Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Drexel alumni celebrate historic anniversary in Atlanta

Published February 19, 2016

ATLANTA—Fifty-five years ago, at the height of the American civil rights movement, dozens of African-American families partnered with the Archdiocese of Atlanta to establish the city’s only black Catholic high school, Drexel Catholic High.

Drexel High operated between 1961 and 1967. Located on wooded grounds on Harwell Road in Atlanta’s historic Collier Heights, it offered an intensive college-prep curriculum in a beautiful, new school building with an open-air courtyard surrounded by classrooms.

Drexel students quickly established a national reputation for academic excellence and its high achieving graduates received numerous academic awards and scholarships from prestigious colleges and universities all over the country. Drexel alumni have pursued careers across the spectrum as doctors, lawyers, educators, Georgia state senator, journalists, U.S. Air Force colonel, entrepreneurs, artists and more.

Drexel was closed in 1967 to facilitate the desegregation of archdiocesan high schools.

On Dec. 28, 2015, Drexel’s alumni returned to the Atlanta Airport Marriott Hotel to celebrate that history and to honor the parents and teachers whose courage and sacrifices made their achievements possible. The 150 attendees included members of Drexel’s first graduating class of 1965 who were celebrating their 50th reunion and more than half of the 230 students who attended the school between 1961 and 1967.

The occasion was honored by resolutions from the Georgia House of Representatives and the Atlanta City Council. In a letter sent to the returning alumni, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory also acknowledged Drexel’s “immensely significant” contribution to Atlanta, noting that it “represented a sign to the local culture that the times were changing, and the struggle for true equal citizenship was being undertaken here in our midst.”

Renowned civil rights leader, the late Rev. Hosea Williams, who spoke at the school’s first Senior Night in 1965, received a special Drexel Spirit Award during the celebration. His daughter, Dr. Barbara Williams Emerson, was present for the reunion and was part of its first graduating class. The Drexel Spirit Award was also given to Sister Grace Mary Flickinger, of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, currently a professor of biology at Xavier University in New Orleans and a former English teacher at Drexel who attended; and posthumously to Father Richard Leary, a Passionist priest, the school’s first principal, and to internationally acclaimed musician, Graham Jackson, a favorite of American presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Jimmy Carter. Jackson organized Drexel’s Glee Club and wrote the music for its alma mater.

The school took its name from Philadelphia banking heir, Katharine Drexel, who used her fortune to establish the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, whose stated mission is to provide education for black and Native American children. She was canonized and became St. Katharine Drexel in 2000. The religious order she established continues to work with Native Americans and African-Americans in 21 states and Haiti.

For further information contact Michelle Smith at 404-272-6072 or