A Gentleman and a Scholar: Lawrence D. Crocker (1893-1966)
“Students respected him as their leader and confidant. Teachers considered him a friend and a co-worker.” These were the words spoken by Louis G. Riecke in 1970 at the dedication ceremony for the opening of the Lawrence D. Crocker Elementary School. Its name was chosen to honor a unique individual who devoted 42 years to educating children in the city of New Orleans.
Lawrence Doresmond Crocker was one of six children born to Cyrille and Louise Wallace Crocker on 30 April 1893. The Crocker family resided at 1573 North Claiborne Avenue in the 7th ward. Lawrence graduated from St. Paul Lutheran, Daniel Hand and Straight College (now Dillard University). He did graduate work at Chicago University, Harvard University and earned a Master of Arts degree from the University of Minnesota.
Returning to New Orleans, Professor Crocker began his teaching career in 1916 at the Miro School, now known as Valena C. Jones Elementary. A year later, he was chosen to join the staff of McDonogh # 35, the first public high school for children of color in the city. He married Lillian Mathieu and from 1918 to 1921, they resided in Louisville, Kentucky where he taught French and Mathematics before returning to McDonogh #35. He held several other teaching positions before being assigned as principal to John W. Hoffman in 1926. It was here that Professor Lawrence D. Crocker established the reputation of being an outstanding educator. A 1940 editorial in the local Louisiana Weekly described him in this way:
“Honors do not excite him, acknowledgements do not change his stride, and responsibilities do not influence his saneness. He doesn’t carry his education on his sleeve, it is in his mind. His words and actions are easily comprehended. His life is a quiet one, but he contributes greatly to the community by rightly teaching the students of Hoffman School. Mr. Crocker looks upon the community with marked interest and with a perspective that draws the problems of the community into the palm of his hand, and where they are usually dissolved and straightened out.”
While serving as principal of J. W. Hoffman, Professor Crocker often stressed the importance of the need for a high school whose curriculum would include vocational education. For this reason, he was highly recommended and selected as the first principal of the new Booker T. Washington High School in 1942. It was the second public high school to open in the city, twenty-five years after McDonogh #35, but the first to emphasize vocational education as a core part of its curriculum. Upon accepting this position, Mr. Crocker said, “I am fully conscious of the great responsibility imposed upon me. I assure you that I approach the work with a determination to give the best that is in me.”
For the next 16 years (1942-1958), Lawrence D. Crocker would retain the principal ship of Booker T. Washington School. Throughout this period, students often referred to him as “The Creeping Jesus” since he had a special ability to creep behind them undetected as they tried to cut classes or break other school rules. His students would often say, “Mr. Crocker was a wonderful principal. He was always very soft spoken but ruled with an iron fist and when he spoke we listened.”
Following his retirement from the school system in 1958, Mr. Crocker accepted a position at Dillard University as assistant professor of education and as acting dean of students in 1965.
Professor Crocker was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Phi Delta Kappa, Young Men’s Christian Association, Urban League of Greater New Orleans, NAACP, Orleans Principals Association, Dillard University Alumni Association, Louisiana Education Association, National Education Association, and a member of the board of directors of Flint-Goodridge Hospital.
Lawrence D. Crocker passed away at his home on 09 September, 1966. He was survived by his second wife, Maude Dedeaux Crocker, longtime principal of Joseph A. Craig, and four children: Lillian C. Jones, Dr. Cyril Crocker, Dr. Albert Crocker, and Lawrence Crocker Jr. A Requiem Mass was celebrated at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church. He was interred in St. Louis Cemetery #3.
In 1979, thirteen years after his death, the Lawrence D. Crocker Memorial Scholarship Endowment was launched. It was the brainchild of former students of Mr. Crocker who began a nationwide search to find the thousands of students whose careers were inspired by this man. The endowment would financially assist business administration and education majors at Grambling University who were graduates of Booker T. Washington High. It was a fitting honor for a man who devoted his life to educating so many children of color in this city.
Sources: The Louisiana Weekly, “L.D. Crocker Is a Symbol of the Well–Educated Here” 04 May 1940; Chicago Metro News, 28 April 1979 page 2; Names Over New Orleans Public Schools, Robert Meyers, Jr., Namesake Press (1975) page 51; Times- Picayune, 01 May 1979 page 6 and 11 September 1966 page 33; Ancestry.com, 1900-1910-1920-1930-1940 census records.
Lolita V. Cherrie