There is virtually no upside in correcting someone else's error.
As I've mentioned in this space before, it's been a loosely held new year's resolution of mine to stop reflexively debunking all the urban legends sent my way.
The urge to straighten out those tales comes largely from a desire to get things right, ingrained in anyone who is in my business. But the downside to it is that the people spreading those stories often don't want them corrected. They want to believe them.
With family histories, the risk of correcting an error is even greater because of the emotions attached. If family lore says Grandpa was a Medal of Honor winner in World War I, you can bet the person who shows the tale is false will be hated by the members of the family - and they'll keep telling it anyway.
All this explanation is to explain a flurry of activity Thursday and Friday that, to my relief, confirmed an important piece of a local family's history that also is important for a local school.
It's a great story: James "Cody" Hunt graduated Saturday from Harlem High School, class of 2010. In 1910, his great-grandmother, Nannie Whitaker, also graduated from Harlem.
That would be cause enough for celebration. But there was more: Whitaker, the story said, was also one of two members of Harlem's first-ever graduating class.
Suddenly the story was significant not just for Hunt and his family, but for the entire Harlem High School family - including me, a 1979 graduate of Harlem High.
Unfortunately, based on the information I had at hand, the story just didn't ring true. While there was no reason to doubt Whitaker graduated 100 years ago, I had no evidence to support the claim that she was one of the first two graduates (along with John Louese Williamson).
To the contrary, I had lots of information that made it unlikely the first graduates were just 100 years ago.
This includes a notice from 1876 advertising the pending opening of Harlem High School for that year, along with stories from both The Augusta Chronicle and The Columbia Sentinel - predecessor of The News-Times - that described commencement exercises for several years before 1910.
So: How could the school hold commencement exercises for several years, yet the first graduates weren't until 1910? How could a school exist for at least 34 years, yet in all that time no one got a diploma?
Then, how do you square the evidence stacked against the story of that first-time diploma in 1910, vs. the family's copy of the actual 1910 graduation program that clearly refers to the ceremony as the "first annual"?
The answer, it seems, is in one important word from that 1910 graduation: "graded."
Not until 1910 is the school referred to as "Harlem Graded School." Before then, schoolinformation referred to such categories as "intermediate" and "advanced"; the coverage of the 1910 ceremony refers to actual grades, such as "students of third, fourth and fifth grades" performing an operetta for the ceremony.
Records suggest there were other changes to the school for that year, too, and all of it points to Harlem coming under more structured control as part of a greater school system, locally and in the state.
The resulting changes seems to have included placing students in specific grade levels and granting diplomas to those who completed the highest level, something we now take for granted. The school also gained a new principal, who awarded only those two Harlem diplomas before leaving to take over as president of a women's college in Tennessee.
Thus, the evidence supports not only the Hunt family milestone, but the Harlem family milestone as well. With the case cinched shut, the school Saturday confidently celebrated its centennial commencement.
I wish we'd known a little sooner so we could have made a far bigger deal of it in the news, but for now I'm just thrilled knowing Harlem High School has been awarding diplomas for 100 years - and that I have one.
In addition to Harlem's milestone 100th year of graduates, it also was the year in which coach Jimmie Lewis' teams brought home his 600th win on the baseball diamond.
Lewis' first and 600th wins both came against Richmond Academy.
Lakeside High can relate. The first time Lakeside played for the state championship in baseball was in 1993, losing to Marist.
On Friday, they play for the state championship again. At home, against Marist.
Will this finally be the series that ends the Marist jinx? Let's hope so. Lakeside's team this year has been nothing short of phenomenal, and they certainly have the talent to bring home the championship.
Best of luck to the Panthers!
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)
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