Joseph A. Craig Elementary School
The history of Joseph A. Craig Elementary School dates back to 1853 when the Bayou Road School, its predecessor, was an institution for white girls. It was named after a street (still existing today) and was housed until 1922 on several residential sites in the vicinity of Bayou Road and North Claiborne Avenue.
By 1871, the school was converted into an institution for colored children with pupils attending who spoke almost exclusively French Creole but English spoken during school hours. By 1877, it was designated for only colored girls, but by 1900 became co-educational.
Miss Mary Dora Coghill (1869-1957)
Before 1907 the administrators, clerical staff, and teachers at the Bayou Road School were all white. In 1907, the entire faculty and staff, including the principal, were replaced with black women. It was then that Miss Mary Dora Coghill, a graduate of Straight College, became principal of the Bayou Road School. Attorney A.P. Tureaud was a student at the school at this time and spoke of Agnes Bauduit, Priscilla Waterhouse, and Fannie C. Williams who, along with Miss Coghill, exposed him to the accomplishments and contributions of Creoles and African American men and women. The seeds of Attorney Tureaud’s cultural consciousness were sown during his years here and he states that he benefitted from the instructional program because of the skill and dedication of his teachers.
As the enrollment continued to increase after 1907, students were housed in four framed residential buildings as compared to the four room, slate roof structures of the past. When the September Storm of 1915 hit New Orleans, all four school buildings were destroyed.
Mr. Joseph Adolphus Craig (1823-1893)
In 1916, a new site was purchased and (for the first time) a three- story cement school costing $125,000 was erected. A resolution was passed and the name of the Bayou Road School was changed to Joseph Adolphus Craig in honor of a highly respected man of color who was a barber, civic leader, prominent Democrat and the appointee to the first post- Reconstruction school board in New Orleans.
Joseph A. Craig School officially opened in February, 1923 with an additional junior high and manual training department. Mr. Lawrence Desmond Crocker was named associate principal to Miss Coghill. While the Craig School was under construction at Bayou Road & Derbigny Streets, residents of the neighborhood vigorously protested that this area was unsuitable for a Negro school since the neighborhood was distinctly white. James Fortier, president of the school board, even stated that black children in white neighborhoods would threaten white supremacy. Black community leaders fought back and, after much debate, the board voted to allow the students to attend Craig until a new black school could be built on St. Philip Street.
Craig students were once again forced to relocate. The new building was in the square bounded by Marais, Ursuline Ave., North Villere and St. Philip Streets; the site of today’s location. The three story brick structure contained 36 classrooms plus carpentry, brick masonry as well as home economics departments, and an auditorium.
By 1927, Craig housed 1,487 students from 1st through the 9th grade with 34 teachers. The girls were taught cooking and sewing and they prepared hot lunches for 400 children at a cost of 3 cents each day. They also made their own sewing aprons, cooking aprons, caps and dish towels. Enrollment was so large that students were forced to attend half- day classes. Finally, the junior high was transferred to Albert E. Wicker School on Bienville and North Derbigny Streets to help alleviate overcrowding.
In spite of its problems, Craig was an excellent school with an outstanding faculty and a very involved PTA. O.C.W. Taylor, writer for The Louisiana Weekly, spoke highly of Craig, the school he transported his child to in 1927 which was twenty- five blocks away from his home. By 1930, operettas, plays, May festivals and pageants were held every year.
After serving as principal of the Bayou Road and Craig Schools for 33 years, Miss Coghill resigned at the beginning of the 1940-41 school session. A gala reception was held in her honor in October of 1941, wherein she was said to have been one of the most progressive, sympathetic, efficient and appreciative educators in the state.
Miss Maude Rosalie Dedeaux, who later would marry Lawrence Crocker, was appointed principal upon Miss Coghill’s retirement in 1940. Born in Pass Christian, Mississippi, Miss Dedeaux moved to New Orleans as a child. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Xavier University and a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota. Before arriving at Craig Elementary, Miss Dedeaux worked at J.W. Hoffman and John Lockett Schools.
Joseph A. Craig School (Faculty-1940s)
Kneeling ( left to right): Sidney DesVigne Jr. / Warren Llado / Emmanuel Gregoire / W. King / Raymond Dorest / George Nash / Edward Cherrie.
Seated (first row): Mrs. K. Dedeaux (Cafeteria Manager) / Mrs. Mildred Rousseve (Librarian) / Miss Euphemia Cappie / Miss Antoinette Lambert / Mrs. Dorothy Norris / Miss Marie Murphy / Mrs. Leola Smith / Mrs. Junion Douglas / Miss D. King / Miss Gwendolyn Walker / Miss Leonie Rousseve / Mrs. R. Carter.
Seated (second row): Mrs. Lillian Laws / Mrs. M. Bryant / Mrs. Miriam Martin / Mrs. Anna Henry (Ranking Teacher) / Miss E. Bryant (Secretary) / Miss Maude Dedeaux (Present Principal) / Miss Mary Coghill (Past Principal) / Miss Pearl Tasker (Supervisor) / Miss L. Duvigneaud (Assistant Secretary) / Mrs. Bertha Jenkins (Nurse) / Mrs. Lizzie Valteau / Mrs. M. Barnes / Miss Loretta Z. Dowden.
Standing (in the background): Miss Louise Reed / Mrs. Naomi Triche / Miss M. Emile / Mrs. Veronica Medley / Mrs. S. Conway / Miss B. Aubry / Miss Thelma Ruffin / Mrs. N. Tio / Miss T. Williams / Mrs. S. Robinson / Miss Estelle Cheval / Mrs. Maude Johnson / Mrs. Mildred Byrd / Mrs. S. Tinson / Mrs. Hattie Lawrence /
Missing from the picture: Miss Eloise Clark (Visiting Teacher), Mr. J. Claiborne (Recreation Supervisor), Miss A. Gair and Mr. Lawrence Lee.
As the years progressed, Joseph A. Craig School became synonymous with the name of Maude Dedeaux Crocker. Under her leadership, Craig’s PTA by 1947 consisted of 500 members. She devoted her life to her students and is said to have ranked among the best of local educators.
On 18 May 1973, a testimonial banquet was held at the Fairmont Roosevelt Hotel to honor Mrs. Crocker for 50 years of service as a teacher and administrator. More than 500 former students and educational associates attended in her honor. This occasion also marked her 33rd year as principal of Craig Elementary while she continued in her administrative role. The highlight of the afternoon was the presentation of a bronze plaque by Henri O’Bryant of Los Angeles, representing the many friends of Mrs. Crocker from the West Coast.
On January 2, 1993, Mrs. Crocker passed away and a memorial service was held at St. Augustine Church in Treme. Louisiana Supreme Court Justice, Revius Ortique, a former student, was the key note speaker. “She was probably the greatest influence on my life,” he said. “She insisted on people recognizing that they have not average worth, but great worth. She instilled in us the feeling that we were to achieve and accomplish. She came to tear down the barriers of insecurity, hate and complacency so that all may walk in love and understanding.”
Today, Joseph A. Craig Elementary School is still located in the historic Treme area of New Orleans. It was one of the first schools to reopen (April 2006) in the city after Hurricane Katrina. By 2010, extensive roof and termite damage caused it to close but the Craig community was determined it would not be torn down. Many generations have passed through these doors and older graduates refer to the school as “Craig University” since it was the highest some had ever attained. Through their efforts, the historic structure still stands (as shown above) more beautiful than ever before. It now operates as a Recovery School District- Charter School at 1423 St. Philip Street.
Sources: Anniversary Booklet of the Joseph Adolphus Craig School (1927-1947), Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans; The Louisiana Weekly, 28 October 1941 p. 5 + 02 April 1927 + 07 Jan. 1930 p. 1; A More Noble Cause, A.P. Tureaud and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Louisiana, Rachel L. Emanuel & Alexander P. Tureaud, Jr., 2011, LSU Press pages17-18; Times-Picayune, 20 May 1973, p.15 + 24 January 1993 (obituary) p.1; Jet Magazine (archives) June 1973; www.nola.com/index. 04 January 2010
Lolita V. Cherrie