MEMPHIS, Tenn. — At Mt. Pisgah Middle School in Cordova, once you’re an Eagle, you’re always an Eagle.

For Clarence Neal and his classmates, that’s still true more than 50 years later.

“As I look around this gym, the only thing that has changed is the bleachers,” said Neal.

In the 1960s, the entire school sat in bleachers in the gym every morning. Back then, the school went from 1st to 12th grade and was segregated.

“We all laugh about it now because we only made it to the 11th-grade spot,” said Neal.

Before they could sit in the coveted 12th-grade section of the Mt. Pisgah gym, the eagles landed in different schools.

“They told us, ‘You all will not be coming back.’ Plus, they didn’t tell us where we were going, but (just that we) will not be coming back here,” said Neal.

With no reason given, the 11th-grade class was split up and bussed to different high schools for their senior year.

“They didn’t want us there. You’re talking about the heyday of the ’70s, the early ’70s,” said Neal. “It was very traumatic,” said Janice Mitchell.

Mitchell is still upset about not getting a 12th-grade prom at Mt. Pisgah or a chance to walk across the graduation stage in the gym. “You go 11 years to a school, and sometimes it feels like just for that moment. To find out was very devastating,” said Mitchell.

This year, the Eagles finally landed.

The classmates reconnected, created their own diplomas, and the class of 1972 held their own graduation. “Best time of our life,” said Neal.

“That night was so emotional. I felt like it filled that void that had been there for such a long time,” said Mitchell.

A lot had changed for the classmates in five decades, but their Eagle pride lives on.

“We went back and got all the names we could. It was 95 people in our class, and unfortunately, 30 have passed,” said Neal.

After many years, grandkids and even great-grandkids later, the classmates finally got to that 12th-grade spot on the bleachers in the Mt. Pisgah gym.