Joseph S. Clark High School
Before 1947, there were no public high schools for children of color in New Orleans to attend in the “downtown” section of the city. All four existing schools were located west of Canal Street in what we refer to as the “uptown” section of the city. They were McDonogh #35, Booker T. Washington, L. B. Landry and Walter L. Cohen. Clearly there was a need for a public high school to accommodate the thousands of students east of Canal Street.
Joseph S. Clark School opened its doors on June 2, 1947. It was officially known as the Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, designated for white children but now being turned over to children of color. Three months later on September 12, 1947, the school board stated, “The name of the former Benjamin Franklin School, now used to house colored children at the first-year high school level, will be changed to the Joseph Samuel Clark School for Negroes, and the name of Benjamin Franklin retained for a white school.” The school’s name was chosen to honor the memory of Dr. Joseph Samuel Clark, the legendary president of Southern University from 1913 to 1938.
Because of the increasingly large population of students that continued to enroll at the school, the board decided (January 31, 1949) to allow the Edward Douglas White School Building to serve as Clark Annex. It should be noted that originally both buildings were designed to accommodate half the numbers of students than those that actually enrolled. Mr. Richards was appointed principal of both schools.
By 1950, Clark had enrolled over 2,000 pupils. As a result of the huge and increasing enrollment, a platoon system had to be put into effect against the wishes of many parents. As a result, some students were scheduled to attend classes from 7:00 am to noon, and others from noon to 5:00 pm. The school was now able to accommodate twice as many students as the buildings were designed to serve.
Andrew J. Bell Junior High School
Four years later, the school board decided that Joseph S. Clark High School and the Joseph S. Clark High School Annex would be operated as separate units. On December 3, 1954, the annex was dedicated as Andrew J. Bell School, located at 1010 North Galvez Street. Clark would accommodate grades 10, 11 and 12, while the new Andrew Bell would house the 9thand any excess of 10th grade students from the main building. Mr. Emanuel V. Gregoire was appointed principal.
For many years, Clark would remain the only public high school serving black students in the downtown section of the city. Finally, in 1958 George Wahington Carver High School opened in the 9th ward, thus alleviating the overcrowded conditions at Joseph S. Clark.
For 58 years,Clark High would continue to educate thousands of students, many establishing themselves as outstanding members of the New Orleans community. When Katrina struck in 2005, water did not ravage its buildings and the school reopened in 2006. The Recovery School District wanted to close Clark in 2011 but the alumni fought back and collaborated with First Line Charter to keep the doors open and the Joseph S. Clark culture alive. Today, it operates as Joseph S. Clark Preparatory or just “Clark Prep.”
Andrew J. Bell School no longer exist. The beautiful and historic campus consisting of three brick buildings is presently being renovated and sold to be converted into artists’ lofts.
Mr. Jesse O. Richards Jr.
To better understand the history of the school; one must know of its first principal, Jesse O. Richards Jr. Mr. Richards was an excellent principal who was in the business of education. He would not allow challenges of insufficient space in the physical plant to interfere with the quality of education that students entrusted to him would receive. He had high expectations for teachers, but also high expectations for students in terms of their achievements and attitudes. It was said that he never spoke above a whisper, but everyone knew to listen.
Mrs. Delores Aaron, one of Mr. Richards’ students and later a member of his inaugural faculty at Clark, confirmed what other teachers and students said about him. “Mr. Richards was always interested in the welfare of young people. He encouraged, financially assisted, and secured scholarships for many students to continue and complete their college education. He had clear views on how students should be treated and on how they should behave. To his male students he stressed the importance of dressing properly which he felt was an important aspect of their education.
Born in Clinton, Louisiana to Reverend and Mrs. Jesse Owens Richards Sr., Jesse Jr. shared a home with his three siblings. After moving to New Orleans at a young age, he received his elementary education at McDonogh # 24, and both his B.A. and M.A. from Straight University. He also studied at Clark College, Atlanta University and Columbia University in New York.
He began his teaching career at McDonogh 35 in 1926 where he taught mathematics and served as the baseball coach. He left the school system in 1928 to enter the field of life insurance but returned in 1934 as a teacher to the John W. Hoffman Junior High until 1942. He then moved on to become an original member of the faculty at Booker T. Washington High School. He was soon appointed principal of Rosenwald School in Algiers, LA before being assigned to Joseph S. Clark in September of 1947.
He engaged in many civic and social activities. He was the first president and founder of Sigma Lambda Chapter and a founder of Etta Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. As a member of the Old Timers’ Baseball Club, he served as an official for both baseball and football and was a veteran of World War 1.
After 39 years as a teacher, coach, and administrator with the Orleans Parish School System, Mr. Richards retired in June of 1965. He was honored at a banquet held in his honor which was given at the New Orleans Army Terminal by his colleagues of the Orleans Principals Association. He was praised for the outstanding leader he had been at Clark as its first principal over the past 18 years. The main speaker was Dr. Felton G. Clark, president of Southern University and son of the late Dr. Joseph S. Clark for whom Clark High was named.
He passed away on February 8, 1975 at seventy-four years of age due to heart failure. The Bunch Club paid tribute to him for service he rendered as a member of their group for over 50 years.. Ironically, this special occasion took place on February 7, 1975, just one day before his death. He would continue to live on in the hearts and minds of thousands of students he touched as a teacher, coach and principal in the New Orleans Public Schools.
A special thank you to Beverly Jacques Anderson, PhD for allowing me to use information on Joseph S. Clark High and Mr. Jesse Richards which is contained in her book, Cherished Memories: Snapshots of Life and Lessons from a 1950s New Orleans Creole Village ( copyright 2011-iUniverse, Inc.).
Research on the school was obtained by Mrs. Anderson from the Orleans Parish School Board Records which are housed at the Earl K. Long Library/ University of New Orleans – (Louisiana/ Special Collections Division) 4th floor. She also conducted personal interviews. Without her assistance, this article could not have been written since the history of the school is barely contained anywhere beyond the pages of school board record and newspaper articles.
Other Sources which I used: The Times Picayune, 15 June 1965 section 3 page 20; The Times Picayune 10 February 1975; The Louisiana Weekly, 06 September 1947 page 1; The Louisiana Weekly, 14 February 1975.
Lolita V. Cherrie