Historic Recognition Sought for St. John School
St. John School was the first four year high school for black children of Claiborne Parish. It was located about six miles southeast of Homer, Louisiana, just off the “White Lightning” Road, now La. Hwy 146.
The school began as a little country elementary school. Facilities consisted of a one room building with a front door, one window on each side, and a raised platform (or stage) across the back of the room. Heat was provided during cold weather by a wood-burning stove. Pupils sat on wood benches eight feet long. Later, classes were taught in the St. John Missionary Baptist Church. Only three teachers could teach during a school session because the church was so small. Professor Ford served as the school’s first principal.
In 1916 the people of St. John Community donated logs to be traded for lumber to construct a Rosenwald School Building. Mr. Fred Jones and Mr. Robert Lewis led this movement, and the result was a two-story building consisting of five rooms.
A series of principals followed Professor Ford at St. John. Professor Hawk from Gibsland, Louisiana, and Professor J. C. Jones were next in line. During Jones’ tenure, St. John became a training school. Shops were established at the school to teach useful crafts. The girls learned to make mats and baskets, as well as cooking, sewing, and homemaking. The boys learned to make brooms, mattresses, axe handles, hoe handles and other items for farm use. Some adults were taught these crafts, too. Professor Grant followed Jones as principal, and he continued this type of program which was a big help to the community.
In 1926 Professor John S. Davis was appointed principal. Under his guidance two additional rooms and a library were added. St. John School then became the first four year public high school for black children in Claiborne Parish. The first graduates were Mr. Orange Lewis, Jr., Miss Corean Brown, Miss Christell Jones, and Miss Fannie Pickens.
Soon the name of the school was changed to the Claiborne Parish Training School, and its role changed somewhat. At that time there was no teacher training on the state level for black teachers, and a course in teacher training was offered the fourth year of high school. The State Department of Education administered a test, and those who passed were issued a teacher’s certificate.
The Claiborne Parish High (Training) School fulfilled the need until Grambling College was established for the training of teachers. Some of the teachers during this period were Mr. John Holland, followed by Mr. Meyer, Mr. Frank Davis, and Mr. J. E. Williams.
During the last years the school was in existence, vocational agriculture and vocational home economics were the two courses taught. When the building was destroyed by fire in 1945, Superintendent F. C. Haley moved the school to Homer and combined it with Mayfield High School. Mr. John S. Davis became principal of the consolidated high school. It prospered as a fine institution of learning for black children until being combined with Homer High School in 1970 when all-black schools were discontinued.
In 1945 Superintendent F. C. Haley moved St. John School to Homer and combined it with Mayfield High School. Professor John S. Davis became principal of the consolidated high school in Homer.
The elementary school remained open at St. John from 1945 until October 1952 when the school was destroyed by fire.
Through the years the St. John School performed a very worthwhile service both to its community and Claiborne Parish. It trained and educated many useful citizens of Claiborne Parish who otherwise may not have had such an opportunity.
After the school was destroyed by fire on October 25, 1952 Claiborne Parish School Superintendent F. C. Haley donated the remainder of the buildings and approximately 40 acres of land back to the St. John community.
In the late 1970s one of the buildings was renovated during the leadership of the late Rev. Joe T. Isiah, who was the pastor of St. John Baptist Church. That building is still in use by the church today.
Many of Claiborne Parish’s past teachers, public employees and citizens were educated at St. John Colored School. Descendants of these successful students have been employed all over the United States, in positions as varied as the Library of Congress, the TV show All My Children, doctors and rapper artist E-40.
Today, there are few of the pioneers and students still alive. Some have relocated to other regions of the country and world. Those who still live in the community are trying to keep history alive for the generations to come.
Recently, a committee was organized by descendants of past teachers, pioneers and citizens of the community to get St. John Colored School added to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), and to erect a permanent monument at the site. The committee is asking for financial support and ideas, which will be greatly appreciated. Committee members are Rev. Cleon Warren, pastor of St. John Baptist Church, and John S. Davis, Jr., son of Professor John S. Davis, Sr.
Interested persons may call or send responses to: Ella Cooper Isiah, 3020 Hwy 146, Homer, LA 71040, 318-927-9318; John S. Davis, Jr., 906 Lee D. Nellams, Homer, LA 71040, 318-927-6566; Annie R. Cooper, 337 Ivory Hall Rd., Homer, LA 71040, 318-927-2309.
Concerned residents and committee members of the St. John community are Vivian Lopo, daughter of Professor John B. Lopo and descendant of property donor, Robert Lewis; Ella Cooper Isiah, widow of former pastor Rev. Joe T. Isiah, and daughter of L. P. and Pervis Johnson Cooper; Annie R. Cooper, former student, lifetime member of St. John Baptist Church, and daughter of Calvin and Ethel Hall; Darwin and Fannie Patton, who recently returned to the community after retirement in Chicago, Illinois; and Doris Jackson Jones, a permanent resident of St. John community.
The objective of this committee is to make the public and all concerned persons aware of this project.