19th Black and White Ball to reunite old friends in Columbia

Thursday, August 1, 2013 | 6:00 p.m. CDT; updated 10:07 a.m. CDT, Friday, August 2, 2013

*An earlier version of this story did not include Wynna Fay Elbert's full name.

COLUMBIA — An all-star basketball tournament for young players between the ages of 12 and 16 will be added to this weekend's Black and White Ball.

Every three years, the Black and White Ball, which includes several events, reunites black alumni of Columbia Public Schools, their families and others to share memories and renew friendships. This is the 19th gathering.

"These activities are not limited to African Americans but try to include all members of the community," said William E. "Gene" Robertson, professor emeritus at MU and a columnist for the Columbia Missourian.

Some people travel great distances to come meet up with their childhood friends.

"They come from all over the United States," said Bill Thompson, a coordinator for the event who has participated for about 32 years.

Thompson called it a community tradition. "I have 1957 (Douglass High School) classes signed up as well as a 2013 (Rock Bridge and Hickman) class," he said.

Wynna Faye Elbert*, 68, has been participating in the events since she was a child. She could not recall how long she has been participating in the Black and White Ball.

"It's not hard to get involved," she said. "You participate by just being there — going down to the park or just standing at the parade."

Over the years, the main events have been a reception, a parade, a semi-formal ball and a picnic.

This year, after the parade on Saturday morning, the new basketball tournament will be held on the courts at Douglass Park.

The Black and White Ball dates to 1959. It came about as a reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. the Board of Education decision, which led to the desegregation of public schools across the country, including in Columbia.

The initial goal of the event was to maintain the city's tight-knit African-American community.

The first Black and White Ball was attended by the Douglass High School class of 1960, the last class to graduate from Douglass when it was an all-black high school.

"This event is kept going in order to maintain the history of African American presence in Columbia," Robertson said.

"We are aiming to enhance a strong interest in cultural heritage — not so much tangible pieces of heritage but stories and memories of people taken here," he said. "We need to nurture community culture through events like these."

The weekend begins with a reception at 8 p.m. Friday at the Hilton Garden Inn at 3300 Vandiver Drive. Tickets for the reception, ball and picnic are $60 and should be purchased at the reception door; the parade, basketball tournament and talent show are free.

The parade begins at 10 a.m. Saturday leaving from the Armory Sport Center parking lot on 701 E. Ash St.; lineup for participants will start at 8:30 a.m. The basketball tournament will take place at 3 p.m. Saturday at Douglass Park.

The ball will be from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday at the Hilton Garden Inn.

The picnic will start at 1 p.m. Sunday at Douglass Park, and the talent show will start at 3 p.m. on the basketball courts there.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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