Ouachita Parish Negro High School History
April 18, 2019- Monroe Free Press Archive
The fire that destroyed Boley Elementary last week was tragic and historic, especially in light of its connection with the Black community’s struggle for educational excellence. Authorities believe the West Monroe school fire was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. However, officially the cause of the fire is still listed undetermined. The fire leveled the school which began as the benevolent act of a former slave who donated the land for the school just after slavery ended in Ouachita Parish. For many of the African-American students and their families, the fire represented not only the loss of a building but also a loss of an educational legacy that connected them to the struggle of their slave ancestors and their quest for an education.
The fact that Boley was a land grant school, built on land donated by former slaves adds to the tragedy.
After slavery ended in the parish in 1865, Black community leaders in Monroe and West Monroe pushed to build schools and train teachers for the good of the race. In Monroe, the Barringtons organized former slaves to build a school at 8th and Washington Street; they called it the Wisner School.
In Trenton (later named West Monroe), Morris Willis, a former slave, bought property in West Monroe. One of his ten children, Roy Willis married Naomi Boley whose grandmother, Jane Boley, a freed slave, purchased the property where Boley Elementary sat in 1866. In the early 1950s, a high school for Negroes was built on the premises and named after the historic Boley family. The same year, West Monroe High School was built for whites. Later the school was integrated, downgraded to an elementary school, but kept the historic Boley family name. It became one of the most racially diverse schools in the Ouachita Parish system.
The Boley Family, along with the Willis, Carroll and Myles families formed the nucleus of Black social, political, and educational leadership that dominated the parish for nearly a century. The descendants of these families owned a dairy, acquired considerable property, founded the First Colored Baptist Church of West Monroe (later renamed Trenton) and became educational leaders in both Monroe and West Monroe.
The influence of the Boley, Carroll and Willis family extended to Monroe. Morris Henry Carroll, grandson of the slave Henry Clay Carroll became principal of Monroe Colored High and later Carroll High School on Renwick.
The Blacks in Monroe built the Wisner School at 8th and Breard, but it was burned by the Klan in the early 1900s, along with several black churches, but the Wisner School was rebuilt by the community and morphed into Monroe Colored High.
The Brown Family in Richwood gave land to the Parish School Board for construction of the Terzia High School (Richwood) and a school for Negroes in the Renwick neighborhood was constructed called “Booker T. Washington School (site of Tri-District Boys Club). The school site was closed and leased to CAP and was burned.
The West Monroe Myles Family was instrumental in pushing for the opening of Myles High in Sterlington, but it closed. One of its family member Frank Myles became principal of the Lincoln school in Monroe.
In the 1970s Carroll High School was burned by arsonists but was rebuilt, but the historic books and artifacts dating back to slavery days were lost. When Boley Elementary burned last week it touched a nerve of concern among blacks and whites who jointly own the legacy of the historic school. It was a model of diversity and racial cooperation.
Members of the school board were deliberating this week to discuss the future of the school, whether it would be rebuilt or whether its faculty and students would be absorbed into existing schools.
For the African American community, its future is important: There is no Wisner School, Monroe Colored High, Myles High or Booker T. Washington. Many hope the district will think it’s important to rebuild the school on its historic site as a symbol of the diversity and historic of both black and white communities in West Monroe.