Earl P. Williams, Jr.: Memories of Gordon Junior High School

Gordon Junior High School––now Hardy Middle School––was built in 1928, and, appropriate to its school colors, which were green and gold, for the first two decades it was richly overgrown with ivy. Glover Park resident Earl P. Williams, Jr. attended Gordon between 1962 and 1964.




Seventh-grade homeroom class 7-216, Gordon Junior High School, Georgetown, D.C., Spring 1963 (Earl P. Williams, Jr., second row, center).





J. Dallas Shirley, principal of Gordon Junior High School, was also a basketball referee who officiated at more than two thousand basketball games between 1933 and 1966. Shirley, a Washington native, was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980.


Our principal, Mr. J. Dallas Shirley, was an old-school, no-nonsense educator. He would appear unannounced from time to time in the school cafeteria, his arrival signaled by a blast from his coach whistle––Shirley was also an NBA referee––and give us pep talks or upbraidings about our conduct in school or off campus. In those days we had a strict dress code: no tennis shoes or sneakers, no tight sweaters for girls, and so on. For infractions, parents would be alerted, and kids sent home. Mr. Shirley’s wife was a substitute teacher at Gordon. One day, I got caught doodling on the blackboard, but not by Mrs. Shirley. Since my last name is Williams, and our seats were arranged in alphabetical order, my seat was at the back of the class next to a wraparound blackboard, i.e., a blackboard that extended along two walls in the shape of an “L”. I was sitting next to the short end of the blackboard. No one warned me about our classroom visitor, who traversed the entire length of the room to pay me a special visit. Lost in thought, I caught this visitor standing close to me from the corner of my eye. I looked up, and there, towering over me, was Mr. Shirley. Before I looked up he had not made a sound. That was the only day I got detention at Gordon.



In those days the superintendent of D.C. public schools was Dr. Carl Hansen. He developed a three-tiered curriculum, known as the “track system”, consisting of a lower, a middle, and an accelerated track; I was placed on the accelerated track. I struggled with Latin, but did well with the rest of my subjects. The only extracurricular activity that I took up was playing viola in the school orchestra. While at Gordon, I did not take traditional algebra or geometry. I don’t remember exactly what type of math I took, but I remember that my textbook was written by graduate students from the University of Maryland, and was not published by the big schoolbook publishing houses, such as McGraw Hill. Instead, the books looked as if they could have been published doctoral dissertations, with rudimentary binding, and a red cover with the University of Maryland seal in black. The text was printed on an IBM Selectric typewriter, in 10-point Courier font, and was on one side only. And there were errors; I remember times when my teacher would tell us to make corrections with pen and ink. We studied integers, the “universe” (not to be confused with the cosmos), rays (lines extending to infinity in one direction or both), the empty set, and overlapping circles that reminded me of the Ballantine beer logo. For me to say that this subject was not my strong suit is an understatement.



I attended Gordon during one of the tensest times in world history and during one of the saddest times in American history, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the assassination of our beloved president, John F. Kennedy. When the former happened, I remember sitting in my history class and watching the clock on the wall. That’s what we all did, including our teacher. I believe that 10:00 a.m. was H-hour. If we saw movement, like helicopters or jets flying overhead, it would be like Woody Guthrie’s song, “So Long, It’s Been Good To Know You”. After the crisis passed, I remember that the school corridors were lined with olive green 55-gallon drums, displaying the Civil Defense logo, containing water we were supposed to use in case of an attack. Civil Defense logos indicating a fallout shelter were placed on the school, and on several other buildings. A year later, in the same history class, my teacher, Mr. Smith, cried the whole hour. It was a terrible time. Seeing the flag flying at half-staff for thirty days, on that tall flagpole that still stands in front of Hardy Middle School, reinforced the somber mood. I had seen the breaking news on the previous Friday, November 22, 1963, because we only had a half day of school owing to a teachers’ meeting. When I got home, my mother was watching the soaps, when a special CBS bulletin interrupted the programming.



On to more pleasant memories! Our school perimeter was ringed was ringed with beautiful pink and white dogwood trees. Every spring, we would crown a Dogwood Queen, who was accompanied by her Princesses. This was a big deal in DC, so much so that the Washington Post would cover the story and the photographs would appear in color, at a time when color photography was rare in newsprint. The stories appeared on page one of the A section, or on page one of the Metro section. And last, but not least, our school song, “We Praise You, Dear Gordon”––sung to the tune of “Sweetheart of Sigma Chi”––always provided a cotillionesque flair.



(Washington Post Times Herald, May 3, 1962, p.1)

(Washington Post Times Herald, May 3, 1962, p.1)




Earl P. Williams Jr. is the author of “What You Should Know About the American Flag” (Maryland Historical Press, 1987); “The ‘Fancy Work’ of Francis Hopkinson: Did He Design the Stars and Stripes?” (Quarterly of the National Archives, Spring 1988); and “Francis Hopkinson, Designer of the Stars and Stripes” (New Jersey Historical Commission Newsletter, September 1989). 

His research is cited in the Wikipedia entry on Francis Hopkinson: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Hopkinson





 Carlton Fletcher

 The citation and acknowledgement of my research is greatly appreciated.

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The support of the Advisory Neighborhood Council (3B) is gratefully acknowledged.