Principal Jesse Bilberry was a student at Union Parish Training School who realized a very successful career as an administrator at Tensas Rosenwald High School. He idolized his father and followed in his footsteps as a principal. In a two-part interview series, Principal Bilberry discusses his life, his path toward molding the character and the intellect of young African Americans who became productive citizens of the United States. These former students regularly meet in various cities throughout the United States as alumni of Tensas Rosenwald High School. This proud tradition is exemplary of gratitude to a legendary figure in their lives, Principal Jessie Bilberry.
The Panther 1968
Forty years of progress after their initial year book, the McKinley Senior High School Panthers headlined, again. In the “Panther” 1968 edition, the Panthers’ prowess was demonstrated by their excellence in basketball as L. I. A. L. O. Champions in 1967. Together, the L.I.A.L.O. Championships in Track and Field and basketball resided in south Baton Rouge in 1967. A broad range of clubs was available for student involvement in school activities. Administrative, faculty and student pictures are available to summon memories of a prior era in McKinley’s existence. The “Big M” as they often refer to themselves was on the prowl.
1928 was a remarkable year in African American high school history. Two of the earliest year books from the era, before 1970, are present on this website. The two schools representing this period with their historical documentation are McKinley High School, 1916, and McDonogh 35 High School, 1917. The Panther and the Roneagle will be part of our folklore far into the future.
additional information regarding these two institutions can be viewed on their pages.
The McKinley High School Alumni Center is a significant contribution to the past history of African American high school history and the present history of the African American high school experience. The staff of the Alumni Center was gracious in allowing the first video tour of The McKinley Senior High School Museum. These artifacts are emblematic of the times. Melvin Mitchell narrates a visit to the museum with a brief history of McKinley Senior High School. He tells of the importance of community involvement in recovery from a cataclysmic fire resulting in destruction of the school and the phoenix-like rebirth of one of the oldest school school buildings in African American high school history. The website presents: McKinley Senior High School Museum.
Formal education is an essential element for active participation in society. When this instrument was denied or deprived by underfunding and was administered in unequal allotments to different groups, education became weaponized.
This website is a testament to the weaponization of education on a multicentury time scale. Prior to emancipation, there was a prohibition to teaching African Americans formal education. After emancipation the infrastructure for any social or educational achievement sporadically existed and the general attitude of the empowered was “Why should they be educated? What will they do with it?” Any effort to change agricultural/domestic platform was resisted. The religious denominations were quick to the charge of self-help. Education for the masses of African Americans, finally became acceptable at the turn of the twentieth century. Under the guise of equality, a separate but equal mantra with an eyewink was instituted. The public school system finally was embraced for the masses of African Americans but on an unequal footing.
The scheme of equality did not exist and a dual education system continued. A challenge to the equal access to education mounted, training schools flourished after the “Great Depression” until the mid-twentieth century. Approaching the mid-century a Topeka, Kansas, United States Supreme Court decision was greeted with a massive construction effort to feign equality. This effort was futile. Sixteen years later, deliberate action was realized so schools became united so there could be equal educational opportunities for all. Many issues exist today that prevent the equal distribution of education. Just as we see advancement in education today, we should also think, what would have happened if education had not been weaponized by denying a segment of the population equal access? What would have happened if education had not been weaponized?
Who Will Tell Our Story
Our stories, stories about African American High Schools in Louisiana, are similar, they are individually unique to where we live, the political, economic, geographic and social environment that engulfed us. Often, we could not control our destiny. We were passive bystanders with a narrative dictated by others.
Our story is one of resilience, of tenacity and in many instances of prayer to God and begging man for a change of heart in our educational aspirations. Patience with deliberate action resulted in an eventual triumph in our quests.
Generally, the template for education for African Americans was closely tied to the only social institution we had, the church. The initial secondary schools were all religious in origin. Rural areas trailed urban areas with primary and intermediate schools associated with churches. Public accommodation for education to African Americans began first in three major urban areas and spread to other less urban areas and finally to the rural areas.
Each school has its own story. We had little money and many struggles. Our struggles varied but nevertheless, our paths were obstructed. Should we tell our story, or should we rely on others who could not imagine what our existence encompassed to tell our story?
Our oral histories should be written. If we fail to write our story we will be relegated to myth and much of the narrative will be distorted in a way that is inconsistent with our reality. Hence, we are the only ones who can and should tell our story and have it written into history.
We should not be ashamed, afraid or secretive about our origins. We were recipients of a boat with gaping holes in its bottom and we had to cross a river. It took courage, tenacity, perseverance and faith. We should harness these qualities and tell our story. This is the reason for the website, http://www.africanamericanhighschoolsinlouisianabefore1970.com . Many of our stories are written and we have many more stories to be written. We anxiously await the stories about schools whose histories were not recorded.
This website, http://www.AfricanAmericanHighSchoolsinLouisianaBefore1970.com was established as an urgent effort to obtain the last information about the African American high school experience during a time when resources were minimal and the need was maximal. This website has an oddly long name , however, the name is emblematic and explanatory about its contents. This name is not an attempt to lessen the efforts of our progeny. It is an effort to let everyone know how we arrived at our current station and to establish a continuity with our past. We earned it.
We have catalogued all of the high schools and presently we are aware of the existence of one hundred-eighty five secondary schools. We have received a great response and we have received very many thanks and much praise for our efforts. There are approximately thirty five high schools from which we cannot get information or we do not know an individual who can lead us to someone or a group who can assist us in obtaining information. We need help from everyone.
The school mascots are listed below.
C. M. Washington High School was the latest addition to the website. A slight twist was encountered in its naming and it persists until today but at a lesser level from the high school. Most training schools had parish designations in their names. Mrs. Cordelia Matthews Washington was well respected in her community and in local political circles. The school was named in her honor and also the African American community protested so the name could endure into the future. A history of the school and pictures of activities are included to mark Mrs. Washington’s dream for education.
Morehouse High School
The Morehouse legacy existed for fifty-three years. A memory was compiled to verify its existence, The Tiger 1916-1969.
Valencia High School
Valencia High School was a late arrival to the L. I. A. L. O. family , however, the Vikings made their presence felt. This school existed from 1964 until 1970.
East High School
East High School in Clinton, Louisiana, had a history of accomplishment and they had a style of their own. They share their history with us. Their history is our history.
L. I. A. L. O. Athletes Who Became Professional Athletes
When we think of professional athletes, we all knew many of them. When someone says , today, he comes from a given locality in Louisiana, graduates of African American High Schools in Louisiana before 1970, remember where he or she would have matriculated had history not been reversed. Our athletes represented our schools well. We remember them. Review the list. If anyone was omitted , let us know.
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the mass closure of the African American high schools in Louisiana. Prior to 1970 there were approximately one hundred eighty-five high schools throughout the state and their classification ranged from single A to triple AAA. Their affiliations extended through the various religious denominations in the beginning to the publicly funded schools near the termination of the era of the African American high school. All has not been lost since 1970. Approximately fifteen historically African American High Schools presently exist.
This year marks the third anniversary of AfricanAmericanHighSchoolsinLouisianaBefore1970.com. This website expanded from an idea to preserve the history of the LIALO to exceeding 30,000 pages of information that would otherwise be found at our local waste disposal sites. We are preserving this information which includes a wide array of sources and types: histories of school’s origin, mascots, alma maters, historical markers, coaches, yearbooks, class histories, newspaper articles, state department records, class roles for entire schools and published books.
A noteworthy effort, History of Central Colored High School, 1917 to 1949, the ten-year effort of Mrs. Gwendolyn Deloris Swinton, was placed on the site under the Central Colored High School banner. The book is a collection of information of this institution that paved the way for African American students in much of Caddo Parish and northwestern Louisiana corridor for thirty years. The time of its existence was short-lived, however, the Phoenix, Booker T. Washington High School rose from the ashes. The old Central Colored High School building stands today as a testament to its legacy. Mrs. Swinton’s book documents how education for the African American high school student was meant to be. There was a dedicated and well-educated faculty and a hungry community striving to succeed in life. The graduates subsequently dispersed throughout the world proud to be from the school and became aspirational leaders in the world community. The youngest graduates are now older than eighty-eight years old and only a few are alive today. We must not forget their experiences and their contributions to our existence. Interestingly, after another twenty years the youngest graduates of an African American high school from the era before 1970 will be eighty-eight years old. There will be few of us alive at this time in the future and we, too, desire to be remembered.