Left to Right:
Row 1 (Seated): Walt Stevenson, Onelia Simpson, Marguerite Malarcher, Rita Richard, Joseph Mc Kelpin, Edwin Robert, Alma Fisher, Marie Boyer, Noella Rogers, Clyde Jones.
Row 2: Edward Cherrie, Thelizie Bachemin, Gwendolyn Walker, Helen Ketchens, Audrey Robinson, Berenice Foy, Estelle Baranco Turpin (Teacher), Louisette Quezergue, Hilda Lawson, Marjorie Coleman, Marion Desomes, Vivian Robinson, John Adams.
Since my research is unable to identify other members of the class in the order they are standing, I will list only their names. Hopefully those of you out there will be able to identify friends and relatives:
Rita Anderson, Wendell Baham, Dolores Berg, Audrey Carr, Selma Currie, Annie Curry, Amelia Ford, Consuelo Grand Pre, Irene Hardy, Marjorie Huntley, Willa Jackson, Lily LaSalle, Thomas Lee Jr., Mildred Lyons, Romeo Mayfield, Sheldon Mays, Olivia Page, Bernice Price, Katherine Toval, Raymond Turner, Alden Wallace.
The students shown above were members of the 1937 graduating class of the Valena C. Jones Normal School. Normal schools were created to train high school graduates to become teachers. For two years, each trainee took specific content courses, trained under an experienced teacher and engaged in student teaching before becoming qualified to teach in a public school.
Up until the early 20th century, black students in the public school system were taught predominately by white teachers. Both black and white leaders opposed the practice and both petitioned the board to change the policy. This problem existed due to the fact that the school board set up normal schools for whites but none for blacks and, as a result, few well trained black teachers were available.
It was not until outstanding educators such as Fannie C. Williams, O.C.W. Taylor, Lucien Alexis, and John Hoffman sought teaching positions in the early 20th century that it was possible for the board to begin removing white teachers from black schools and replacing them with teachers of color.
A few schools, such as Straight University, did provide teacher training but they were private, religious affiliated institutes that could not totally meet the needs of a growing community.
Finally, under great pressure from civic leaders, the school board approved and financed the first colored public teacher training program in 1923. It was housed first at McDonogh #35 High School in 1923 and later moved to Valena C. Jones Elementary School in 1931. Miss Fannie C. Williams served as principal. For this reason it was given the name, Valena C. Jones Normal School (see post..A Community Builds a School- 30 March 2013 ). Mc Donogh #35 Normal would soon follow.
Fourteen years after the normal program was established, the class of 1937 (shown above) graduated 42 teachers who were prepared to tackle the job of teaching in black schools throughout the city. Many sought this career in the Jim Crow South because few opportunities existed for them to gain employment in other professional fields.
The road for them was not easy. By the first year of teaching (1938) their student loads were generally 50% higher than white counterparts. The textbooks they were given and the buildings they were housed in were the ones no longer used nor wanted in the white community. That first year,1938, they earned $909.00 a year while white teachers with the same education received $1,000.00. Within 10 years they would earn $1,440.00 and not the $2,200.00 they deserved.
In spite of the working conditions, they taught and educated thousands of young people who today are indebted to all of them for the sacrifices they made.
If you recognize anyone whose name is not listed, please let us know.
Sources: Commencement Exercises Program Book, 10 June 1937 (personal copy); photo (personal copy) courtesy of Eugenia Foster Adams; Crescent City Schools: Public Education in New Orleans 1841- 1991, Devore, Donald and Logsdon, Joseph.
Lolita V. Cherrie