Celebrating 100 Years of Oakland Technical High School
Anito (English) Debro ’48
I have lived in Oakland since 1937 when I moved here from New Orleans at age 7 with my mother. We came to a sister of my mother’s who was living in Oakland. I lived on Center St. in West Oakland and went to Prescott Elementary and Junior High School through 9th grade, then for one semester to Berkeley High because we had moved to Berkeley, and then to Oakland Tech where most of my friends were. In those days, you could fill out a request to go to school in Oakland even if you lived in Berkeley.
Kids used to start school either in September or in January, depending on when their birthday fell. If you started in January, then you graduated in January. I was at Tech from Sept. of 1945 to Jan. of 1948. Every 6 months, a senior “memory book” was put out. We wore purple and gold robes at graduation, just like now. I remember being really glad to graduate. We used to quote a line about finishing high school: “On this date the prison doors will open.” Football games were big. My husband went to McClymonds. That was Tech’s big rival. We met at the YWCA Teen Club. We had a “Friday Night Club” at the West Oakland Y on Linden St. We had meetings and dances, lots of fun. We went on Halloween hayrides and played tennis. We even went to a Y conference once at Asilomar near Monterey. There was lots of school spirit in my day. We went all the way to Fremont or Castlemont for games. The school was mostly white with some Asian and some Mexican. I was in college prep classes and was usually the only black kid in my class. Everyone got along, but kids stuck mostly with their group, especially at lunch time. The boys sat on one side on the front lawn and the girls sat on the other.
I was a Delphian. It was an honor to be invited to join the Delphian Club. You had to excel in your studies and have good character. I remember only one other black girl being in the club, but when I was in it, I was the only one. We met once a week. On the days we met, we wore a dark skirt and a white top with a sash which was purple with TDC (Tech Delphain Club) printed on it in gold letters. The female Vice Principal, Rosabelle Scott was our leader and assigned us to do various tasks around the school.
I was also in the Golf Club. We played near the airport. And I was in Rowing on Lake Merritt. If you had gym the last period of the day, you went bowling at a place on College Ave. We loved that. One Sunday some friends and I decided to go, but they wouldn’t set the pins for us. We didn’t understand why and were confused. When we told our gym teacher on Monday, she pulled the program out of there. She was a retired military person and she really took a stand.
Joe graduated from McClymonds in ’46 and went to the army and a couple of our friends were killed in the Korean War. One boy I remembered well from Prescott, Paul Tehero, was killed in WWII. ROTC (Reserved Officers Training Corps) was at Tech. The boys in it wore uniforms on their meeting days.
Of my teachers, I remember Mrs. Kannel, my English teacher, who introduced me to black authors like Langston Hughes. Mrs. Bjornson, my history teacher, told us about the 1906 earthquake. She was in college at the time and got credit for helping after it. One time in a report, I used a quote, like it was my words, without putting it in quotes. The teacher called me in after school and showed it to me in a book. It turned out to be a famous quote. I never did that again! I had all women teachers. Boys had auto shop and wood shop. We had home ec (economics). There was art and music. I had singing. Back then, the school gave us all our supplies– pens, pencils, paper, everything.
I had a good friend, Marguerite Ray, who graduated in June. She was active in drama and went on to have a role in “The Young and the Restless,” a TV soap opera. She played the first maid, Mamie. She had other roles on television too.
Our graduation was in the old auditorium. I made one of the speeches. Someone else wrote all the speeches and we read them. Mine was something on those who shall be the makers of homes, about parenting. You read the title and then nodded. That was the cue for those who were going into that field- like teaching, engineering, different fields- to stand up and to stay standing until the end of the speech.
I liked school. I really did. I loved going to school. I didn’t want to miss a day. Since I lived in Berkeley, I had to get up early and take two buses to get there and I studied the whole time on the bus. I got a good education at Oakland Tech. I knew from the beginning that I would go to college. My mother raised me alone and never had an education. She worked cleaning houses and in a laundry, and in the Depression, she sang in a choir and did sewing projects in the WPA (Works Progress Administration). She got married at age 13, so she was a very young mom, but she had good common sense and she taught me a lot of important life lessons. Between Tech and my mother, I learned that we are here to help each other. That’s why the Lord put us here.
My sewing teacher, Mrs. Skinner, was also my counselor. She was a good teacher, but as a counselor, she was supposed to guide us. She didn’t give me the application for the university even though she knew I wanted to go to Cal. I heard from the Delphians that they had already put in their applications. I didn’t even know that you needed to apply, but when I found out, I went right over to Cal that very day and I found out that I was one day too late. I made sure to warn others younger than me. So I went to SF City College and then I transferred to Cal. I was the first in my family to go to college. At Cal I studied Home Economics and then I went to SF State for a teaching credential in elementary education. I started teaching in 1954 in Southern California where we lived for a few years and where my son Keith was born. After two years, we came back to North Oakland and I subbed for a year. Then I got a job at Klausen and taught there, at Peralta, at Stonehurst in East Oakland and at Allendale. I taught 29 of 31 years, taking time off to be with my boys Keith (born in ’53), Karl (’58), and Kraig (’62). Now I have 5 grandchildren. Kyle is the oldest and Drew is the second oldest. He will be 18 in November.
I am proud that I went to Tech. I used to point it out to the kids when we drove by. I have 2 girl cousins who also went to Tech, one graduated in 1953 and one in 1956, I think. My son Keith went to Castro Valley because we lived there for 37 years. Then he taught at Lowell and then came to Tech. When I heard he was going to teach at Tech, my old school, I was in awe. I thought, oh my, whoever would have thought that I’d have a son teaching at Tech!
When Drew graduated last year, he honored me in his graduation speech. I was so in awe, I almost fell off my seat. Here he was giving the graduation speech all these years later, in the same purple and gold robes! He spoke on the subject “Content of Character.” Drew interviewed me for the play 99 Years. He came in first place in the Martin Luther King Oratory contest all but one year. We are very proud of all our grandchildren.
About Tech turning 100, I didn’t know it was so old. I had no idea how old Tech was. I never thought of it as being old. I remember the old auditorium with a balcony. The hallways used to go all the way to the ends of the building.
As for advice to students today, set your goals and go for it. Don’t let anybody talk you out of it. And always have a Plan B.