The Birth of the Mighty Bulldogs…Joseph S. Clark High School


Joseph S. Clark School Building

 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 School

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.


Jesse O. Richards

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

45 thoughts on “The Birth of the Mighty Bulldogs…Joseph S. Clark High School

  1. Thanks so much for this article, with special thanks to Dr. Beverly Jacques Anderson for her research. I too, as did she, attended Bell and Clark. Both of us having been elementary school students at Valena C. Jones School.

    Not mentioned, however ,
    was Mr. Richards’ outstanding Assistant Principal, Mr. Walter Morial.

    • Hi Lyndia,
      Thank you for informing us that Mr. Walter Morial was the assistant principal at Clark. Any other information you may like to share with us on the history of the school would be greatly appreciated and we will get it to our readers.

    • Correction: Beverly did not attend Clark. She attended McDonough 35. However, she did her student teaching at Clark in 1965 under Mrs. Boucree.

  2. Hello Beverly,
    Thank you for this wonderful eye opening history lesson on the struggle for excellence in New Orleans. Back then the media coverage focused on Tulane, Loyala, etc., so that an appreciation for the work that is ongoing in the Black community was too easily taken for granted. Truth be told!! Best wishes to you and the family.
    Philip Orticke, DU’1966

  3. Andrew J.Bell was my mother’s grandfather. I was sorry to discover that the school would not reopen. Hopefully ,those who rent the artist lofts will embrace the essence of
    “Professor Andrew Bell ” and continue to enrich our city by helping others in developing their genius.

  4. Thanks for the info. Enjoyed reading about Clark. I graduated c/o 85. I also went to Valena C Jones and River Fredricks.

  5. Thanks for publicizing what a great impact Joseph S. Clark Senior High School had on New Orleans. As a 1957 graduate, I was privileged to know and later befriend both Mr. Richards and Mrs. Aaron. Their contributions to the community is unsurpassed through their educating, grooming, assisting financially and otherwise helping the students of Clark School. Many of our leaders are Clark alumni.

  6. What a wonderful article! My mother, Joycelyn Tenette, her cousin Lloyd Bennett and her best friend Bernadine Desbordes were members of the Class of 1951, proudly stating the “first” graduating class of Joseph S Clark. She has fond and vivid memories of her iconic principals Mr.Richards and Mr Morial. She often speaks about an awesome band teacher as well. Sixty-two years later, I relocated to New Orleans and began working..guess where? Joseph S. CLARK…what an honor it has been. BUllDog!! Continue to tell your story as the current staff and student population does NOT kmow or appreciate the rich legacy of excellence of Joseph S. CLARK faculty and alum scholars. I have located the composite picture of this graduating class of 1951, if others are interested in copies.

    • Vernessa, I shared your reply with my mother, who also graduated from Joseph S. Clark and was in the first graduating class. My mother is Dolores Andrews Thornton and all of her sisters graduated from Clark as well. It was really nice reading the article and your reply. My mother remembers all of the people you listed.

    • Ms Vernessa Gipson Informed me she would send me the composite picture of the 1951 graduating class, and she would stay in touch. Neither has happened. Please respond. Thank you.

  7. Thank you, I never know the history of my two alumni, it was a joy to read on.
    c/o 86 Bell & c/o 89 Clark

  8. I am a 1971 alumni, went on to Southern University. B.A. in Elementary Education and M.A. in Elementary Education, Specialist in Reading. Thanks for the article, I have learned so much that I did not know about Clark.

  9. Clark did not close in 2005. Clark continued to educate children from 2006-2011 under RSD as JS Clark. RSD wanted to close Clark due to poor state performance, but the Alumni fought back and collaborated with FirstLine Charter Schools to keep the doors open and the JSC culture alive. So in 2011 Joseph S. Clark Prep began operating at 1301 N. Derbigny.

  10. Hi Gina, I have corrected the error I wrote stating that Clark closed in 2005 and did not reopen afterwards. Thanks so much for bringing this to my attention.

    • Thanks for the history on our beloved Joseph Samuel Clark Sr. High. The Bulldog pride runs generations deep in many families. I am a proud member of the class of 1982. This year my mom c/o 64, sisters c/o 84 & 94 all celebrated milestone class reunions!
      Gina Maldonado Dupart

    • Happened to come across Mr. Richards’ bio. and about Clark .

      Mr. Richards was a strict principal . . . a type of principal strongly needed in the school system, today.

      Students were not allowed to leave school during lunchtime.
      Boys wore shirts and slacks and the girls had to wear either socks or stockings. You were expected to dress for school like you were going on a job, Remember y’all.

      I remember I wore my boyfriend’s (now husband) XP jacket to school. Mr. Richards saw me wearing the jacket and he insisted that I remove the football jacket and place it in my locker until the end of the school day. My school locker was located next to his office. (We thought that Mr. Richards wore rubber-sole shoes to sneak up on us).

      That was the last time I wore another school’s football jacket to school.

      Thank you Mr. Richards, Mrs. Burrell (homeroom), Mr. Grubbs, Mrs. Rodriguez, Ms. Tervalon, and all Clark teachers during the 1960s. for the good memories at Clark. Class of ’62.

      • I forgot to ask —

        Does anyone know if and when Clark’s class of ’62 have reunions?

        Last year I was invited to attend Clark’s Class of ’61 reunion. Class of ’61 had a wonderful reunion.

  11. I would like to correct one of the above Statements since I was one the students when Joseph S. Clark first opened its doors. The School was located on the conner of Dumaine and N. Johnson. I was there from 1947 until 1948. I enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1948. After serving during the Korean War 1950-1951 I returned to the Army Recruiting Office in the Municipal Auditorium in 1953 and was invited to represent the district on career Day. It was then I learned that J.S. Clark was located on Bayou Road and N. Derbigny. I went into the office to see Mr. Richards, he was surprised to see me as he had heard I was killed in Korea and was happy that I chose to make the Army my Career. I remember Some of the Teachers of 47 , Coach Hicks. Cute little Ms. Thompson and Ms Fatima Amed

    • Thank you Mr Ratleff for sharing. My mother also remembers the building being at the Derbigny location. You might be interested in a copy of the composite of the Classnof 1951 as they would have been your classmates from 1947. I will stay in touch.

      • Yes Ms. Gipson I would like a copy of the class of 1951 , I may recognize a few of them. I did get my GED from Clark and got an associate of Science in Law Enforcement.

      • Ms. Gipson; Ref; Composite of Class of 1951;
        My address is 1378 Sunset Drive Slidell,LA 70460
        If you would prefer I pick it up personally in New Orleans
        please name the time and place and i will be there.
        Thank You

  12. I graduated from Clark in 1983 and never knew the history of such an outstanding school. My dad and all his sisters went there and the majority of my family. In the year of 1983, there were 20 of us( family) attending the school at the same time…….Thank you so much for this article… I have more insight and appreciation for the school.

  13. Thank you so much for this historical information. My uncle (’59), mother (’61) and aunts (’64 and ’73) were graduates of Joseph S. Clark. I remember my mother’s stories about Mr. Jesse O. Richards and how he was a great role model and widely respected by teachers and students.

  14. I am very proud to say I attended both Andrew J. Bell and Joseph S. Clark c/o 73. Some of my best memories made were at these two schools. I also attended Valena C. Jones for my elementary education. I can honestly say thank god for growing up in a time when the educators truly cared about the students getting their education.

  15. My mom, Grace Clark Parker, taught social studies at Clark for many years. She and the other Clark teachers I knew always spoke with great respect of the administrative team at Clark led by Mr. Richards. Students, faculty, and administration were cohesive.

  16. I never knew the history of J.S. Clark but from the first day I stepped foot in the building I knew that it was something special, to this day I can’t put it into words but I’m certainly honored to have been a part of this great history. Proud Bulldog c/o 73. Thanks

  17. I chose to attend J.S. Clark. My mother lived in that district. She and my aunt attended Clark. We are proud Bulldogs and thank you God for giving us this opportunity and this blessing. We are Bulldogs4Life!!! 🙂

  18. The class of 1953 was the largest class to graduate, To accommodate that class, the city of N.O. let Clark High School use Municipal Auditorium which was a first.

  19. As a freshman, I attended Joseph S. clark annex, which was later called Andrew J. bell; and graduated in 1955 from Joseph S. clark Sr. High. Commencement was held at the Municipal Auditorium.

  20. Class of ’56. Thank you for the history of Clark School. Loved going to Clark. I Went to both the annex on Dumaine and Clark on Derbigny. Mr. Richards gave me one of my “best” memories of Clark. At Clark’s last musical at the Municipal Auditorium, I played the part of “The Statue of Liberty” and had to stand still on that podium, in that position, for almost 30 minutes. Mr. Richards told me that was my “Greatest Performance!!!!” (Smile). I was in the school’s dance group for 3 years and NEVER stood still. Thank you Mr. Richards, Dolores Aaron and all my teachers for the happy years I spent at Clark. P.S. If any Clark Alumni has any pictures of the musicals at Booker T. or the Auditorium from 1953 to ’56, please let me know.

  21. I attended Valena C. Jones, Rivers Frederick, A.J.Bell, and J . S . Clark. The best teachers, and Mr . Richards was best. I was in Miss . Powell ‘s homeroom and who could forget Mr. Lee (chemistry ). Great memories! Class of ’59

  22. I’m a second generation Bulldog! Class of 84. My mother Lamera Jackson Berger was in the class of 63. Mr. Richards was her principal. She says he was the best administrator. I believe that Mr. Minor was superb also! This school just feels like family. Everytime we see Bulldogs we are proud to be alumni!

  23. Class of 1971…..I am appreciative of this more elaborate and fundamental history along with the comments which supplements my lack of knowledge. Thanx for this article.

    • Hi classmate! I had read previous articles but did know this detail of info. I’ve read this article before, shared it & read again, and again. It’s such a great story. They should share this with the students who attend or include in the yearbooks. It would be good to have post on the school website and alumni social media pages. Great info.

  24. This was a wonderful article on the history of both of my alma maters. I graduated from Bell ’83 and Clark ’86. Our Príncipals were Ms. Lloyd and Mr. Minor, respectively. When I graduated from Bell, we moved to the upper 9th Ward and I was enrolled at Nichols. School started on a Wednesday. I didn’t know anyone there. All my friends from Bell went to Clark and John McDonogh while many of the male band members went to St Aug (some of them I attended school with since elementary at McDonogh #42). Monday morning, without my mom’s knowledge, I took the bus to Clark, walked in the office to register myself. Of course, they wouldn’t let me in without an adult. It just so happened, Mr. Decuir was in the office and he was a family friend. He called my Uncle Walter; they registered me using my great-aunt’s address on Gov. Nicholls. She lived a few blocks away. I was elated to be a Bulldog. It was three of the best years of my life. To this day, I am still connected to my Bulldog family and I am a very proud alumni. Fond memories.

  25. Hum, remembering those wonderful years at A.J.BELL, at least that’s what we called it in 1976-78. We were so proud to have a band as awesome as ours. Sorry to hear that the school is being converted into lofts. What a shame!

    • Thank you Mrs. Burrell you were one of my favorites. I was a majorette . Thank you. Hope you will be able to come to our 50th reunion.

  26. My name is Yvonne Edwards Johnson, a proud graduate of the only mid-term graduation class at J. S. CLARK SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL. I graduated from JOSEPH A. CRAIG ELEMENTARY SCHOOL on January 22, 1948, after which we began our freshman year at Clark on Dumaine and N. Johnson. When we moved to the present location we were on a platoon system; but those were happy days. I graduated in January 1952. Our class day was held at the Carver Theater and graduation at B. T. Washington’s Auditorium.

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