Booker T. Washington High School (1942)

Booker T. Washington High School

When McDonogh # 35 opened in 1917, it not only became the first black public high school in New Orleans, but the only one of its kind for the next 25 years! The popularity and success of the school soon produced overcrowding and the need for another secondary school was evident as more and more students desired to be educated beyond the elementary/ junior high level.

Black leaders took up the cause of fighting for a second high school in New Orleans, but this time they demanded that it would be academic with a strong emphasis on vocational education. Surprisingly, both manual and domestic training were a part of the elementary and junior high schools’ curriculum (Ex: Joseph A.Craig & John Hoffman) throughout the early 1900s since children of color were expected  to go to work in the various trades after leaving school. Girls received instruction in sewing and cooking, while males in printing, carpentry, and bricklaying.

Although McD#35 was established as a preparatory school, vocational classes also became a part of its curriculum by 1927. For a number of years the manual training department of the high school as well as Hoffman Junior High made all the work desks for the whole system. The cooking department even took care of the daily lunches. Once the vocational program produced evidence that McD#35’s academic development was not hindered, black leaders began to fight for another high school which would combine academics with a greater emphasis on vocational training.  The problem was that many in the white community were afraid that a black vocational high school would threaten white jobs.

A compromise was finally reached when school board officials and teachers of color helped calm white fears by agreeing that the trades to be taught at the new high school would be exclusively those which were largely occupied by colored labor at that time. Unfortunately, after purchasing land for the site, the school board reneged on the deal and instead built another elementary school, Sylvania F. Williams.

Throughout the 1930s, the Colored Educational Alliance, the New Orleans NAACP, and the Federation of Civic Leagues kept the issue alive. When the trade school finally did come, it came not from local but from federal funding. The WPA  made the trade school a reality. The school was named after Booker T. Washington, the man who devoted his life’s energies to industrial education.

In August 1942 construction was completed on a site bordered by Erato, Prieur, South Roman and Clio Streets. By September 1942, more than 1600 students had enrolled and  Mr. Lawrence Crocker was appointed as its first principal. The first commencement was held January 28, 1943 with eleven girls and one boy. The second graduation exercise was held in June, 1943 and consisted of twenty-one girls and four boys.

In the September 19, 1942 issue of The Louisiana Weekly, students are shown attending some of the  most popular vocational classes of that year which were shoe repairing, printing and motor mechanics. The Booker T. Washington Program Book of 1947 lists also masonry, millinery art, graphic art, commercial cookery, woodwork, and mechanical drawing as courses offered to interested students.

It should be emphasized that many students at Booker T. Washington enrolled strictly in the academic program and enrolled in college upon graduation.. But the fact that students of color were now able to get professional training in a particular trade of their choice, presented students with more opportunities and prepared them for the jobs available for employment in such fields.

Shown below are the faculty members who were a part of the Vocational/ Agricultural and Industrial Educational Department of the school in 1954. They are:

Top row:   Sidney Jordan  (Horticulture),  Joseph W. Merrick, Sr. (Agriculture)

Middle Row:   Edward Alston  (General Metals),  Arsene L.Baquet, Sr. (Shoe Repair),  Maurice Martinez, Sr. (Masonry)

Bottom RowJames F. Norris (Carpentry), Henry L. Stewart, Jr. (Motor Mechanics), Mrs. Willia M. VonPhul (Graphic  Arts), Mark A. Wheeler (Mechanical Drawing)

Booker T.- Vocational,Agricultural,Industrial Education Teachers

SourcesThe Lion 1954 (B.T.W. Yearbook);  B.T.W. Program Book 1947 (Courtesy of Numa Martinez);  Devore, Donald & Logsdon, Joseph.. Crescent City Schools: Public Education in New Orleans 1841-1991; The Louisiana Weekly 19 September 1942 + 06 February 1943+ 22 February 1930. [Special thanks to Eugenia Foster Adams (graduate of B.T.W) for use of her yearbooks and personal assistance.]


19 thoughts on “Booker T. Washington High School (1942)

  1. Thank you for this great article with its many memories. Booker T. Washington High School was also the center for many cultural activities. Black artists and musicians were not allowed to perform on stage at Symphony Hall in New Orleans so the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra moved to Booker T. Washington’s High School Auditorium so Jean Coston Maloney – an incredible pianist – could play with them. She played Tchaikovsky’s Concerto and the Auditorium was packed, it was the first such concert. It was followed the next year by William Grant Still conducting the orchestra. – From that performance he went on to become well known as one of the first Black conductors of major symphony orchestras. All of this emanating from Booker T. Washington’s High School Auditorium. They were all very ‘dress up” occasions and the audience was as stunning as the performers.

  2. My tag along comment is – William Grant Still’s concert is noted in many places, Jean Coston Maloney has been pushed aside without the acknowledgement of her achievement. To be first is to suffer many indignities, ugliness, fear, etc. To some, at the time, it was an embarrassment that a “colored” woman should be up there playing. That is still true today when they acknowledge Still, but have to be pushed to acknowledge Maloney.

    • Hi Marceline, Thanks for the comments. I do plan to write an article on Booker T. Washington’s Auditorium but purposely left it out of my post since I wanted to concentrate specifically on the history of the school itself. The rich cultural activities that took place at that historical building deserve a separate post. Your information is so well appreciated. I would love to have your input into the upcoming article.

        • Booker Wahington we love thee so
          As we pledge our loyalty
          Crimson and white we raise our voice in loud acclaim for thee
          To our alma mater tried and true may we prove our love to you
          Command our lives to lofty aims and we will follow through
          As we raise our voices oer the plains
          Our pledge of faith renew

  3. I was in attendance that year – 1942 – after having been transferred from McDonogh 35. Stayed there until ca.1944 when I moved to California. I recognized and recall Mr. Maurice Martinez,as a Masonry teacher. But I was in his class at Albert Wicker Jr High. Thanks for the memory.

  4. I am a graduate of Booker T. Washington Senior High School from the Class of 1961. Many of the men and women displayed above were my teachers or home room teachers, especially Mr.
    Arsene Baquet and Mr. Wheeler. Both men contributed greatly to
    me becoming a Physicist in the scientific community. The educational background I received at BTW was invaluable.

  5. The above information regarding Booker T. Washington high school, makes me proud to be an alumni! To Mr. Baquet and Mr. Wheeler men who laid the foundation for my highest achievements in the life that I live. And many other teachers not mentioned all helped me along the road of life. I am proud to be a Washingtonian!

    • Of course we remember our beloved alma mater. We loved BTW and all of our siblings graduated from there.BTW produced some wonderful people. Ernest, you were one of our beloved classmates of whom we were very proud.

  6. Hi, I’m the daughter-in-law of Martha Robertson Scott, She was a basket ball player in 1946-1947 for Booker T. Washington. Due to Katrina she lost all photos. Does anyone have a copy of the basket ball players within that year? It would surely be appreciated.

  7. I am the daughter of Edna Dyer whom was a member of the first graduating class as I understand. I have a graduation picture of her. Does anyone have pictures of the 43 and 44 class?

  8. I am a graduate of BTW, Class of 1959. I have agreed to assist Mr Alfred Green and Mr William Rutledge members of BTW, Class of 1946, in contacting other members of their class. Anyone having any information I can use to accomplish this would be most appreciated.

  9. I am a 1961 graduate and so proud to have attended such a historical school!!!! I graduated with Mr. Wheeler’s daughter. Those were good days and good times!!! Education was a must and the good, bad, and ugly all attended school. Our graduating class was around 400!!!

  10. I am the son of Mrs Gladys Jones Hill. All of our photos and programs from the operetta she gave during the ’50s and ’60s were lost in Katrina. Please contact me if you have any photos or programs. Her grandchildren need to know who she was and what she accomplished.

  11. I have very fond memories of BTW as a member of the 1955 graduating class. All the teachers were interested in students achieving whether you were in a vocational or academic track. Mrs.A.C. Smith Rm. 310 who taught tailoring was my homeroom teacher. Many students used their vocational training to put themselves through college and enjoy a good living.I am seriously concerned about the reason for not rebuilding on this same site…a former dump and the ground having poisonous chemicals??….We did not have benches to sit on so we relaxed on the well kept lawn (all 4 years) and I don’t have any physical/mental illness related to matriculating on that campus. I am sure by covering the soil properly and the cement foundation for the building the problem can be resolved. If anyone has yearbooks from the early to mid 50s I would like to have a copy made.

  12. How amazing, I graduated from McD#35 in 1963 at Booker T. Washington High School’s Auditorium and worked at Booker T. Washington/Sylvanie F. Williams in the 80’s. I retired from Slvanie F. Williams after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. I have a great love for all the schools. The faculty and students were like family and reading this brought back many memories.

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