own newspaper and yearbook, although I was unable to find copies of either. Although Shadowlawn School had originally been built and opened in 1958, on land belonging to Thomas and Mittie Becton, it had originally been a grade school. It was only in 1967 that a ninth grade was added. The tenth was added in 1968, the eleventh in 1969, and then, in the saddest twist of fate of all, the school never produced its first graduating class, as a Federal judge ordered it closed and merged with Bartlett High School. At the time, Bartlett students were mostly hostile to the arriving Blacks from Shadowlawn. The 1970-1971 school year was marred by fights and expulsions.

Despite the fact that I never found a way to publish my research into Shadowlawn High School, I did share my interviews with the Shadowlawn Cougars Alumni Association, and was gratified to see the erection of an historic marker in 2017. That the marker was unveiled on my birthday, December 2, seemed a poignant coincidence.

So in 2023, when I was invited by the Shadowlawn alumni to give a brief talk at their reunion in Ellendale Park, I made certain I could attend. The event was truly life-changing, with many coming from distant parts of the country. Many of the former students were of course older relatives or parents of my friends and peers at Bartlett High School in the 1980s, and it was gratifying to meet many of the people whose pictures I had seen in the Bartlett yearbooks of 1971, 1972 and 1973. The day was truly life-changing for me, and there was a precious moment when I ran into my beloved elementary coach Odell Foster, who had been the basketball coach at Shadowlawn High School.

Sadly, today the Shadowlawn campus no longer bears the name Shadowlawn, as it is the Bartlett Ninth-Grade Academy instead. But at least the historic marker remains to remind all who enter that there was once a proud, Black high school on the site, a part of our community history that must never be forgotten.

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