What Are They Doing Now?

Margaret Alexander - Vermelle Diamond Ely - Odell Robinson - Bill Yongue

Margaret Alexander

Margaret AlexanderStepping gracefully up the steps in front of Second Ward High School, Margaret Alexander was the dream of many boys in her class and the inspiration for other girls. After she graduated from Second Ward, Margaret enrolled in North Carolina College for Negroes, now North Carolina Central University. She took business courses, and married Kelly Alexander (no relation) before she graduated from college. As most women did during the late 1940s, Margaret prepared for marriage and a family. Her business knowledge proved invaluable in the assistance she gave her husband in his fight to end segregation and win blacks equality and respect.

After college, while raising her two sons, Kelly Jr. and Alfred, she assisted her husband as his personal secretary and became active in the civil rights movement. Kelly, who eventually became chairman of the NAACP national board of directors, actively worked to desegregate educational, medical and other public facilities. As a result of Kelly and Margaret's role in civil rights, they became targets for threats, harassment and even violence. On November 22, 1965, a bomb on their front porch awoke them from their sleep. While no one in the family was injured, the front part of their house was destroyed.

More about the bombing and about the Alexanders' involvement in civil rights is available on the Around Charlotte Web site.

Her favorite memory of Second Ward is being the May Queen in 1942 and meeting Kelly, her husband, part of the photography crew that filmed the original footage of a day at Second Ward (the basis of A Colored School).

Margaret's two sons both run the family funeral business, and she and her sons still live in Charlotte. Standing as tall as she did the day she proceeded up the steps as the May Queen, she is still active in the NAACP and other advocacy groups, fighting for minority rights.

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Vermelle Diamond Ely

VermelleOne of the first students to graduate in 1949 in the Second Ward gym that still stands as an icon of a forgotten time, Vermelle has enjoyed a busy and productive life. After graduating from high school, Vermelle entered Shaw University, majoring in elementary education, and upon receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree, signed up for graduate classes at New York University. Following in her father's education footsteps, she taught first grade at Marie G. School, a school for Blacks, for 17 years, and after desegregation she taught first grade at Pineville Elementary School until 1985. Although she and her husband had no children, she fulfilled her life by loving the children she taught.

Her father, the French teacher at Second Ward, also taught her the art of collecting pictures and films. In fact, it was this hobby that landed her the film made at Second Ward High School that became the basis of A Colored School.

"One of my instructors at Second Ward retired, and her son donated it to me," she remembers.

For Vermelle, the gift started a lifetime of actively preserving the history she had known. She began the Second Ward High School National Alumni Foundation, chartered in 1980, and began to collect artifacts from Second Ward High School and the neighborhood that surrounded it. Soon after she established the Foundation, the city of Charlotte donated a marker for the land on which Second Ward High School originally stood. She worked at revitalizing the Second Ward neighborhood and bought a small house to turn into a small museum. In addition to performing duties as director of the museum and the historian for the foundation, Vermelle also organizes the annual Second Ward High School reunion, an event in August that typically draws at least 200 alumni to a basketball games, jazz and comedy hour and dance.

"Second Ward was a home away from home," Vermelle says. "Everybody was made to feel a part of it, and we were taught self-respect."

Her favorite memories were being elected homecoming queen in 1948 and 1949 and watching the basketball games between fierce rivals Second Ward and West Charlotte High. Today she entertains her brother and nephew and functions as an advocate with the City Council to salvage the Second Ward gym, the only remaining structure of the original high school.

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Odell Robinson

OdellOdell's smile shows just as much in his voice as it does on his face. A person who wanted to live to his fullest potential, he enrolled in Johnson C. Smith College to pursue a math and general science degree. Although an Army draft briefly interrupted his education, he finished his degree and began teaching in the Lumberton school system in 1960. After teaching at both Lumberton and Hickory, he returned to Charlotte to spend the rest of his teaching career in the Mecklenberg County school system and retired after teaching for 30 years.

So what is he doing now?

"I'm doing the things I want to do," he says. Now that he and his wife are both retired teachers, they enjoy spending more time together. Odell golfs twice a week and travels to different golf courses with a gorup of about 50 other people around North Carolina and Virginia. He is also active in civic groups and gathers with other people on a regular basis.

"After I worked, I felt I deserved to enjoy life," he says. "So we enjoy doing what we want to do."

His fondest memory of Second Ward is a play in which, as an eighth-grader, he had the leading role. His favorite part was the ending kiss--which he and the leading lady often enjoyed to the drama's teacher's consternation.

Teachers and activities also made an impression on him. Odell says his teachers gave him the desire to excell, so much so that he spent many of his high school years competing with another bright student in his math classes. He credits Mr. Levi, his science teacher, with preparing him for college work. And overall, he simply enjoyed high school.

"I had a beautiful, enjoyable high school life," he says.

And he continues to live that experience to this day.

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Bill Yongue

YongueFor every Second Ward teacher who hoped that his or her students would leave high school to embark on a lifetime of learning, Dr. Bill Yongue fulfilled that dream. After working for the Railway Postal Clerk upon graduation and the Navy for 15 months, he enrolled in Johnson C. Smith College to pursue a biology degree. He began his teaching career as a biology teacher in the Lincoln and Alamance school systems and stayed for two years before moving to Iowa to attend classes at the University of Iowa.

After a year in Iowa, Dr. Yongue returned to Charlotte, NC to resume work for the Postal Service, and left to continue his teaching career, this time at West Charlotte High School. His love for learning eventually inspired him to continue his education, which he did at Virginia Polytechnic State University after 11 years at West Charlotte High. He earned two graduate degrees--a masters in zoology and a Ph.D. in ecology, specializing in protozoology.

He remained in Virginia for 15 years, teaching and launching a research project on testing water quality, a project that drew attention from states around the country, since the testing procedure he instituted could be done in a shorter amount of time than water quality tests that had been conducted before. Before he left Virginia Polytechnic, he had earned the position of associate professor and the esteem of water quality research institutions. He returned to North Carolina to work with the state Department of Public Instruction and retired after 13 years.

Retiring to a life of golf and a rocking chair did not suit Dr. Yongue, so he began working as treasurer for his church and seeking other teaching opportunities. Currently he is the director of Student Support Services at Barber Scotia College in Concord, NC. His wife, who has a Ph.D. in English, also works for Barber Scotia part-time, and his son remained in Virginia to practice law. In addition to his other activities, Dr. Yongue finds time to serve as president of the Second Ward High School National Alumni Foundation, which he has done several times since the Foundation began.

Dr. Yongue remembers Second Ward with much fondness and says the memory that makes him smile the most is one of the school dances for which he played tuba in the jazz band.

"I was so excited about being there that I fell off the stage and messed up several instruments," he recalls. "I got reminded of that time quite a bit."

Dr. Yongue started his time at Ward quite dramatically as well. In seventh grade, the first year students could enter high school, Dr. Yongue was chosen as May King. He vividly remembers the dance he and the Queen were supposed to have and hurriedly finding a substitute dancer when he revealed his inability to dance.

But his fondest memories are of his teachers, whom he said taught him to pursue learning throughout his life and inspired him to want to teach.

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