Magnolia High School History
Magnolia Senior High School was located in Vacherie, Louisiana, a rural area on the west bank of the Mississippi River as it passes through St. James Parish between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. It operated as a school for African American (Negro) students for approximately twenty-five years. The first class graduated in 1951. The diploma had a descriptive notation: “Approved Negro High School” included in its body. The 1952 class had nine graduates. Magnolia’s history is primarily transmitted orally by the many former students who attended it between 1947 and 1970.
The school was housed for about ten years in an elementary school which educated “Negroes” by parish mandate up to the eighth grade. Those who wanted to extend their education had to leave the parish. When the non-farm population grew and the war ended residents demanded an education equal to that of the white residents of the parish. The elementary school was remodeled to accommodate high schoolers. At this point the building housed grades three through twelve. Since Magnolia was the only Black (Negro) high school on the west bank and served all of the small parish community schools including Shell Mound, Burton Lane, Baytree, Cedar Grove, and St. Louis it became necessary in 1952 to advocate for a stand-alone larger high school.
The new school opened in 1958 about three miles from its original Church Street location in the middle of the nearly all Black Community called Magnolia. The new site was a pasture-like piece of ground on Highway 18 adjacent to the abandoned “Les Petite Aimee” historical plantation. Nearly all the students (less than 300) were bussed to the school. Today the school remains in use, but it has been repurposed and renamed.
Magnolia held its last graduation with the class of 1969-70. The school was integrated and became a part of the all-white St. James High school which was located about five miles upriver.
Of course the process was long, tedious, and painful. People have a lot of love and respect for those who fought to keep the school open and to keep its memory alive. In 2018 the class of 1968 held its 50th reunion. The class of 1967 held its 50th reunion in 2017 as well. The class of 1957 held its 60th reunion in 2017. There is still talk about the school’s startup such as the football, baseball and softball games. They talk especially of the tiny football players whose games had to be played on an available Laura Plantation lot which was upriver on Highway 18. With little equipment and accessories, they competed with other Negro schools up and down the river. Sometimes the schools shared their gloves and other equipment with each other.
Several of the homecoming queens, especially the first one, Mary Ann Braud (Class of 1953), are still very active in 2018. The school had it all: Track Teams, Academic Teams, Clubs, Student Council, Plays, Operettas, and other growth activities due to dedicated and mostly imported teachers as well as strong parental support. The school had one principal Mr. Issiac J. Roberts, who served his adopted community admirably.
Magnolia High school’s legacy is powerful and safe. A very common occurrence is to see graduates wearing blue and gold tee shirts and remade sports jackets with the Bulldog and a big M emblazoned on the chest or back. Pictures, yearbooks, jackets, and other memorabilia are cherished! “Magnolia! Magnolia! Your gold and blue” are the beginning words of the alma mater which is sung at appropriate gatherings.
Magnolia High was a good experience for the parish. Lots of doors opened for many people. From day one, its graduates went on to college. Most went to Southern University. One of its first graduates became a dietician.
As with many productive schools the graduates have become educators, (two became School Superintendents), lawyers, doctors, armed services personnel, small business owners, entrepreneurs, administrators, authors, international ministers, pastors, politicians, activists, musicians, family builders and bold contributors to society.
Isaac J. Roberts (1913-1981) was a WWII veteran (Army Sergeant) who became the principal of Magnolia High School and served in that capacity throughout its existence at its last site (1958-1970). He is the single person most identified with Magnolia High School and even in times of segregation, was highly respected by both the black and white communities.
His wife Gertrude passed away in 1990. They were childless and there are no remaining members of his family. One former Magnolia student said “Mr. Isaac Roberts was ahead of his time. He envisioned the possibilities of what his students could become, and he guided his teachers, staff, and students to expect the very best and to do their very best. He cared deeply about the students and he conveyed to them that the sky was the limit and that they could reach for the stars. The seeds he planted at Magnolia High School sprouted. The education the school provided took so many of us to college and pathways that included careers at home and around the world. That was no easy feat, given the time and the circumstances, but Mr. Roberts saw the possibilities.
He would be so proud of us today.” Perhaps his greatest qualification for this honor are the hundreds of former Magnolia High students and teachers who went on to become great assets to St. James High.
Written By: Irving “Boo” Schexnayder, firstname.lastname@example.org