I have been looking through B.B. Comer yearbooks collected by my friend, Mabel Carlton, through a long teaching career most of which was at B.B. Comer High School. I am by nature a sentimentalist, a “rememberer.” Going through so many yearbooks one at a time, fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties, I quickly observed that collectively they are a pretty good history of the town and the times. Mabel was just out of college when she came to Comer from Gantt’s Quarry School. She was thereafter a big supporter of B.B. Comer and loved teaching there and later working as a guidance counselor. She kept these books because of her love for the students she taught, and she went to many class reunions down through the years. The Comer spirit is strong, and has always been something I respect.
The change in fashion from fifties to eighties is astronomical. Changes in decade fashion styles are evident in faculty and student pictures: cheerleaders, basketball players, homecoming photos, proms, students’ feature pictures, and even senior pictures.
Students dressed more conservatively in the fifties. Homecoming court pictures find candidates in conservative suits, heels and even hats, all sitting demurely in folding chairs on the sidelines on Friday night. Girls dressed for school in long pencil skirts and sweaters, many with white collars. Jeans were neat, some with rolled cuffs. Cheerleader’s skirts were big and circular, usually two tone-school colors, but got shorter and more varied in styles as the years went by. A neat thing about Comer is that the yearbooks include elementary grades, and even in those pictures, little girls were wearing dresses to school, and neatness was the norm.
These books are filled with students having fun with sports, and homecoming parades, games, and all of the activities that went with them. Everything at school was student-centered. There were even Junior and Senior plays. This required a tremendous commitment from teachers who had extra duty sponsoring these events, and there was tremendous pride in the work ethic that produced homecoming floats that would fit in a Macy’s or Orange Bowl parade. The students worked on these elaborate floats, and school pride was much involved. Proms were held at school and juniors and seniors worked to make the gym or auditorium turn into dreamland.
Into the sixties students were still dressing fairly conservatively, and even at pictures of the Senior Picnic, good taste seemed to be the order of business. Swim Suits were modest. Elvis and all that rock and roll had not ruined kids as their parents had feared.
The seventies brought significant change. The hippy culture hit even the schools. Some parents panicked, and most picked their battles about how long their sons’ hair was and how short their daughters’ skirts were. Hair changed from big hair to long straight hair. Polyester and stripes became fashionable for school, and leisure suits for adults and kids. Gone were the lace/tulle evening dresses for the prom. Bell-bottom pants became the rage for boys and girls alike. The cheerleader and majorette outfits became more glitzy and more like Hollywood than Mayberry. Succeeding years have brought continued change. Schools stopped having parades every week and homecoming parades became mostly decorated cars and one or two floats. The school became more authoritarian in an attempt to maintain control. Like the federal government there was more administration, and less student involvement.
I have not looked at any current yearbooks, but I see kids at church, in the stores, and on the streets. Children are still great, but many are so handicapped by unstable homes with hard working moms and absentee dads. Divorce and separation has led to some kids with three or four sets of grandparents and confused about where they will be spending Christmas. That is not as big a problem as where they will be staying tonight, or this week, or next. Standards of dress for school and even church have really changed.
Laws stopped prayer in school, and then families stopped attending church regularly. Children have not changed on their own, but society has changed and dragged them along. This trip through the yearbooks made me aware of life’s subtle changes that have made huge impacts. We woke up one day, and wondered how we got here. As we move forward my hope is that we will embrace good change but keep the good things from our past, the things we were taught by our parents and in good schools. It was not so long ago at that.
Dedicated to Mrs. Mabel Carlton, a good friend and great teacher. B.B. Comer Library now has your books as a testimony of your wonderful career. Students in 1980 dedicated that yearbook to her. She passed September 2, 2022. She is gone, but not forgotten.