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District honors a family's importance in local integration story

Dr. Mark Albertus and the Trojan descendants of Wyvis and Tommie Cooke, integration pioneers of the CHS faculty, pose with the plaque honoring the history makers. The family is already three generations deep in Trojan tradition, including CHS sophomore Christian Kelley, far right, who is a Trojan football player. From left are Wyvetta Cooke Kelley (’70), Robert Kelley (’06), Rene Kelley (’91), Alfreda Cooke Brown (’73), John Kelley (’13), Cynthia Kelley (’95), Joseph Kelley (’93), Yolanda Hicks Kelley (wife of Joseph Kelley) (’96), Dr. Mark Albertus, and Christian Kelley (’25).

CHS pioneers of integration have strong Trojan legacy

Family members with deep Trojan roots that reach into the time of segregation returned to their alma mater to see in person a tribute to the patriarch and matriarch responsible for their journey down the road of gold and black.

Dr. Mark Albertus, superintendent of Carrollton City Schools, met the extended Cooke family at Carrollton High School Monday where a plaque honoring two of CHS's pioneers of integration is displayed in a historical case in the school's lobby. Wyvis M. Cooke was the second black administrator at CHS, serving for 13 years, and his wife, Tommie B. Cooke, was one of the first black teachers at the CHS who remained a fixture at the school until her retirement. 

Dr. Mark Albertus, superintendent of Carrollton City Schools, poses with Cooke sisters, Wyvetta Kelley, left, and Alfreda Brown. In the case is the plaque honoring their parents.

The plaque is placed in a section of the historical display case dedicated to the 1960s. While the acknowledgment of segregation and integration were already included, the story of the Cookes added the faces and names of one family's transitional journey toward integration – thanks to the diligence of one of their daughters, Alfreda Cooke Brown.

"I am grateful Mrs. Brown reached out to me to bring their story to my attention," said Albertus. "Learning of their impact during an important time in public school history not only honors this family, but broadly represents all families who made similar sacrifices." 

Carver High School, also in Carrollton, was the segregated school for black middle and high school students before integration. Although Carver officially closed following the 1968-1969 school year, many Carver students and faculty members transferred to Carrollton High School before full integration was implemented, some starting as early as 1965. In this list was Mrs. Cooke, an algebra teacher, who transferred with her two daughters, Brown and Wyvetta Kelley.

"My mother brought us along when she came in 1967," said Brown. "I started school at Carrollton Junior High and my sister at CHS. I can say, for myself,  my experience was a positive one since Day One. I always felt welcomed and supported." 

Brown's sister Wyvetta transferred her sophomore year and is featured in another display dedicated to the Carver High student experience. According to the display, 12 students transferred to Carrollton High School in 1965, 15 transferred in 1966, 16 transferred in 1967, and 23 in 1968. Included in that historical account are two current CHS staff members – Barbara Dothard, CHS band secretary, and Sylvester O'Neal, CHS events coordinator.

On Monday, three generations of Trojans and babies in the wings came to see the new plaque. After visiting with the superintendent and catching up with other family members and friends, Brown rallied the descendants off to the side and implored them to pay attention to their legacy, honor it, and make sure no one forgets.

"I reached out to Dr. Albertus because I wanted to have my parents' legacy preserved," Brown said to the new generation. "I was afraid that after my sister and I were gone, it would be lost. I am grateful that Dr. Albertus honored my request. It is now up to you, and future generations, to make sure it is never forgotten. It is a legacy to be proud of."