Reverend James A. Herod
(The History of James A. Herod High School)
James A. Herod was a husband, father, preacher and a teacher. He was also described as being educated, passionate, loyal, caring, loving and religious.
Reverend James A. Herod was married to Josephine Robinson of Abbeville, La. She was the daughter of James Robinson and Rose Joiner. Revered Herod was listed in the 1900 Federal Census of Vermilion Parish as born in November of 1860 in Tennessee. Rev. Herod was forty years old and his wife was thirty-two years old at the time the census was composed. He was sent to Louisiana by the American Missionary Association to attend Straight College and New Orleans University which are now Dillard University in New Orleans.
When Reverend Herod first entered Louisiana in the late 1800’s which was the turn of the century, slavery had been abolished and the south was slowly transforming into a new south. However, there was still another hurdle Reverend Herod had to face and that hurdle was Jim Crow. From the 1800’s into the 1960’s a majority of the states enforced segregation through “Jim Crow” laws. These laws governed nearly every aspect of daily life, from education to public transportation. Each state had various Jim Crow laws: for example, Louisiana had laws that stated the following:
1868: Prohibited separate schools based on race
1898: General Assembly to establish free public schools for the white and colored races
1921: Called for separate free public schools for the education of white and black children between the ages of six and eighteen years.
1954: Immediately after the Brown vs Board of Education decision, Louisiana amended its constitution to state that public and elementary schools would be operated separately for white and black children. Penalty: $500.00 to $1000.00 for not enforcing and imprisonment from three to six months.
1957: Compulsory attendance suspended in school systems where integration was ordered; no state funds to non-segregated schools.
Rev James Herod was a good citizen and even though he knew in his heart that the laws of the land were unfair, in no manner would he break those laws. Instead he decided to act in a nonviolent legal way. He promised himself he would make sure the African American children of Abbeville would receive equal or better education, just as the other children within the community had access to. He and his wife were very educated and decided to immediately start teaching.
The first building he used to teach in was St. Mary Congregational Church. Building a school was very costly and the majority of the community was poor, so he used his second home (St. Mary Church) as a school. Even though his main focus was education for the youth of the community he didn’t stop with reading and arithmetic; he also taught the word of the Bible to the elders of the town.
In the archives of St. Mary Congregational Church, it is noted that Rev. Herod was the second pastor of the St. Mary Congregational Church. He served as pastor of the church for 13 years and was the serving pastor when the sanctuary was built in 1905. While serving as pastor, he helped organize a Sunday school program, Vocational Bible School, and many other committees for the church. Even though the Reverend had only one leg and had to use what was called a “peg leg” he still was very mobile and inspired the people of the community to mobilize and become active within the community.
As time passed his focus grew on a broader image—instead of concentrating solely on the city of Abbeville, he and his wife shared their time, knowledge, and wisdom throughout the entire Vermilion Parish. Rev. Herod was very interested in educational, religious, and civic affairs of Vermilion Parish. He was a member of the Board of Directors for the city Chamber of Commerce.
The first school blessed with his name was located on Lampman Street which is now known as Dr. Martin Luther King Drive. The school was located in the heart of the African American community. The location of the school made it easy for students to have access to a good education without traveling far.
Later the school was demolished and replaced on the same property with a new and improved facility/school. The new school was also much bigger than the old school. In 1955 the new school was opened and named in his honor, “Herod High School”. It was the first and last African American High School of Abbeville and taught a curriculum that covered grades 1-12. African American students from all over Vermilion Parish attended James Herod High School. Later in 1969-1970 James Herod High school was closed due to desegregation of the public-school systems in Louisiana. The school was reopened in the 1980’s as an elementary school and covered grades four and five. Eventually the school was closed permanently. In 1991 the old Abbeville Elementary School located at 120 Odea Street was renamed after the Honorable Reverend James A. Herod.
Even though the original James A. Herod High School is no longer open, his name still rings loudly within the community. He is acknowledged as the father of African American education in Abbeville. Many generations of African American families received a quality education thanks to Reverend Herod. Before he made his contribution to the community, a majority of the African American citizens were illiterate and were unable to spell or write their names. They would sign documents with the letter “x” as their signature. If he were still alive today, he would be humbled and honored to know that not only are African Americans receiving quality educations in a school named after him, but all children are legally allowed to sit together and receive the proper education enabling them to become leaders one day.
Reverend James A. Herod was buried in the Congregational Church Cemetery on Prairie Avenue in 1948.