The Last Graduating Classes Before Integration at Richard J. Murray High School Come Together to Remember

The 2021 Richard J. Murray High School Memorial Picnic at the Collier-Blocker-Puryear park, St. Augustine, Florida

The Richard J. Murray High School Classes of 69 and 70 were thankful to be able to host a reunion this year with their memorial picnic, although it was on a smaller scale than usual after having taken a break due to the pandemic. The Richard J. Murray Memorial Picnic took place at the Collier-Blocker-Puryear park in West Augustine down the street from the former school,  which is currently R. J. Murray Middle School, and the alumni's school pride and school colors of green and orange were proudly displayed.

Mary Ford Richard J Murray High School Graduate 1969 St. Augustine Florida
Photo Courtesy of Kierra Smith

Mary Ford, Richard J. Murray High School Graduate 1969, St. Augustine Florida.

"Every year we celebrate and remember our loved ones and faculty and staff members, who have gone home. They have gone home, but they have not been forgotten," says Mary Ford, class of 1969, who is the financial secretary of the The Richard J. Murray High School Classes of 69 and 70 Committee. 

Ford explains that every year the classmates light candles for those lives lost, and she goes on to say that they also invite the family members of those, who are no longer with them.

"We all walked those halls together, and that's why we have combined the groups," Ford says. "We love it, because it gets us together, we fellowship, and then we also come up with projects that we can do for the community." 

The alumni group of Richard J. Murray High School, which served as an all-colored high school from 1955 to 1970, is eager to serve the community, and at the memorial picnic they decide, which family members of classmates, who have passed away will receive Thanksgiving baskets or gift cards. 

The Richard J.  Murray High School Classes of 1969 and 1970 were the last classes at Murray High before integration. Ford explains that her last year at Murray, 1969, was the year they were supposed to integrate the schools. "That year they were supposed to integrate after we graduated, but they didn't. They changed their minds and said 1970, but then something happened, and they did not integrate the school until 1971."

Ford talks of her time at Murray High School with fondness. "I liked the comradery of the faculty, staff and teachers, and the way that they treated the students," she says. Ford is a former teacher and principal in St. Johns County. "They did the best they could with what we had. Back at that time we didn't have the brand new fresh materials and books  we actually got the leftovers. But those teachers, believe me, what they taught us, we learned it, and still today we are using those things. We really got it. So I really appreciate their love and kindness, the way they took care of us and made sure that we were safe and that we were learning."

Mrs. Mabel Hall was Ford's favorite teacher at Richard J. Murray High School. "She was my homeroom teacher and 9th grade math teacher ... if you needed to work on something individually, she would pull you aside. She was one of those teachers, who was going to make sure that she made a difference in the lives of the kids."

Mrs. Mabel Hall former Richard J. Murray High School math teacher.
Photo Courtesy of the Richard J. Murray High School Facebook page.

Mrs. Mabel Hall former Richard J. Murray High School math teacher.

Mrs. Mabel Hall continued to make an impression on Ford even years after graduation. "She passed a couple of years ago, but I have a picture at home that we took at one of these reunions. She lived over town on Washington Street, and I would go pick her up and take her places."

Kenny Moore, Thomas Ford and Thomas Garden
Kenny Moore, Thomas Ford and Thomas Garden at the annual Richard J. Murray High School Memorial Picnic. 


"Me and Tommy Garden, we were the last base drummers at Murray," says Kenny Moore, Richard J. Murray alum Class of 1970. When talking about his time at the high school he lights up with pride, and he says that his favorite part about attending the high school was "When we used to load up on Friday evenings and go play another team out of town." The biggest rival was Hastings, Moore says. "We won, and then they won too." 

Moore pulls over a classmate. "This guy here, that's Thomas Ford. He was the quarterback  — He was #2. The game was on Friday, and his name would be in the newspaper Monday for something good he did."

Richard J. Murray High School memorial picnic 2021

Robert Bush, a 1969 graduate of Richard J. Murray High School returned to his former campus as an employee, where he worked at R.J. Murray Middle School from 2001 - 2013 with in-school suspensions. 

"I'll be here every time, this is a normal thing we do every year," Bush says. "I have some fond memories." Football games and the band are some of Bush's favorite things about his time at Murray High. "We were the marching 100, we were the top of the town — We had it going on."

Talk of previous reunion weekends in places such as New Orleans and Atlanta shows just how strong the connection is between the former classmates.

Richard J. Murray High School Reunion Stone Class of 1970
A commemoration stone from a Richard J. Murray High School Reunion in New Orleans with the signatures of the attendees.

At the picnic two stones were displayed from previous reunion weekends with the names of those attending.

A commemoration stone from a Richard J. Murray High School Reunion in Atlanta with the signatures of the attendees.
A commemoration stone from the 2014 Richard J. Murray High School Reunion in Atlanta with the signatures of the attendees.


Thomas Garden at the 2021 Richard J. Murray High School Reunion
Photo Courtesy of Kierra Smith

Thomas Garden displaying his school pride at the 2021 Richard J. Murray High School Reunion

Sandra Washington (maiden name Snead) attended Murray High before integration, but she was not part of one of the graduating classes. "It was an all-black school, but then when it integrated, I went to Ketterlinus, and then from Ketterlinus I went to St. Augustine High," Washington says. 

Richard J. Murray High School Memorial Picnic 2021

Washington's sister was the class of 1969, and her brother was the class of 1970. "I joined their classes, because they were active, and they are always getting together and doing things. Even in remembrance, so many have gone on, but they still represent Murray High School. If you went to that school, when it was all black — It lives on in us. We tell our children, our children tell their children, and we hope that this can continue to go on as we get older, and that our children can pick it up and do the same thing that we were doing."

Washington reminisces about her time at Murray High with a smile on her face. "It was strict, but we were devious, and we did devilish things as children do," she says. "It is nice to be able to look back at where you come from and see how far you've got. The choices you've made along the way, some of them were good and some of them were bad — but we can say we made it, and we're still here to tell the story."

Reginald James Vice President of the Richard J. Murray High School Class of 69 70 and 71 Committee
Reginald James with Willie Ray Daniels, from Sho'Nuff Smokin Good BBQ on West King Street, who catered the food.

"We were the end of Murray High," says Reginald James, who serves as the Vice President of the Richard J. Murray High School Classes of 69 and 70 Committee. "We have been together since 1978."  

James is proud of how the former classmates are able to stay in touch. There is a membership fee for the members, and members are kept up-to-date on the committee's finances, as reports are sent out over the phone on a regular basis.

"I would love to see our class continue to go on like this," James says. "I'm just trying to keep our class alive. We have lost 78 class members." 

Richard J. Murray High School Memorial Picnic 2021

At the memorial picnic James stands up and starts the discussion of which families should get this year's Thanksgiving gift baskets and gift cards. "We take care of all of the families of the deceased," James says. "We try to help."


Richard J. Murray High School Class of 1970
Photo Courtesy of the Richard J. Murray High School Facebook page.

Richard J. Murray High School Class of 1970 - the last graduating class.

The last graduating classes at Richard J. Murray High School in St. Augustine might have been the end of an era, but the classes of 1969, 1970 and 1971 show that graduation was just the beginning, and although Richard J. Murray High School no longer exists as a high school their memories keep the school spirit alive.


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