Good Schools A Staple of Ancestors’ Lives

This was produced for the 17th edition of “Smile for the Camera”

I really don’t have much in the way of  photographs on my ancestors’ school days.   I have in the past posted school census records from the very early twentieth century in Milam County, Texas, where my gg-grandmother and her descendants lived.  But I know virtually nothing about my Louisiana ancestors’ school experiences.

I have got somewhere a decent set of pictures of my siblings as they went through school, but I can’t find them right now!  So in the absence of that, I present some pictures and information about my parents’ high schools, both of which played significant roles not only in their local communities, but in the African-American community nationwide.

My mother attended Crispus Attucks Elementary School in the 1930’s and the historic Lincoln High School and Junior College (as it was then called) in Kansas City in the 1940’s [not to be confused with Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, which my mother also attended].  The school is now known as Lincoln College Preparatory Academy.  For African-Americans at  the end of the the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, Lincoln was one of the premier black schools in the whole country that attracted top faculty–many of whom held doctorates in their disciplines. The Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri observed in 1908:

One of the most noteworthy features of the public schools of Kansas City is the excellency of the high schools. At present there are four regular high schools equipped in all their appointments according to the most approved modern methods. . . . The Lincoln High School was established in 1887 for the education of the negro boys and girls of the city, and in which they not only pursue the branches of study common to most high schools, but they have in addition to Latin and Greek, French and German. Kansas City was the leader in taking the position that negroes only should teach her negro children in the negro schools [this position being considered very progressive at the time].

The Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri, Howard L. Conrad, ed., Vol. 5,  p. 509 (The Southern History Co.: 1901) [Google Books link (accesses 9 Sept 2009)]

Here is a photograph of the way Lincoln High School looked in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Historic Lincoln High School in Kansas City, Missouri

Historic Lincoln High School in Kansas City, Missouri

Crispus Attucks

Crispus Attucks

Crispus Attucks, of African and native American descent was the first casualty of the Revolutionary War; shot dead by British troops on Boston Common, March 5, 1770. Among my mother’s classmates at the elementary school named for him was Roger Wilkins, lawyer, professor, and civil rights leader.

My father attended the equally acclaimed Phillis Wheatley High School in Houston’s Fifth Ward.

The "New"  Phillis Wheatley High School

The "New Phillis Wheatley High School

This school was named for the great African-American poet, Phillis Wheatley.

Originally located on Lyons Avenue, the school was remodeled for the first time in the 1940’s as my father’s class attended.  By the time they graduated in 1951, Wheatley was said by the Houston Chronicle to be “the finest negro high school in the South.”   At a reported cost of $2.5 million, it was the most expensive in Texas history to that point in time.

The annual Thanksgiving Football Classic between the Wheatley Wildcats and the Lions of the Third Ward’s Jack Yates High School was an event as important as any in black Houston. The demise of that great rivalry is considered to be one of the unintended consequence of the integration of Texas high school athletics in the 1960’s.

My father attended the ceremonies for the school’s 80th anniversary in 2007.  A year behind my dad at Wheatley was the late Barbara Jordan (1936-1996), who became a lawyer and later, an influential member of Congress.


Congresswoman Jordan (Phillis Wheatley class of 1952) was known for her great intellect and soaring oratory.

Anyone who arrived in Kansas City or Houston in the 1960’s or 1970’s would think I’m either crazy or lying about the prominence of these schools.  These schools by then had suffered tremendous decline caused in part, ironically, by the Brown vs. Board of Education case, which outlawed segregation in public education.   An unintended consequence was that African-Americans who could “get out,” did get out.  And the competition for faculty talent attracted some of the best and brightest teachers elsewhere, frequently to formerly “white” high schools.

After much litigation and agitation, it’s fair to say that the 1990’s set these schools  back on their original pathways.   Lincoln still serves a largely black population, while Wheatley’s student body is more likely to speak Spanish.

Now, just for grins, here are some pictures from my own school experience:






From left to right:

1.  My senior class portrait, Monterey High School,  Monterey, California, 1972

2.  Can we all agree that there’s nothing geekier than winning the school letter in science ? Van Buren Junior High School, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1969.   See this post for a story about a Van Buren Junior High School science class.

3.   The afore-mentioned school letter, now a musty forty years later.

4.  The Vanguard Cheerleaders, Van Buren Junior High School, 1969:  Debbie Williams, Debbie Padilla, Kathleen Gregory; (standing) Marta Hoge, and Harriet Whitener. Where are they now? [BTW, over on Facebook, I’m hosting the 40th VBJHS Class of 1969 Reunion.  Classmates are invited to come!

5.  One of two school letters I won more or less legitimately as a member of the league champion Monterey High wrestling team. This is the JV one.  The varsity one is still on the jacket.

Photo Credits:
1. Lincoln High School: The Black Archives of Mid-America, Kansas City, Missouri, (accessed 10 September 2009).  Photographer unknown, exact date unknown.
2. Crispus Attucks (Artist’s conception): Wikipedia Commons, (accessed 9 September 2009).  Artist, photographer unknown.  Believed to be in public domain.
3. The “New Wheatley High School,” Wikipedia Commons, (accessed 9 Sep  2009).  Photographer:  WhispertoMe. Date: 18 July 2009. Public Domain (released by photographer–see Wikipedia linked cited above).
4.  Barbara Jordan: Library of Congress. 1973. Available at Black Americans in Congress, Office of the Clerk, United States House of Representatives, (accessed 10 Sept 2009).  Public Domain (work of the United States Government).
5.  Craig Manson, Senior Class Portrait: Photographer unknown.  Date: 1971. Originally published in El Sussurro 1972 (Monterey High School Yearbook). Copyright 1972, Trustees of the Monterey PeninsulaUnified  School District, Monterey, California.
6.  Van Buren Junior High School Letter Award: Image scanned by Craig Manson, 9 Sept 2009. Original document in the possession of Craig Manson, Cramichael, California.
7. Van Buren Sweater Letter: Image scanned by Craig Manson, 9 Sept 2009. Original artifact (1969) in possession of Craig Manson, Carmichael, California.
8. Van Buren Junior High School Cheerleaders: Copyright 1968, FarWestPhotography, Denver, Colorado.  Originally published in The Albuquerque Tribune, p. B-7, January 30, 1969.
9.  Monterey High School “Block M” Award: Image scanned by Craig Manson, 9 Sept 2009. Original artifact (1971) in possession of Craig Manson, Carmichael, California.

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