The original “Pride of the East Side” Fredrick A. Douglass High School band is preparing for its 96th season under the watchful eye of Director Jason Morgan.
It’s going to be a challenging season as he adjusts to several big changes.
Douglass graduated a stellar group of seniors from the band last year, which was an accomplishment, but left some large holes in the leadership ranks.
Another dynamic making this year a bigger challenge than normal is that Morgan’s seventh and eighth grade members have been shifted to Moon Middle School under the Pathway to Greatness plan.
“My eighth graders marched with us last year,” Morgan told Free Press. “So, eventually we’ll get them back, but they are missing from my program this year.”
Where the “vertical” for Morgan was in the same building in recent years, now he will start coordinating with the band directors at the feeder middle schools.
Senior Chandrian Johnson, her freshman brother Marrin Johnson, and junior Juanita Hendricks are working hard to help their band move forward into their next marching season.
Marrin Johnson is in the drumline and has as his goal to be the captain one day and takes his leadership responsibility seriously even as a freshman.
“You have to teach the younger members,” said Johnson.
As a senior, sister Chandrian Johnson said it was on those who have been band dancers before to help with the instruction of those who are just joining the dancers who march with the band.
But, the challenges come more quickly in practice at this time of year.
The first day we visited it was raining and so the band was doing physical conditioning in the gym and practicing some of their first formation steps.
On our second visit, the band was practicing with instruments on a parking lot behind the school in temperatures that were reaching 100 degrees and were no doubt higher at pavement level.
Everyone still practiced anyway, learning to focus on their routines and music even in heat that drove many of their peers inside after school.
We saw students who had band experience teaching students less experienced in the basic moves that will be the foundations for the more complex formations as the season and their band skills develop.
Hendricks was carefully clapping and calling out counts as she showed students who were new to marching band beginning fundamentals of marching.
With such a long history, Douglass Alumni can be seen at every football game wearing the black and orange school colors.
Their association still has an active forum website and special state license plates honoring the school can still be seen regularly around the city.
We asked the three students if they talk to alumni of the school who were a part of the Pride of the East Side.
“We do!” all three said with big smiles.
They were quick to say how much they liked talking to alums when they come up to offer encouragement after a performance.
“It’s really good to know that they’re paying attention and that they love us and support us,” said Hendricks with a big smile.
“You know, we have people supporting us,” said Chandrian Johnson. “And we’re all about being one big band. It makes it even better.”
“They say, ‘You’re doing great! Just keep working hard,'” said Hendricks. “It really helps.”
The original all-black high school in Oklahoma City Public Schools under Oklahoma’s legalized segregation of African-Americans still has a strong black presence in the student body. But, the school has a more diverse cultural profile now with many races being represented.
The school’s long history of providing black students an opportunity for success is still a point of pride even for students from other cultures who are themselves looking for hope and a way to success.
Douglass High School has the distinction of being the oldest high school in continuous operation as a neighborhood school under the original name in Oklahoma City Public Schools.
According to Anita Arnold, a Douglass Alum who has done research on the history of the school, a “colored school” was established in January 1891 when the Oklahoma City Public Schools was first formed.
In 1897 the principal allowed students to pick a name for the school. They chose Frederick A. Douglass High School.
Since Mrs. Zelia N. Page Breaux formed the Douglass High School band in 1924, the school has had a proud tradition of marching bands and music programs.
And, the pride of the school is still derived from being named after the great, black abolitionist leader Frederick A. Douglass.
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Update: 5:25, 8-16-19 – The original version of this story said that the band was starting its 97th season. The story has been corrected to show the band is starting its 96th season. Please pardon our questionable math skills.