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Features Forgotten Times: The principals of Huntsville High School

Forgotten Times: The principals of Huntsville High School

For 63 years, the Town of Huntsville had its own high school. Opened in 1918 by act of the Tennessee General Assembly, Huntsville High School served the town and the outlying communities around it until Scott High School was completed and opened in 1971. For 39 of those 63 years, Huntsville High School was housed […]

For 63 years, the Town of Huntsville had its own high school. Opened in 1918 by act of the Tennessee General Assembly, Huntsville High School served the town and the outlying communities around it until Scott High School was completed and opened in 1971.

For 39 of those 63 years, Huntsville High School was housed in the mammoth, two-story structure that most older Scott Countians fondly remember. Although it was eventually demolished to make way for a new school, the old Huntsville High School continued to serve as the town’s middle school until the 1970s.

Earlier this year, Forgotten Times examined the rise and all of the old Huntsville High School. This is the rest of that story: a look at the men who served as principals of the high school through the years.

Huntsville High School was open until 1971.

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The elementary and high schools in Huntsville were actually established by act of the state legislature in 1908, and opened as independent schools that predated the Scott County School System. The first four-year graduates of Huntsville High School received their diplomas in 1921. The Huntsville schools were eventually incorporated into the county school system and, by 1970, when Scott High School was being built, Huntsville High School was one of four high schools in Scott County, along with Norma High School and Robbins High School in the county school system, and Oneida High School in the Oneida Special School District.

The principal at that time, in 1971, was Arvis Blakley. He was the 10th and final principal of Huntsville High School.

Blakley, who served a lengthy career as director of the Oneida-Huntsville state vocational school campus after leaving Huntsville High School, is also one of two surviving principals of the school. He is 91 and still lives in Huntsville.

The other surviving principal is the man who preceded Blakley: George Harold Sexton. Sexton was the principal at the high school for two years, and served a long career in education. The 88-year-old Sexton lives in Helenwood.

The first principal of Huntsville High School was C.W. Wright. He served as principal from 1918 to 1923. He would later run for governor of Tennessee, and was also a newspaper publisher. A bridge on U.S. Hwy. 27 in Winfield is named for Wright.

Z. Howell succeeded Wright as principal at Huntsville High School and served in that position for one year, in 1923-1924.

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Following Howell was George T. Beene, who served as principal for one year, in 1924-1925. Beene was the son of John Preston Beene and Kitty Taylor Beene. The Beene family was originally from Georgia, but moved to Morgan County in the 1920s. George Beene died in 1952 in Deer Lodge.

William Laxton served as principal at Huntsville for six years, from 1925 to 1931.

Following Laxton was J. Defoe Pemberton, who was principal for 11 years, from 1931 to 1942. At the time, he was the longest-serving principal in the school’s history. He resigned his position as principal to serve in World War II, and was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army.  Following the war, he received his law degree. He had a law office in Huntsville for a short time, and also served as an assistant district attorney general.

When Defoe Pemberton resigned as principal in 1942, his older brother, Olson Pemberton, succeeded him. Olson Pemberton served as principal from 1942 to 1946.

The Pembertons were part of a large Huntsville family. Another brother, Walter Pemberton, was a long-time mail carrier and served on the Huntsville Board of Aldermen. Yet another brother, Oscar Pemberton, was a dentist in Scott County. Defoe and Olson weren’t the only educators in the family. Their sister, Althea Pemberton, was also a teacher, and taught both in Scott County and in Knoxville.

Defoe Pemberton died in October 1974, at the age of 68, and is buried at Sunbright Cemetery in Morgan County. His wife, Mamie Summers Pemberton, died in Chattanooga in 1995, and is also buried at Sunbright Cemetery.

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Olson Pemberton died in North Carolina in 1979, at the age of 79. His wife, Alice Thornton Pemberton, worked for the Red Cross in Scott County. She died two years after her husband, also in North Carolina.

Oswell Sexton was named principal at Huntsville High School in 1946 and stayed in that role for nine years, until 1955. He had previously served as principal at Huntsville Elementary School from 1930 to 1934.

Sexton began his teaching career at the one-room Tunnel Hill School at the age of 18, just after graduating high school. He eventually graduated from Tennessee Tech, and later obtained his master’s from the University of Tennessee. He spent 44 years in teaching and coaching, also serving as a principal at Robbins.

Oswell Sexton was a direct descendant of one of Scott County’s Revolutionary War veterans, Timothy Sexton. Oswell Sexton was Timothy Sexton’s third-great-grandson. Additionally, Sexton’s grandfather, Christopher Columbus Sexton, served in the Civil War.

In his latter years, Oswell Sexton and his wife, Rema Jeffers Sexton, moved to Madisonville, Tenn., where he served a stint as a school principal. He was a church deacon and Sunday school teacher, as well.

Sexton died in August 2001 in Knoxville and is buried in the Botts Cemetery in the Annadell community. Rema died in 1998 in Sweetwater. She is also buried in the Botts Cemetery.

Ola Quinton Byrd was Huntsville High School’s longest-tenured principal. He served for 13 years, from 1955 to 1968. He also spent time as principal at Norma High School, and was a 38-year veteran of the education system. He would later serve as an assistant principal at Scott High School.

Byrd was the oldest living member of First Baptist Church of Huntsville, where he served as a deacon, when he died in 2001 at the age of 90. His wife, Duval Lee Griffith Byrd, died in 1996. Both are buried in the Byrd Cemetery in Huntsville.

George Harold Sexton served as principal at Huntsville High School from 1968 to 1970. He had previously taught at both Norma High School and Huntsville High School. He would serve two different stints as principal at Huntsville Elementary School, the longest being 17 years, and taught at Scott High School, as well. He and his wife, Ruth, have four children. They currently live in Helenwood. At the age of 88, Sexton has not slowed down, and serves as a church pastor in Kentucky.

Arvis Blakley served as principal at Huntsville High School in its final year before it closed in 1971. He had graduated from Huntsville High School, and began his teaching career at the one-room Cherry Fork School. He later taught at both Norma High School and Oneida High School. He was named director of the Oneida Area Vocational-Technical School in 1971, and spent the remainder of his career in education as the vocational school’s director.

George Harold Sexton, pictured inside the church he pastors, and Arvis Blakley, pictured with Emily Blakley, are the surviving principals of Huntsville High School.

During Blakley’s tenure, the vocational school became the Tennessee Technology Center. It would later be named the Tennessee College of Applied Technology. It was also during Blakley’s tenure that a new campus was built in Huntsville. Blakley retired in the mid 2000s and was succeeded by Dwight Murphy.

Blakley’s wife, Frankie June Strunk Blakley, was also a career educator, and served as principal at Huntsville Middle School. She died in 2000 at the age of 63 and is buried in Mossop Cemetery in Huntsville.

Blakley’s son, John Blakley, is also a career educator and a long-time member of the Scott County School System’s administrative staff. His daughter-in-law, Paula Blakley, is a teacher at Scott High School.

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