Wesley Ray High School History
Wesley Ray’s humble beginning was arduous and laborious to say the least. It’s conception and evolution began against a backdrop of racial, social, economic, and political disadvantages. Those drawbacks did not prove to be obstacles, nor did they deter the eventual efforts of our forefathers in acquiring a permanent site, building funds, materials, as well as labor to construct a school for their children and the community. The leaders held steadfast to their dreams and determination to one day provide a permanent and conducive site for the education of their children. Thus, began the journey which led to the present-day Wesley Ray. The school’s history is brief but by no means trivial and insignificant. Its evolution began in a one room structure located on the Pushmataha Creek with Mr. Willie Crain as the first teacher and principal. No actual date of its initial beginning was recorded or given by any of the sources used to collect this data. The first school was called Martin school because Bud Martin, Jack Martin, Jess Moses and Will Morris had the most children in attendance.
For some unknown reasons, the classes were moved to a site 3.5 miles northwest of Angie to what is now known as the Tom Woodard Road. The property during that time was owned by The Great Southern Lumber Company. The company, however, did not provide land for the facility. Classes were held under the same” brush-harbor” as Wesley Ray’s Church services were held. This property as of this publication is owned by Will Singley and Garland Morris.
The church moved to a new location to property donated by George Ploughman. The new site was located directly across the street from the present building on what is now Wesley Ray School Road. The classes relocated along with the church because the church continued to provide needed classroom space for instruction. Needing a permanent home site large enough to accommodate the ever-growing church membership, the church purchased a tract of land from William Lloyd Jefferson and relocated a third time to its present site. The church continued to serve in the same capacity as it had done previously, providing needed classroom space at its new location. By this time the number of school aged children had also increased, thereby creating a need for a permanent school building as well. Along with the small church building, the Knights of Pythian Hall provided the remaining needed classroom space for the school.
The ever-pressing desire and need for a permanent site within the community and among the leaders was growing. These community leaders continued to press for a permanent facility. No one knows for sure how the school funds came to be donated to the community. The only known fact was that Julius Rosenwald, a philanthropist, desired to see the development and growth of Black schools in the south. He made this desire a reality by contributing funds to Black schools throughout the south. Julius Rosenwald donated $10,000 and the local community had to match the dollar amount and they did it. The first school building for Wesley Ray came from this arrangement and commitment. All of the schools to which Julius Rosenwald contributed to were called “Rosenwald Schools” in honor and recognition of Julius Rosenwald.
The one room structure was totally demolished by fire, thus leaving the community without a school. Classes resumed in the church, the Knights of Pythian Hall, the teacher’s cottage, and a federal building until such time a new school could be built. During this time all the schools in Washington Parish were under the leadership of one board. The school was governed by a group of community leaders called “Trustee Board”. The trustees set all policies concerning the teachers’ behavior, manner of dress, conduct, living quarters, selection, etc. Today the operations of public schools in Louisiana are under the leadership of an elected board that sets policies for their operation.
The old Rosenwald structure was insured by the school board for $80,000 and therefore delayed the immediate rebuilding of the school. The perplexed leaders of the community were concerned about the board delaying construction of the school. The leaders could not address the board about their concerns and had to wait until they were granted permission to appear before the board. Finally, the permission was granted with the stipulation that only one speaker could address the board. The community leaders met and selected Brother W.I. Harry to be their spokesperson. Curt Fornea was the president of the Washington Parish School Board and he was instrumental in getting the date for the community to address the board. It was the consensus of board members from Bogalusa that the blacks did not need a school. The issue was resolved, but the board was divided on the issue. The board voted and agreed to purchase the building materials but refused to hire a contractor to rebuild the school. The community leaders agreed to provide the labor and purchased additional materials from Great South Sawmill in Bogalusa. The school was rebuilt on the present site. The name changed from Rosenwald to Wesley Ray School. It was completed in the 1920’s.
Classes were provided for a number of years from 1st through 7th grades. Those students desiring further schooling had to attend school in other communities, such as Bogalusa or New Orleans for completion of the requirements for high school graduation.
In later years, grades 8-12 were added. This wooden structure was also destroyed by fire and was replaced with a brick structure in the 1940’s. Albert Seal was the general contractor to rebuild the school, but due to poor construction, the school was partially demolished by a tornado in 1960. Meanwhile classes were held in local churches, canning centers, the Knights of Pythian Hall and a temporary building that was constructed by the school board to house the students.
During the Civil Rights era, the federal court moved the high school to Varnado High school, thus Wesley Ray High school became an elementary school. Today Wesley Ray Elementary School serves grades Kindergarten through 5th grade.