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Plaque from segregated school returns to Texas from Canada

By Nanette Light
Jan. 2, 2018 at 12:18 a.m.

The John Fenet Auditorium plaque that was displayed at the formerly segregated E.S. Doty School in McKinney  is shown Dec. 18 after its unveiling at McKinney High School. The plaque had made its way to an antique shop in Canada before being returned to Texas.

McKINNEY — No one knows how a 70-year-old bronze plaque bearing the names of former McKinney ISD school board members and the district's superintendent made its way to an antique shop in Canada.

Maybe it was pulled from a pile of scrap metal and passed from thrift store to thrift store, someone guessed.

Or divine intervention, chimed in another.

While the case of the traveling plaque remains a mystery, the sign — which identifies the John Fenet Auditorium at the formerly segregated E.S. Doty School in McKinney — is finally home after decades away.

Recently at McKinney High School, Principal Alan Arbabi and McKinney ISD Superintendent Rick McDaniel unveiled the plaque to about 10 former Doty students and teachers.

"My role as a principal is to make sure that we are always honoring the past," Arbabi said. "Every student who walks into McKinney High School has the advantage no matter where you are from or what ethnicity you are. For me, that's a proud thing to be able to say for our school."

Breaking down barriers

Originally called Frederick Douglass School from its inception in 1889 until 1938, it was renamed after E.S. Doty, who led it as principal for 50 years until 1940. Though Doty had the same superintendent and school board as McKinney High School, it operated under the Jim Crow laws of "separate but equal."

Doty, which was open to grades one through 12, closed in 1965 after school board members unanimously voted to integrate all McKinney schools, according to the district.

"We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us and broke down barriers," McDaniel said. "It's important any time we have an opportunity to go back and bring honor to our past."

The plaque will remain in a hallway case at the high school filled with Doty photos and memorabilia, including former student Dorothy Shaw's worn band jacket and saxophone. She attended Doty from first through seventh grades and then McKinney High School after schools were desegregated.

She pointed to glass-encased black-and-white photos of several of her former instructors at Doty including her piano teacher, former Principal Reuben Johnson, her sixth-grade teacher and band director.

"(Doty) was a very vital part of the community," said Shaw, a 1971 McKinney High School graduate. "It's just part of our history here in McKinney."

Making a difference

Randy Anderson-Fennell, who lives in British Columbia, paid $120 to rescue the plaque from the Fort Langley, British Columbia, antique store last year. He works as an electrician at a school district near Vancouver and said he's often seen plaques like the Doty one outside school buildings.

This summer, Anderson-Fennell and his wife tracked down a contact for the McKinney district and began discussing how to return the plaque to Texas.

"Knowing there was a little bit of dark history there when times obviously weren't exactly equal and right, I think it's good to make sure these things get back and the history is always remembered and never repeated," Anderson-Fennell said in a recent telephone interview. "And everyone moves forward knowing not to repeat the past."

Jesse McGowen, a 1959 Doty graduate, called the plaque's homecoming a "miracle."

He was a teacher at Doty before integration, leaving during desegregation to teach and coach at what was then McKinney Junior High School, now Caldwell Middle School.

Though he called McKinney's transition to integrate smoother compared with the experiences of other school districts, he remembers there were people who didn't want black students and teachers in their schools.

McGowen was recruited in 1973 to be McKinney ISD's first black counselor after a fight broke out between black and white McKinney High School students over desegregation.

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