THE 1960S was a decade filled with transition and turbulent times. Overseas, the Vietnam War was raging. War protests were taking place across the country. Martin Luther King Jr. led peaceful protests and marches across the South at the height of the civil rights movement. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to arrive on the moon during NASA’s Apollo 11 Mission.
In Winchester, the events of the world were no secret, and the town had its change taking place with growth and its period of integration. Making their change and marching to the beat of their drum was the Townsend High School Drum Corps.
During the time of the corps, there was nothing like it. They were a dedicated group of performers dancing and twirling just to the beat of drums. Due to the times, the school did not have access to other instruments that would have been common in a marching band. That did not stop them. However, it only made them better and a force that commanded attention.
“We only had drums,” said former drum corps member Patricia Nimox. “There were three young men who played the drums. People would come running to watch us march when they heard us begin to play. We were stepping… and just to drums. All these other schools had different kinds of instruments; all we had were drums. You bet we made a showing when we marched down that street.”
At the helm of the corps was Cowan known as “June Bug” to family, friends, and students, Featherstone was a man of many talents, according to former Townsend Drum Corps member Joanne Hill.
“He was a jack of all trades. He made sure we were all on point and well-dressed,” she said.
Nimox added that Featherstone ensured each student who joined the corps was well-trained.
“We practiced almost every day. June Bug lived up the road from where I lived in Cowan, and Dorothy and I used to go up there and practice in his yard. He was teaching us how to twirl the baton. June Bug was a gifted man. There wasn’t too much he didn’t know how to do. He was funny, but he was for real. He had an idea of how things should be for our performance and wanted to see it executed in the best way possible.”
She said that Featherstone was always helping to care for his students.
“He had a Volkswagen Bug, and when we wanted to go to a football game we would give him a quarter,” she said. “Gas was a quarter a gallon at that time. He was just a good guy.”
MAKING A STATEMENT
Nimox said that Featherstone was in charge of choosing the uniforms for the corps. Making a memorable statement were the outfits, complete with yellow and gold, which were the school’s colors. Each member wore white boots that Nimox said were always clean and white, thanks to white shoe polish and frequent cleanings.
“Back in the day, we thought the uniforms looked good because we thought we looked good wearing them,” laughed Nimox. “It was good to know that we had something like that going on for a black high school. We looked forward to performances, especially the Christmas parade. We were always in the Cowan Christmas Parade.”
A significant event in itself, the Cowan Christmas Parade is one of the most well-known events in Franklin County, with people coming from outside of the county to either participate or watch the long line of participants that in the mid- 60s included the drum corps.
“I remember when we were getting ready at the school to go to the Cowan parade, and we were so excited to be able to march together,” she said. “It was so exciting to know that this all-black school had a marching band. We commanded attention, and we had a particular beat. When we heard that beat, we’d get to stepping. And when the crowd heard that beat, they knew we were coming.”
In remembering those times, Hill said they were remembered fondly and cherished.
“We enjoyed everything we did,” she said. “We were just happy people. From the drum corps to basketball to cheerleading. It was all fun and brought back so many good memories.”
Those interested in revisiting memories or viewing memorabilia of the drum corps can do so at the Townsend Cultural Center, located at 910 S. Shepard St. in Winchester. GN