Community History 365

A group of Johnson City stakeholders has formed Community History 365 (CH365), a local effort to utilize Black History 365 to increase awareness in our community of its history. CH365 will start free Black History classes for adults starting Tuesday, July 11, 2023, from 2-4 pm. A free monthly “Lunch and Learn” will begin Sept. 8, 2023 at noon. RSVPs are needed for these events and can be made by calling the Langston Centre at 423-434-5785. There will be updates on middle and high school class opportunities soon.

A program like this cannot be sustained without financial assistance. Money is being raised to cover the costs of the textbooks to be maintained in the Langston Centre Library. Adult textbooks are $159.99 plus S&H (approximately $170). A donation of $170 will ensure there are textbooks housed at the Langston Centre. Checks are payable to LEAD, P.O. Box 111, Johnson City, TN 37601-0111. This donation will include a gift of the textbook, which you can then gift back to the Langston Centre for their use in these free classes.

Morris-Baker Community Fund Donates $10,000 to Langston Rehab



A $10,000 donation from the Morris-Baker Community Fund will support ongoing work to rehabilitate Langston High School. Preston McKee, president of Morris-Baker Funeral Home, announced the gift during a press conference today held at the Johnson City Municipal Building.

McKee said the donation is intended to bring a once vibrant community resource back to life. It’s also a way to honor the long-time friendship between his grandfather, the late Carson Baker, Jr. who owned Morris-Baker Funeral Home, and J. Fletcher Birchette III, the president of Birchette Mortuary. Birchette, a 1962 Langston graduate, passed away in August 2017.

“Both my grandfather and Mr. Birchette were Johnson City natives who left the area to continue their educations but returned home where they operated successful businesses for decades,” McKee said. “Throughout the years, my grandfather and Mr. Birchette supported each other’s efforts to not only build their businesses but to improve the larger community as well.”

McKee said the Morris-Baker Community Fund builds on his grandfather’s legacy of giving back to the community. “As a company, we always look for ways to reinvest in our community, and the Langston project stood out, especially given my grandfather’s relationship with Mr. Birchette. We look forward to watching Langston take shape and continue to provide a positive role in Johnson City.”

Langston served the African-American community in Johnson City from 1893 until 1965 when the school closed following integration. LEAD is working to transform what remains of the school into a multi-cultural arts and education center for all ages. The Morris-Baker Community Fund donation brings the campaign a step closer to reaching the goal of $500,000.

“I am humbled that Mr. McKee would choose to honor his grandfather’s friendship with my father. My own family – and the larger Langston High family – are especially grateful that he chose to remember Fletcher Birchette in such a generous way,” said John F. Birchette IV, the current president of Birchette Mortuary who serves as treasurer on the LEAD executive board of directors.

“My father loved Langston and was the living embodiment of the school’s motto: ‘Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve.’ He spent his life quietly helping improve the community around him, and he would be so pleased to see the widespread support offered to this project,” Birchette said.

The effort to renovate Langston High School is a public-private partnership between the City of Johnson City and LEAD. Last summer, the city allocated $1.8 million to fund the project. LEAD is working to raise the remaining $500,000 needed to completely fund the rehab project. Well over half that amount has been raised in grant funding, corporate contributions and private donations.

At the project’s completion, the school’s gymnasium and shop will be transformed into a multicultural, multigenerational education center focused on STEAM education and mentorship programs. The space will also be used for special events, such as performances and professional networking socials, bringing together people of diverse backgrounds.

“This project is more than bricks and mortar. It’s an opportunity in our community to bring people together,” said Johnson City Vice Mayor Jenny Brock who spoke at the press conference. “We are stronger when all the voices in the community are gathered around the table,” she said.

LEAD Youth Ambassadors Honored by National Merit Scholars Program


Two LEAD Youth Ambassadors have been recognized as “Commended Students” in the 2019 National Merit Scholarship Program. Andrew M. Keith, second from left, and Rachel K. Smith, second from right, were honored at a Johnson City Schools Board of Education meeting on Nov. 6. 2018.

These Science Hill High School students have worked alongside our executive board and advisory committee members since LEAD’s inception. We are extremely proud of not only their academic achievements but of their commitment to improving their community! Well done, Drew and Rachel!

Norman Howard: Langston Teachers Prepared Him for Success, Service

Norman Howard, right, with Michael Young, LEAD board chair. Photo courtesy of the Johnson City Press.

In the 53 years since graduating from Langston high School, Norman Howard has experienced a lot.

During his career, he was trained to direct fighter jets in the US Air Force to targets, managed human resources for two of Ford Motor Company’s massive automotive plants and determined how much to pay Brazilian employees during a period of hyperinflation. Mr. Howard has also served his community. From Big Brothers Big Sisters to the Boys Scouts and Junior Achievement to providing leadership for his church’s Steward Board, Mr. Howard’s service to others has been nothing short of exemplary.

It’s the teachers who molded his world at Langston who deserve the credit, he says.

“Langston had a very profound, positive impact on my life,” he said. “I would not have experienced the kind of success I’ve had without the nurturing, the support, the compassion of the teachers who taught me there.”

After graduating from Langston in 1965, Mr. Howard attended East Tennessee State University for a year. Subsequently, he enlisted in the US Air Force shortly after and worked as an air traffic control and warning specialist (an air traffic controller, of sorts), identifying enemy aircraft and helping fighter jets reach their targets during the Vietnam War era. While stationed in South Carolina, he earned a bachelor’s degree at historic Benedict College, Columbia, SC. Upon graduating, Mr. Howard received seven job offers. He accepted one from Ford Motor Company and headed north to Detroit. He later earned a master’s of business administration from the University of Detroit.

Mr. Howard worked for Ford for some 24 years in human resources (HR). He rose through the ranks to become human resources manager for two of Ford’s auto manufacturing plants, one with 1,800 employees, the other with 4,000.

Next, Mr. Howard joined the executive team of “Greek Town Casino” in Detroit where he was vice president of human resources.  There, he was responsible for a myriad of HR duties and responsibilities, including staffing, employee relations, benefit programs, salary administration, union negotiations, performance evaluations and the training of 3,000 employees.

He then learned of an opportunity with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, one of the largest grant-making foundations in the country.  The philanthropic “powerhouse” established by the well-known Kellogg cereal founder, W. K.  Kellogg.  As human resources director for the foundation, Mr. Howard’s work took him around the world. The foundation had staff in South Africa, South America, Mexico and several other countries. Traveling to those countries and learning the specifics of Human Resource administration, compensation packages and employment laws outside the United States allowed Mr. Howard to further expand his professional skills.

Regardless of where his work took him, Mr. Howard says he always relied on the foundation he received at Langston to guide his direction and leadership style.

“The learning I had at Langston was the basis of how I did what I did,” he said. “There were certainly occasions when I would be in situations and I would think back on those role models (at Langston).”

Indeed, teachers at Langston served dual roles: as educators and role models for their students.

“Being a young African American male in that time period, it was a challenge to identify men in business and industry and other leadership roles (other than our parents) to emulate, so there was a great focus on our teachers,” Mr. Howard said.

The teachers and administrators at Langston were not only highly educated, but they were passionate about teaching young people, he said. They also set high expectations for their students.

“We had to prepare ourselves to be the very best at whatever we did. It wasn’t good enough to do a good job,” he said, adding that the high expectations carried over from the classroom to the athletic field to the larger community.

“We were taught to be very competitive and at the same time to be supportive and compassionate with our fellow students and those in the community. We were instructed to be honest, share and help one another within the community.”

Langston’s teachers’ instruction carried outside the classroom, too, he said.

“They were very good at providing insight about the larger world and what to expect, even though they had not had the opportunity to experience some of the things we were going to face,” he said. “I’m not sure they could foresee the future that we would face specifically, but they recognized the challenges.”

Langston served as the center of the African American community, next to our churches, in Johnson City for decades, and its influence is evident in every graduate, regardless of their career path after high school, Mr. Howard said.

“Before desegregation, one thing Langston provided was a strong learning community that instilled in us an awareness of ‘self-worth,’ pride in our ability and respect for one another. This created a bond of togetherness that sill exists today,” he said.


Johnny Russaw: ETSU’s First Black Football Player Prepared by Langston High Teachers

Johnny Russaw sings the Star Spangled Banner before a football game.

Johnny Russaw knew he was going to change things when he started school at East Tennessee State University in 1964. As the school’s first black football player, Russaw broke barriers while amassing a stellar athletic career at ETSU.

“I knew I was going to change environments. I had always been in all-black environments. It was different at ETSU. Langston prepared me to go in and handle things like that,” he said.

Russaw’s was of one of the last classes to graduate from Langston High School, Johnson City’s only black high school. Langston is also one of the few remaining Rosenwald Schools, which were built to educate African-American children across the South in the early part of the 20th century. Langston operated from 1893 until 1965 when it closed following desegregation.

“I think a lot of people looked at Langston as a sports type of place because we were very successful in sports. But our educational program was what really helped me. It really motivated me to be and do what I did when I went to East Tennessee State,” Russaw said. “I was prepared. Our teachers at the time went above and beyond what we needed to know.”

Russaw said the school’s academic materials were not always up-to-date. In fact, many of the books were cast offs from Science Hill High School. Even so, teachers did what was necessary to ensure students were prepared academically.

“I think in looking at how it shaped my life, it made me more of a man. All in all, it shaped me to be a better man in my community and the places I’ve been,” he said.

Russaw graduated from ETSU with a degree in education. He worked as public safety officer for the Tennessee Valley Authority for many years before retiring. During the next chapter in his life, he worked as a substitute teacher, often at Science Hill, and worked for a decade as housing manager at Bethel Housing, an elderly housing unit in Jonesborough.

“I think it’s important to preserve Langston because it was an institution we looked at as our second home. Coming up, when we were kids, we would look at upperclassmen and we wanted to be like them,” he said. “We had a history at that school, just like people had a history at Science Hill, and you want to preserve those memories.”

Russaw said he often tells his kids and grandkids how they need to carry on their heritage, but he recognizes they’re living in different times than he did. That’s why he thinks it’s so important to preserve Langston for future generations.

“It’s going to be a multicultural center. It will probably have the flavor of Langston, but it’s for the city of Johnson City and the surrounding areas to come and see,” he said. “We still want it to be where black history lives. History is not complete unless you have everything in it. I don’t think the history of Johnson City would be complete without Langston in it.”



Thanks to General Shale for Brick Donation


Without the support of businesses in our community, restoring Langston High School to its former glory would just not be possible. That’s why we’re so appreciative of General Shale.

General Shale has committed to donating the brick products required for the facility’s exterior additions as well as brick, masonry materials and labor for the front entrance fenced wall area.

The company’s donation will offset costs associated with the project, allowing LEAD to use funds raised to completely restore the building. When renovations are complete, Langston will serve as a multicultural center for the community. Youth arts and technology program will also be offered at the center.

Preserving Langston offers the chance to maintain a connection with the school’s historical past and an even brighter future. Her rebirth her legacy, and the legacy of Johnson City’s African-American community, will continue for future generations to learn from and enjoy.

LEAD is working with the City of Johnson City to preserve Langston High School, which served the African-American community from 1893-1965. It closed following desegregation and was used by Johnson City School’s maintenance department for years.

Indeed, restoration of Langston High requires a coordination of efforts. Everyone in our community must help with this endeavor. Donations from large corporations like General Shale are vital, but so are financial contributions from individual donors. It will take a united front to see our dream realized.

Learn how you can help by clicking here.

Letter from our President

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Something very exciting is happening at the historic Langston High School campus. The alumni of Langston High School in Johnson City, Tennessee, along with many friends and supporters from the community, are coming together with the City of Johnson City to preserve the historical campus of Langston High School, which served our Black community from 1893 to 1965. The Langston Educational and Arts Development Corporation, or LEAD, is the group spearheading this effort with local leaders.

LEAD seeks to preserve the cultural relevance and heritage of the Langston High School site and hopes to utilize the building as a multicultural community center for educational and artistic programs. Once the renovation is complete, LEAD members are committed to providing youth programming focused on computer science, theatrical arts, and mentoring in the facility. Further, the site is a highly-visible structure that serves as a gateway to the downtown Johnson City community, which can substantially impact improvements to downtown aesthetics and redevelopment.

Our organization is in a unique position to bridge a gap in our community’s development. Johnson City and the surrounding region as a whole lack a focal point and home for multicultural programs and endeavors. Having such a hub for multicultural programs helps to create a welcoming environment for the increasing diversity in our population. Having a welcoming environment for diverse populations is increasingly vital to economic development, and is especially illustrated by our regional employers’ need to retain a diverse workforce.

LEAD’s goal is to accomplish a capital campaign of $500,000 for the renovation. We are reaching out to numerous partners for help in making this facility a sustainable reality so the integrity, legacy and historical value of Langston High School campus can be preserved for the posterity and enhancement of the community. We ask you to join us in this noble project. Please help us show the commitment of our community by making a donation.

Thank you for your interest and support of our project.


Michael Young
Langston High School, ‘65
President, LEAD

Carla Forney
Langston High School, ‘65
Campaign Chair, LEAD