As an eighth-grader, I started Johnson in September of 1960. Mr. Alflorence Cheatham was Johnson’s first Principal. Mr. Cheatham was a graduate of Harvard University. He loved Johnson High School, its staff and students. He would often be seen escorting students to class.
Two of my fondest memories of Mr. Cheatham were relative to an encounter between two white men and Mr. Cheatham. The verbal confrontation centered around the delivery of a truckload of books which were being delivered to the school. Mr. Cheatham vigorously objected to the delivery of the books. As an eighth-grader, the matter caught my immediate attention. I had never seen or heard of a black man opposing a white authority in that manner. I moved closer so as to hear better. The white men were shocked, as they had never been spoken to in that manner by a black man. They asked him why he objected so strongly. I heard him say that those books were not hot off the printing press, the information in those books was years out of date. Those books had a distribution log on the front cover which served as a record of white students to whom the books had previously been distributed. Many of the books would be seven or eight years old. They had been used by white students at Savannah High, Jenkins and other white schools. The confrontation continued back and forth until Mr. Cheatham told the men to unload the books away from the bus ramp, which was uncovered. The men did as they were instructed and left. About an hour after leaving, the sky darkened and a thunderstorm ensued. Mr. Cheatham walked out of his office, stood under the overhead that covered the walkway, folded his arms and looked skyward and said, “Thank you, Jesus.” All of the books were drenched dictating that we received new books!
In a most recent telephone conversation, Frank Ellis told me that Mr. Cheatham was engaged in Civil Rights activities in Savannah. He is forever remembered by the first Johnson High Alums. Mr. Cheatham inspired the concept for the Atomsmasher mascot. He started an ROTC at Johnson High against the approval of the Board of Education (BoE) and was terminated. His termination led to a schoolwide boycott and the rise of Benjamin Van Clark.
In another conversation with Jacquelyn E. Mack, I was told that school buses for Savannah students would not be provided for city students attending Johnson. Jackie’s mother and friends initiated a boycott of the school; the city relented and provided buses for our transport. Jackie is my spiritual big sister.
“Not to Equal but Excel”