Alumni celebrate Southern Normal legacy

Published 8:24 pm Tuesday, September 13, 2011

James Dooley had a vision more than 100 years ago that would have long-lasting effects on generations of students who would become part of the Southern Normal High School legacy and tradition.

As part of the legacy that is Southern Normal, Mary Humphrey developed a vision of her own as a student at the private school.

From 1984 to 1993, Humphrey served as the administrator of the institution that was also her alma mater.

“I attended school for a while at Piney Grove School,” Humphrey said. “While I was in the sixth grade, I went to Southen Normal, first at German Hall and then to Van Vorst Hall.”

Humphrey graduated in 1950 and continued her education at Alabama State University. Afterward she taught school, with her first job in Castleberry. She later was able to return to Southern Normal when a vacancy became available as assistant director.

“I held a high esteem for Southern Normal,” Humphrey said “I observed and passed along to the students what I had learned in my life. The legacy begun by James Dooley was passed down to many generations. I believe that children should have a well rounded life and that was part of Dooley’s legacy.”

Her return to the school that gave her a dream was one that Humphrey said brought her honor and happiness.

“It was an honor for me to return to Southern Normal and try to give back what the school had given me,” Humphrey said. “We were taught not only get a good education, but to learn to work and the importance of living the Christian life.”

Many of the students at Southern Normal came to the school from across the United States since there were few opportunities for African American students to attend high school, Humphrey said.

“We must remember that there was no high school for African American students,” Humphrey said. “That came later, after segregation had ended.”

Local students attended classes there as well.

Many students who attended and graduated from Southern Normal remain Brewton residents today.

After serving as assistant director for a number of years, Humphrey was given the job of director of Southern Normal in 1984.

“The school began to slowly decline,” Humphrey said. “Money and enrollment were problems and most of the students enrolled were low income students.”

Times became very hard on the school and the decision was made to sell the school and property to Alabama State University.

The president of Alabama State University, Joe Lee, was an alumnus of Southern Normal.