COLUMBIA — Tyrone Robinson sat in a picnic chair, surrounded by family eating Cajun-rubbed ribs and chicken thighs. DJs blasted music as smoke bellowed from dozens of barbecue grills.
In 1960, Robinson was one of the last students to graduate from Douglass High School. A lot has changed since then.
"We used to use the used textbooks from the white school," Robinson recalled.
Over 50 years later, Robinson joined hundreds of other people Sunday at Douglass Park for the end of the Black and White Ball weekend. The series of events, which happens every three years, commemorates the closing of Douglass High School as an all-black school, before it was re-opened after Columbia's integration.
Fran Tibbs, a volunteer who served food donated from a local church, said that the goal of the picnic was more than just bringing people together: It keeps the community close.
"We want to let the younger generations know that we kept this going," Tibbs said, referring to the start of the Black and White Ball. "We take pride in this."
Another attendee, Elisa Wright, agreed.
"It’s all about family," she said. "We’re a big family."
As the picnic continued, a local band turned on a keyboard and plugged in an acoustic guitar. A child sent a kickball sailing between first and second base. A young girl in a blue-and-white bathing suit skipped through a fountain.
Robinson's family was one the largest groups at the park. His family has planned their reunions to coincide with the Black and White Ball.
His memories of Columbia's integration are peaceful.
"I didn’t realize how segregated it was until I traveled to Oklahoma and Arkansas with the Douglass High Band," he said. "We didn't have 'colored' and 'white' signs at drinking fountains. It was more like an unspoken word."
Robinson recalled that the community was slowly integrated outside of school through sports and community events, such as Little League and Cub Scouts. He recalled the school as a terrific experience that created strong bonds that have lasted since the last classes' graduation.
"We saw each other every day," he said. "We were closer than family."
Supervising editor is Blake Nelson.