Excelsior High - about 1950
Contributed by:  Marjorie Taylor Jenkins


Photo - 2001


J. Cortez Cooper

  ......the eighth principal of Excelsior High School, who served for twenty-seven years, was born in Gable, South Carolina.  He graduated from Goodwill Parochial School and his father gave him $8.00 and sent him to college.  He attended Johnson C. Smith and Lincoln University, where he received his B.S. degree.  In 1931 he earned his Masters degree at Ohio State University.  He came to West Virginia in 1919 (with a watch so he was always on time).

Except for three years in Morgantown, the rest of his time was spent in the McDowell County School system.  The majority of this time was at Excelsior High School, where he served as Principal and Teacher, and retired in June 1960


"His life was gentle; and the elements so mixed in him

that nature might stand up and say to all the world,

 This was a Man."



John Burnett notes, that Mr. Cooper and his family lived in Excelsior for many years.  Their daughter, Catherine, died soon after graduating  from Fisk University.  Their son lives in New York City.

Mrs. Cooper was a substitute teacher and occasionally taught at Kerr Grade School, in Berwind, when a teacher was absent.  Both Mr. & Mrs. Cooper have been deceased for many years.


Excelsior High Band - 1951
Contributed by: Marjorie Taylor Jenkins

From left to right:

Row 1:  Arthur Capehart (Band Instructor - in white suit) - Nancy Bailey (with drum sticks) - Mae Frances Barton (with mallet in right hand) - 4 thru 6, unknown, #6 is short kid with trombone)

Row 2:  #1(with tuna) unknown - #2 James (Jimmy) Carroll (with trumpet) - #3 unknown - #4 Donald Wade (light skin boy between Nancy & Mae) -#5 Hattie Mae Griffin (over Mae's left shoulder) - #6 thru # 9, unknown

Back Row: #1(over Nancy's head) & #2, unknown - #3 Ted (James) Malone - #4 Robert Harriel - #5 George Young - #6 & #7, unknown

There were at least 15 persons missing from this photo (37 visible names on the list with only 22 persons in photo)



By John Burnett, Jr.


It was a rare treat to get to go to the parade in War, and the football game
 afterwards at Big Creek High.  This was the same "Big Creek High" depicted 
in the movie "October Sky."

The homecoming game would be between Excelsior High  and Gary District High.
   The football games were in the winter months and we would usually get to go around
Thanksgiving.  The weather would be quite cold and a winter coat and hat necessary  
 to keep warm.  I was about 11 years old at this time.

There was much excitement in War, and much anticipation before the
parade as both blacks and whites lined the one street through War
business district to see the parade!  I was really excited because my
cousin Margie was head majorette with the Excelsior High Band!  Our 
cousin Conway, Margie's brother, was also one of the drummers. Our next
door neighbor and relative Mae Frances Barton played the Bell Lyre in the
band.  The Bell Lyre is a xylophone type instrument that is held upright, and 
has silver metal bars that are struck with a mallet.  The band instructor was 
Mrs. Effie B. Carter and she was the only female band instructor in McDowell County.  
She had a reputation for being an excellent instructor, and she later moved to 
Tampa, Florida where she was the only female band instructor in the entire state of Florida. 
 After Mrs. Carter left, the band was directed by Mr. Arthur Capehart.  Some years later 
Mr. Clyde Divens directed the band.

Excelsior High was the school
that all black high school students were bussed to.  They were from
numerous towns in the area, including Berwind where we lived.  The
school was supposedly "separate but equal," yet it had no athletic field
and the football team had to practice on the edge of the creek bank.
Since there was no athletic field at Excelsior, all of their football
games had to be played at the athletic field at Big Creek High, the
exclusively white high school which was two and a half miles from
Excelsior High.  My great-uncle John Mackey was the football coach and
had championship teams for much of his tenure as coach.  He smoked a big
cigar which he seemed to chew on vigorously.  In addition to being
coach, uncle John taught chemistry and science for many years.

We could hear the band's rhythmic drum beats long before they got to the
business district where a number of businesses flourished.  There was
Jones and Spry Grocery Market, Krogers, Piggly Wiggly,an auto repair
shop, J. W. Woolworth's, Liberty Lunch, the movie theater, bus station,
police station and jail, fire house, and other businesses.

Preceding the band would be the latest homecoming queen and the school's
most beautiful young ladies in their Sunday's finest dresses and high
heel shoes.  They were riding on the hoods and front fenders of the latest
automobiles all polished and shiny and driven at a very slow pace.  Most
of the girls wore beautiful fur coats borrowed from mothers, aunts and
neighbors.  Among these beauties were Chequita and Shean Smith from
Berwind whom I knew well and saw often.  I was so proud of them because
they were from my home town.

Leading the band was my cousin Margie, which made me doubly proud!  She
was so beautiful with smooth nutmeg colored skin, small waist, and big
beautiful well proportioned legs.  She marched with authority and would
be stepping high and smartly in her white majorette outfit with white
top, and white pleated thigh length skirt.  She wore white calf high
majorette boots with yellow - gold tassels which hung from the top of
each boot.  She had a tall white shiny hat with a smart bill and
beautiful chin strap which secured the hat in place.  The hat had a
beautiful tuft of delicate yellow feathers at the top front of it.  Her
form fitting white waist coat had beautiful braided yellow -gold
epaulettes with fringe which draped over her shoulders.  Her sleeves had
 beautiful gold fringe as well.  She had a gold whistle with a silver chain which hung 
around her neck.  She commanded everyone's attention when she blew her whistle and
 pointed her shiny silver baton outstretched skyward to advance the band forward.
Behind Margie were seven beautiful similarly dressed majorettes in blue and gold
outfits.  Their tops had beautiful buttons and cording down the front and their blue sleeves
 had attractive gold striping on them.  Blue and gold were the school colors, and the band's
 stylish outfits were those colors as well.

The school's cheerleaders followed with their smart outfits of white sweaters, 
blue skirts, white bobby socks and white tennis shoes.  Among them was our 
beautiful cousin Shirley Hairston, and our beautiful neighbor Ocie Mae Bradford.  
The fans followed the parade to Big Creek High, where the game took place.  True to their mascot, they were the 

" Excelsior Lions "

My attention at the game, was not so much what the scores were, but
trying to keep warm.  I did, 
however, hope that our home team was winning.  I would be so cold, and
they would build a fire in a barrel at one end of the bleachers.  The
snow and ice on the ground around the base of the barrel would melt and
be wet all around the barrel.  As long as you could stay near the barrel
you could at least feel some heat, but when you left that area it didn't
take long to get cold again.  My feet and ears would be freezing!

Since my uncle was the coach, his wife, Aunt Lucile and other faculty
were allowed to park at the end of the football field to watch the
game.  When my aunts wanted more heat, they would start the car and turn
on the heater.  I usually would walk over to their car to say hello, and
they would reluctantly roll the window down and talk to me.  The car
would be so full of relatives that they could not let me inside, so they
would give me a stick of gum and I would leave.  I knew they hated to
see me coming and hated to roll the window down because it was so
bitterly cold!  They did not want me to tell my mother that they wouldn't talk
 to me, so they appeased me for the moment.  I think they felt sorry for me out in the
cold, but there was nothing they could do about it.

At the far end of the football field was the railroad track which ran
along the base of the mountain with homes situated above.  Only white
residents lived in those homes and many of them would gather along the
railroad tracks to watch the game.  They had a birds-eye view of the
playing field.  They would build a big bonfire to keep warm while they
watched the game.  None of them would ever have paid to sit in the
bleachers to watch a game between black schools!  That was considered
"taboo."  I am sure the reverse was true as well.  Blacks did not attend
their football games. 

 I enjoyed going to the parade and the game, and
especially the half time show when I would get to see the bands
perform.  I could not wait to get home where I could sit near our coal
"Warm Morning" heater and finally get warm again.  This inevitability
was sometimes delayed by my brother Jimmy or I having to go get a fresh
scuttle of coal from the coal house up by the back road to throw on the


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