With this week marking the beginning of school in Webster Parish I am rerunning an article I published five years ago, on September 1, 2006. So as you read the article it will still refer to my mother as living and some people's job descriptions will have changed, but the events of 80 years ago are still the same.
August marked the opening of the Webster Parish schools. As Caddo Parish schools prepared for opening, my mother mentioned that she noticed that Fairfield Avenue Elementary School was now a magnet school.
She remembered that 75 years ago this fall, she enrolled at Fairfield Avenue as a student. That discussion caused me to wonder about the events leading up to the opening of school here in Webster Parish 75 years ago. How were things the same and how were they different? So today's Echo of Our Past will be an examination of some of the major events leading to the opening of the public schools of Webster Parish on August 31, 1931, 75 years ago, yesterday.
At the July School Board meeting, the White faculty members of the various Webster Parish Schools for the 1931-32 School Year were announced, these included: Minden High School – Principal J. E. Harper, Kuma Shealy, J. B. Leftwich, Helen Pyburn, Bettie Nolan, Annie B. Jones, La Rue Lyon, Lillian Phillips, Fannie Barrett, Gussie Long Gibbs, Aurilla Wise, Dorothy Hankins, Annie Wall, Margaret Baker, Thomas Baker, Nevin Tannehill and Clarence Geis; Minden Grade School – Effie Turner, Vasta Smith, Gladys Moore, Susanella Schoenbrodt, Nellie Emory, Marie Winn, Ruby Craton, Maude Bullock, Blanche Miller, Stella Wilkins, Sadie Reynolds, Kathryn Berly, Alma Stafford, Margaret Lee, Clara Ingram, Elsie Clinton, Ruby Smith, Maxine Terry, Beadie McCoy, Eris Monzingo, and Doris Dye; Springhill High School – Principal S. R. Emmons, Eleanor Talton, Mary Bell, Rona Wadley, Lula Hollis, W. B. Smith, Quentin Crabuagh, and Mary Ellis; Springhill Grade School – Georgia Howell, Lenore Branson, Della Bell Newton, Dixie Elledge, Dollie Elledge, Effie Lee Emmons, Martha Willis, Eunice Miller, Mary Alice Rogers, Velma Hortman, Audrey Poole, Mary Bauman, Birdie B. Matthews, Louise Ingram and Ruth Gray; Cotton Valley High School – Principal J. L. Cathcart, Laura Selph, Nancy Sexton, Helen Boyett, and Kirtley Miles; Cotton Valley Grade School – Ethel Hortman, Claude Taylor, Eleanor Grigsby, Verda Hodges, Clara Lindsey, Audrey Thornton, Gladys White, Grace V. Burns, and Fannie Anderson; Doyline High School – Principal P. L. Chambers, L. C. Hester, Hazel K. Leone and Louise Martin; Doyline Grade School – Rose Mary Bozeman, Clara V. Moore, Mary White, Martha Felts, Verda Waggoner, and Helen Sutton; Sarepta High School – Principal L. S. Hays, Ruth Bathchelor, Frances Bennett and Margaret Taylor; Sarepta Grade School – Lilllie F. Houston, Effie Bates, Annie Laura Stevens, and Natalie Denman; Shongaloo High School – Principal F. L. Spencer, Mary Sims, W. E. Pate, and Mary Lou Ledbetter; Shongaloo Grade School – Doris Fuller, Audrey Hortman, Mattie Boggs, Hazel Hollis and Claudia Bolin; Evergreen High School – Principal C. M. Ingalls, Muriel Morgan, E. H. Greene and Turner Morgan; Evergreen Grade School – Gladys Jones, Eulyne Morgan, Ruby Estelle Smith, Allene Cooke, and Orville Cooke; Dubberly High School – Principal C. L. Coussons, James Wafer, and Mary Lee Cole; Dubberly Grade School – Nora Davis, Lillie M. Davis, Lalia Lowe and Addie V. Cole; Sibley High School – Principal E. D. Perkins, D. O. Christian, and Irene Moncrief; Sibley Grade School – Beatrice Stewart, Mabel Phillips, and Mrs. E. D. Perkins; Heflin High School – Principal B. L. Bolen, H. P. Melton, and Clovie Fomby; Heflin Grade School – Eva Grace Sutton, Mamie Noles, Gladys P. Culpepper, and Reuben Phillips.
I find it interesting to note the long years of service given by many of these educators. The following list may omit some, but I am working from my memory. When I began first grade, 33 years later in the fall of 1964, Mrs. Lyon, Miss Vasta Smith (then Mrs. Green), Miss Schoenbrodt, Mrs. Winn, Miss Bullock, Miss Reynolds, Miss Audrey Hortman, Miss Mary Lee Cole (then Mrs. Belton), and Miss Sutton were still active teachers in the parish. In fact, I had Miss Hortman for my second grade teacher in the 1965-66 school year. That year hers was one of the first six classrooms integrated in Webster Parish, so her career definitely encompassed some tremendous changes in local education. The next year, 1966-67, Mrs. Green was my third grade teacher. Principal L. S. Hays, of Sarepta, was the father of retired teacher and administrator and former School Board President, Carolyn Hays Boyett and Miss Mamie Noles was the aunt of former School Superintendent Richard Noles and great-aunt of Doyline Principal Johnny Rowland.
At that same July meeting, the School Board adopted its operating budget of $302,540.70 for the 1931-32 school year. For that year salaries for the White teachers were budgeted at $145,000, or an average salary of $1,133 per teacher, including principals. In 2006 dollars that would be about $12,556 per teacher, so we can definitely say that teacher pay has increased, not only in inflated dollars, but also in real dollars. Another number jumps out and catches you attention from those days of "separate but equal" schools for Whites and Blacks. While we don't have any listing of how many Black teachers were working for the system, the entire salary budget for Black teachers (or Colored teachers as it was phrased) was $25,275 or a little over 17% of the amount budgeted for White teachers. Superintendent E. S. Richardson received a salary of $4,500 and a travel allowance of $500 making his total compensation package $5000 or about $55,400 in current dollars. Richardson received such a large salary because of the national reputation he had developed. His program of consolidation and busing had made Webster Parish the model for rural county school systems in the nation. He spoke at from 5 to 6 national conferences each year between 1925 and 1936 when he resigned as Superintendent to become President of Louisiana Tech his resignation. In fact, during the summer of 1931, he was away in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, teaching a special series of three six-weeks seminars on the Webster Parish System at Central Normal College (today Central Michigan University.)
Early in August, the school system began receiving new textbooks from the state. The 1931-32 school year marked the third year of Governor Huey Long's controversial program that provided free textbooks to all Louisiana students. Under Long's plan, periodic replacement would occur and in the fall of 1931, all textbooks were being replaced throughout the state. Webster Parish schools were scheduled to open on August 31, earlier than nearly every other system in the state. Because of the early opening date, our parish would not receive its full allotment of books until sometime in September. The School Board was working to resolve how this problem would be solved, as students would not have books for many of their classes until about three weeks into the year. It was decided that the local system would obtain enough supplementary books by September 1, to enable classes to proceed on schedule until the state shipments of texts arrived.
Then, as now, August saw the beginning of the "back to school" ads by local merchants. The first advertisement appeared in early August for West Brothers Department Store. It featured both clothes and school supplies. Children's shoes were priced from $1.49 to $2.98, while children's dresses were on sale for $.49, reduced from $1.00, in addition, boys shirts, normally priced at $.39, were on sale for $.25. In the line of school supplies, Red Goose Tablets of 120 pages were listed at 2 for a nickel. A composition book of 160 pages also went for $.05, while school bags were priced at $.25, $.49, and $.98. Crayola crayons cost $.10 for a box of 16 and pencils were specially priced at one penny each. Kennon Grocery, owned by Floyd Kennon father of future Governor Robert Floyd Kennon, offered its regular $.05 tablet for $.03, a bottle of blue-black ink for $.04, and matched West Brother's price of a penny for a pencil. The Highway Barber Shop, while offering no price reduction, reminded "kiddies" that they needed to stop by and get a haircut now that vacation was over and school was about to begin.
Football practice began at Minden High School on August 24, one week before the start of school. New coach Clarence Geis, a former quarterback for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks, greeted his squad of 27 potential players with a discussion of his philosophy of football and how players should prepare for and play the game. He cited changes he planned to make from how the Minden team had been coached in 1930 and emphasized teamwork and the necessity of proper rest and nutrition for the players. Among the notable players on that 1931 team were Jack Batton, later to serve so many years as a Minden city official and Pat Coffee, who would go on to star at LSU and for the Chicago Cardinals of the NFL.
As school prepared to open, the Webster Signal-Tribune marked the occasion with the following editorial:
"The public schools will open their doors to receive Webster's children on Monday, August Thirty-first. The School Board has put everything in readiness, even to the smallest detail. Textbooks and other material have been distributed and will proceed at once. The first regular parish wide Principal's Conference will meet Friday morning, August 28th at 10 o'clock. The teachers of the parish will meet for instruction Saturday morning in the auditorium of Minden High School. The truck driver's conference is called for eleven o'clock Saturday morning.
"During the summer the majority of our teachers have been away at summer school making further preparations professionally. The record of achievement for Webster's schools for last year was phenomenal in spite of food scarcity. Our schools made a record in organized food preservation that has been heralded and copied all over the nation. Their achievement has been published in many national magazines. Notwithstanding this extra work that the schools did on last year, they ranked first in the state in the matters of classroom achievement as per statewide tests. We prophesy that Webster's schools will again justify their place in the public eye by the continuation of good work. Very few teachers have been changed. All the principals are now in the harness ready to proceed. Our people stand by their schools. We hope the country's gloom will not affect the schoolwork of the boys and girls for their work relates not to the present but to their future success and happiness. This paper wishes each of you success."
On Monday, August 31, 1931, the Webster Parish schools opened. In each classroom was a new color poster of a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, courtesy of Congressman John N. Sandlin and the United States George Washington Bicentennial Commission, placed in anticipation of the bicentennial of Washington's birth, which would occur on February 22, 1932. At Minden High School, which was the campus for all White students in grades 1-11 in the Minden area (Louisiana would not add a 12th grade to its school curriculum until the late 1940s), 1232 pupils were enrolled. Of that number, 332 were in the high school section; grades 8-11 and 900 were grade school students in grades 1-7. Once again, the educational process had begun in the parish. Today we are seeing that same Echo of Our past repeated in our community, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
John Agan is a local historian, an instructor at Bossier Parish Community College and a published author. His column appears Fridays in the Minden Press-Herald.