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.
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.
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.
Mossville High School had its early beginnings with the Rosenwald fund. The Pirates were true to their creed. They excelled in all endeavors, scholastic and athletic. The school met the same fate as most of the African American high schools. However, the Mossville community was decimated by technological progress. We mourn the loss of the Mossville community and we joyously remember the Pirates of Mossville High School.
Central High School began in a one-room building with a dirt floor in 1886. These humble beginnings marked the hope for the African American High school in Mineral Springs, Louisiana. Education for African Americans in Louisiana required sacrifice. Following the legacy of other African American schools, land was donated: additional land was matched by the Ouachita Parish School Board. The serpentine cheers in Calhoun were then heard from the Rattlers at Calhoun. They arrived with a bang and finally in 1970 the school was demoted to an elementary school. The Rattlers are part of the legacy of people who secured their future with personal sacrifice.
A classic description of how education for African American youth began is vividly detailed in Winn Parish. A group of local churches formed the foundation for primary education. The Rosenwald Fund came to the aid of the African American community in May, 1929 establishing the Winn Training School. Over the ensuing years new additions were made. Winn Training School endured until 1957 when a new facility was provided; this facility became Pinecrest High School. The Hornets continued to prosper until 1970.
As the United States approached the end of World War II, there were nearly 60 African American high schools scattered throughout the state of Louisiana. These high schools had the underpinnings of “Training School” and “Colored School” attached to their names. As times passed “Training School” was removed from most schools and all schools removed “Colored” from their names. After 1950 most of the new names of African American high schools were for local individuals who made significant contributions to their communities or the names of prominent educators, politicians and philanthropists on the national scene such as Joseph S. Clark, Charles P. Adams, Lord Beaconfield Landry, Booker T. Washington, Mary McCleod Bethune, George Washington Carver, President William McKinley, Julius Rosenwald and Carter G. Woodson. The list of names of schools and their namesake is quite extensive.
The Second Louisiana All-State High School Biographical Annual Review lists all of the African American high schools existing in Louisiana in 1944. This almost coincided with the termination of World War II. These schools were active in preparing the African American community for a period when each community would have its own school. This period began in the 1950’s when over 200 high schools were constructed and extended to the late 1960’s when most of the African American high schools were closed.
There was a uniqueness to Holy Ghost High School, a symbol hidden in clear daylight for everyone to see. Their mascot, the Dove , symbolized peace , love, tranquility and the message. Mascots in other schools symbolized ferocity, lions, tigers, bears, dragons, eagles, rams, bulldogs and bloodhounds.
The nuns arrived by horse drawn wagons in 1874 and they established the St. Joseph School. They worked tirelessly to have a secondary school graduation in 1906 and a second graduation followed in 1913. Construction followed the good news with a new building erected in 1914.
A new building was erected in 1955 for the Doves. Holy Ghost High School was merged with Academy of the Immaculate Conception in 1970. The new school became Opelousas Catholic School. The Doves and their accomplishments are a tribute to the horse -drawn wagons filled with nuns with a mission of peace, love and tranquility. The message survives and the Doves are remembered.