History of Booker T. Washington High School
The construction and January 23, 1950, opening of Booker T. Washington High School began a significant era in the history of African-Americans in Shreveport, Louisiana. It can be argued this building was the first real state-of-the-art school for African-American high school students. Beginning in the late 1940s and into the 1950s, Shreveport’s population expanded and the city incorporated nine neighborhoods between 1949 and 1960. Due to the post-World War II baby-boom generation, the Caddo Parish School Board during this time expanded its school facilities by almost forty including both categories of additions to existing school buildings or new schools built from scratch. Booker T. Washington High School was in the latter category – new construction.
Situated within a thriving African-American neighborhood, the style of architecture used a popular school layout used elsewhere in the city. The finger arrangement consisted of separate parallel wings with a courtyard or green space in between the wings. The style of modern architecture and building methods and materials were at the time state-of-the-art with Booker T. Washington High School replacing an older 1917 school for African-American students.
The school was named in honor of Booker T. Washington, former slave who through education and perseverance became a modern African-American pioneer in formal education founding Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Just like its namesake, Booker T. Washington High School in Shreveport was designed to provide formal higher education to African-American students in a modern educational environment. Not only did the school offer secondary or high school education, but it also had a “Manual Training” wing to offer vocational technical education. The school also provided college preparatory academic courses (and still does). African-American students in Shreveport and even students from areas in Caddo Parish outside the city limits attended Booker T. Washington High School. It was the largest African-American high school in Caddo Parish.
Physically set within the then largest African-American neighborhood within Shreveport, the building became more than just an academic center of learning. It became a community icon and demonstrated that place matters. The school, which superbly fit into its surrounding Lakeside / Allendale community of African-American families, businesses, and places of worship, became a symbol of hope and change. It witnessed the visits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the neighborhood’s churches in the late 1950s as the birth of the Civil Rights Movement began in Shreveport. It became a center of peaceful demonstrations against segregation and most notably a dramatic confrontation with Shreveport Police on September 23, 1963, when the police in force entered the campus. This phenomenon was not isolated to just Booker T. Washington High School in Shreveport, but played out in other schools in the Southern United States during this era.
When Booker T. Washington High School opened in 1950, it took the place of Central Colored High School and the Milam Street Trade School. Central and Milam Street both became Junior Highs. Central is still standing today and operates as an elementary school while Milam Street, which closed in 1955, has since been demolished. The principal from Central became the first principal at Booker T. Washington High School.
The new schools for African American students of the 1950s, like Booker T. Washington High School, were a result of the wide disparity seen between previous black and white schools. Previous surveys done of the African American schools described them as deplorable and that construction of a new high school would be one step towards improvement. Based on these surveys, great strides were made in the construction of quality school buildings for African American students. In addition to this survey, the Central Colored High School and Milam Street Trade School were woefully overcrowded at their current locations. Thus, the Booker T. Washington High School was built across the street from the Milam Street Trade School.
The very site of the state-of-the-art BTW HS was within 71 rather hilly acres containing a former park and golf course named Lakeside Park owed by the City of Shreveport. The City declared this property “abandoned” in 1946 and that year, sold 33 acres on the eastern side to the Caddo Parish School Board for the construction of a new high school to be named, Booker T. Washington. The hilly terrain provided a challenge to the architects designing the first modern high school for African Americans in Shreveport.
Individually and collectively, these architects brought their experience and expertise to the design of Booker T. Washington High School. The building was built for just over $1.5 million dollars and upon its opening, became the most modern high school in Louisiana. For the era of construction, it contained innovative features including individual lockers for students, modern laboratories and a central heating system. When constructed, Booker T. Washington High School was the second largest school by size in Caddo Parish. Fortunately, the school today maintains its architectural integrity although thousands of students have passed through its corridors and into the world to chart their paths through life with distinguished careers.
From the date of its construction in 1949 and opening in 1950, until the present day, Booker T. Washington High School has educated Shreveport’s African American students in a facility that was part of an overall movement for more equalized educational facilities. It took over where Shreveport’s previous African American schools left off, combining both traditional educational courses and vocational courses into an all-encompassing high school that has produced who have become prominent educators, doctors, lawyers, politicians, business professionals, writers, with others noted in an array of professions. The school changed the trajectory of education for African Americans in northwest Louisiana by bringing a cohesive order to educational coursework and school architecture. The schools dictum – Honor-Knowledge-Loyalty – remains true today for each graduate as it did for the first graduate over 65 years ago.
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