History of Katie B. Thomas High School
The first black school in Elton, La. was in 1915, located in an old church building owned by Dick Powell, a sawmill operator. Powell sold the building and lot to the local school board. There were two large classrooms and two teachers: Mr. Price and Mr. Thurman.
James Ward Sr. was appointed principal and his wife was also added to the staff. The school operated for three months of the year, as was the custom for schools then as students and teachers alike were needed to work in planting and harvesting local crops or to work in the sawmills when the weather permitted.
Mrs. Katie B. Thomas, wife of Zack Thomas, for whom the school was later to be named, came to the black community as a young woman, having received her education at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. She taught in Baton Rouge a short time before coming to Elton. With Mrs. Thomas’ concerted efforts, working with the community and the school board, the school session was extended to five months, then seven, and finally nine months.
It was under Mrs. Thomas’ leadership that the school held its first graduation ceremony at the seventh-grade level in 1926. Students graduating were Mrs. Odile Lavan (whose son Michael teaches now), Mrs. Sarah Southall, and Mrs. Eula Norman. At that time the school was located in a building in the center of St. Charles Street.
In 1927 the school moved again to Yokum Street, where St. Joseph Church is presently located on a site sold by Benjamin Buller to Sostan Scott, who sold it to the school board. The four-room school was led by Mrs. Thomas with Mrs. Sarah Yokum, Mrs. Lydia Arceneaux and Miss A. B. Hackett as teachers.
School enrollment grew and it became necessary to find a larger building. The school board approved the use of Zack Thomas’ dance hall and the Golden Chain Church hall for use by first through seventh grades until a suitable building could be erected. Students in grades eight through twelve were bused to Jennings until transferred to the new black school, Carver, that was built in Kinder, La.
In 1957 the community of Elton voted a bond issue on the amount of $400,000 for a black high school and gymnasium on ten acres purchased from Zack Thomas for $5000.00 The school name was officially designated as Katie B. Thomas, who passed away after teaching only one year in the new school. Because of her dedication and contribution to the community and to the school, it was deemed a fitting honor to name the school for her.
The new brick school opened in 1957 with W.L. Livingston as principal, staffed with thirteen teachers, three cafeteria workers, four bus drivers and one janitor. The principal also taught several classes and did the clerical work of the school. Enrollment was 341 students, grades one through twelve.
The first class to graduate held nine proud seniors: Mildred Bellow, Grace Keyes, Larena Ballou, Hillary Ballou, Curtis Sterling, Elsena Woods, Earl Semien, Belara Williams and Lillie B. Brown.
The school continued to grow in enrollment and curriculum: business courses were added in 1963, music in 1965, and industrial arts in 1967. The students participated in and received honors in band, basketball, track, speech and literary activities.
In 1969, through administrative decision court orders, Katie B. Thomas High School was phased out, having graduated 176 students in 12 years. In 1969-70 the school still operated under the name of Katie B. Thomas but as an elementary school of grades one through eight under freedom of choice with 219 black students at the close of this session.
On further court orders came the desegregation of the two schools in Elton. The community rejected a proposed plan to build a consolidated school for black and white students on one location and installed the present plan of busing children between the two schools.
In 1971, the faculties of each school were integrated with W. L. Livingston remaining as principal of the former Katie B. Thomas School, now known as Elton Junior High school housing grades five through eight.
Elton school athletic teams, with football added in 1958 have had outstanding records. Both boys and girls teams are known as “Indians”. In 1970 the Indians football team won the State Class A Championship. The girls’ basketball team won the State Class A Championship in 1975.
Elton teams have consistently won both girls and boys District Championship Playoffs in all areas. Factors in the success of the varsity teams have been the good feeder program from the Junior High School, the wholehearted support of the community and a well-organized coaching staff.