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 Row: James F. Norris (Carpentry), Henry L. Stewart, Jr. (Motor Mechanics), Mrs. Willia M. VonPhul (Graphic Arts), Mark A. Wheeler (Mechanical Drawing)
Sources: The 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.]