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Gregory immortalized at Board of Education office

Though the halls of James T. Gregory Elementary School closed long ago, they appeared to reopen briefly Saturday evening, if only in spirit, as a community gathered to commemorate its legacy.

The Butler County Board of Education–formerly James T. Gregory Elementary School, where Butler County’s black students received an education prior to the integration of the county’s schools–served as the site for a commemorative event honoring the namesake of James T. Gregory Elementary School.

Gregory was a well-known advocate for education, and the school that bore his name played a key role in fostering a desire for learning within many citizens within Butler County.

Though there was nothing to indicate that the present-day Butler County Board of Education was ever held in such esteem.

That changed Saturday evening. Now a physical reminder in the form of a relief of James T. Gregory adorns the wall of the main hall, clearly visible from the building’s front doors.

Renowned artist Ronald McDowell, whose work has been featured in places such as the New York World Festival and the Atlanta-based Martin Luther King Center, and is perhaps most known for his collaboration with Michael Jackson, received a commission for the relief.

Event coordinator Kenneth Crum said in his opening statement to a crowded room that he was proud of the county’s turnout.

“This all started with wanting to not let us be written out of history—this part of our history,” Crum said. “That was our foundation.  We had teachers, administrators, students and parents who sacrificed during that time to make sure that we got a quality education.  A lot of those educators came from Alabama State, Alabama A&M and Tuskegee, and we were getting a quality education during that time. For me, I know, that was my foundation.  I’ve never forgotten what we learned during that time.

“A lot of the teachers were there in our neighborhoods.  They taught generations of us.  It was that that really propelled us to go on, no matter what endeavor we ventured into in our lives.  We were productive citizens and productive individuals, and a lot of it came from the education that we got at James T. Gregory.   I didn’t want that to be as though it never existed.”

Saturday’s program included music from Kenneth Robinson and the Free Birds, as well as The Mahand family.

Esteemed guests also included James T. Gregory’s granddaughter, 90-year-old Gennetta Jordan.

Youth were incorporated into the program, as well, including Crum’s niece, Alabama State University performing arts student Shannon Crum, who shared an original poem.

The Butler Chapel A.M.E Zion Youth Praise Team also performed.

“We wanted to really make sure that the youth were included in this program,” Crum said.  “After all, they have to carry on.”

Many memories were shared of former community leaders, teachers, administrators and parents among those in attendance. Crum’s parting words to the crowd were words of empowerment.

“God has deposited something of himself in each and every one of us,” he said.

“They may have taken the name off the building, but they didn’t take the name out of our hearts.”