A famous African proverb says, "It takes a village to raise a child." For many African-Americans in Lexington, that village was the Oakwood subdivision.
Some Oakwood children are now in their 40s and 50s, and they will return this weekend to the subdivision off Georgetown Road that they credit with helping to shape their lives and success.
The reunion begins at 5:30 p.m. Friday with a tour of Bryan Station High School, where three years ago a new building replaced the one where many of them excelled in athletics and academics. On Saturday, a block party is planned from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. A memorial service, dinner and party begins at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Lexington Hilton Downtown.
"I always thought Oakwood was a special place," said Angela Duerson Tuck, an editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who helped organize the reunion. "All of the adults looked after all of the children. Everybody knew each other. Everybody helped each other."
Oakwood was special from the beginning. When the 106-home subdivision opened in 1964, it was only the second development in Lexington where African-Americans could buy a new house. The first, St. Martins Village, had opened a few years earlier, about a mile down Georgetown Road.
Oakwood opened the same year that Congress passed landmark civil rights legislation that prohibited housing discrimination. Before that, such discrimination was not only legal but widely practiced.
The subdivision was carved from farmland near the factories of IBM, Square D and Trane. Those employers were willing to hire African-Americans and pay them enough so they could afford an Oakwood home, which then sold for about $20,000.
The 1960s were the heyday of suburbia, and Oakwood was a place where African-Americans could live the suburban dream. The neighborhood's popularity led to the development five years later of the adjacent Oakwood Estates, with 139 homes.
Many Oakwood homeowners had grown up together in Lexington's East End or were classmates at the old, all-black Dunbar High School. Some worked together and many went to church together.
"We became very good neighbors," said Julian Jackson Jr., 78, the first black director of the Kentucky Cabinet for Human Resources.
"It always seemed like an extended family," Tuck said of Oakwood, where her parents moved in 1965 from Winchester. "We used to joke that if you did something you weren't supposed to and one of the parents saw you, they'd correct you and then call your parents, so more discipline would be waiting for you when you arrived home."
The Jacksons were the third family to buy a home in Oakwood, in August 1964. Jackson and his late wife were in a hurry to enroll their son, Jarold — now supervisor of field operations for Kentucky American Water — in first grade at Linlee Elementary School.
Lexington's schools were being peacefully integrated, but Linlee's principal made a point of calling several Oakwood parents to tell them their children would be welcome. They were among Linlee's first black students.
Those former Oakwood children remember how their parents emphasized education and hard work. "There was just no tolerance for not achieving," Tuck, who began her career at the Herald-Leader, said with a laugh.
Others returning for the reunion include Randall Johnson, a Chicago attorney who graduated from Dartmouth College and Yale Law School, and Greg Fields, a former WKYT-TV meteorologist who works for WFAA-TV in Dallas.
But some of their friends won't have to come far — they still live in Oakwood.
Most of the homes belong to their original owners or their heirs. Jarold Jackson and his brother, Jonathan, have homes in the neighborhood. And Jarold's son, Brian, 27, lives in the Oakwood home that once belonged to his great-grandmother.
The neighborhood now includes several white families.
As I photographed Julian, Jarold and Brian Jackson at the Oakwood entrance Sunday evening, the occupants of every passing car waved to them. Julian Jackson's dentist stopped and rolled down his window so he could tease him.
"This," Julian Jackson said as his dentist drove away, "has been a pleasant place to live."