Walter L. Cohen High School – Early Days 1949-1953

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When Walter L. Cohen High School opened its doors in the fall of 1949, it became the 5th public secondary school available to students of color in New Orleans. The opening of the school, located at 3620 Dryades Street in the uptown area of the city, did not take place without controversy.

The building had previously housed white students for many years and was known as the Edward Benjamin Krutttschnitt Elementary School. It was not until enrollment at the school dropped to 153 students that the Orleans Parish School Board decided to move pupils to other white schools in the area and convert the structure to an all-black high school.

Of course, this ruling did not sit well with white property owners in the immediate vicinity so they decided to take legal action. A court order issued in civil district court sought to keep the school open and prevent the school board from converting Kruttschnitt Elementary to a Negro school. The court order was upheld as a result of a 1948 Act which stated that written permission of 70 % of the property owners within 600 feet of an existing school must give permission before the school board could change the classification of a white school to a Negro school. As a result, 2/3 of students temporarily returned to Kruttschnitt while another group of citizens sought to buy and convert the building into a hospital for crippled children.

The tide began to turn in 1949 when Attorney A.P. Tureaud, representing a group of Negro property owners in the area, attacked the 1948 Act as being unconstitutional. The school board also received numerous numbers of telegrams and request from various organizations in support of turning the school over to black students.

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Walter L. Cohen (1860-1930), U. S. Comptroller of Customs

Finally, in the fall of 1949, Walter L. Cohen High School became a reality. On Monday, February 13th, a dedication ceremony was held and tributes paid to the late Walter L. Cohen by Dr. Rivers Frederick. Mr. Haidel J. Christophe presented the school a portrait of the late leader and Mr. Eli W. Sorrell was introduced as Cohen’s first principal.

Walter L. Cohen was the leader of the Republican Party in Louisiana from 1892 until his death in 1930. Cohen was a close associate of Booker T. Washington and knew every U. S. President from Benjamin Harrison to Herbert Hoover. Cohen founded the People’s Industrial Life Insurance Company. “Cap” Cohen, as he was known, always faced tough political battles and once remarked, “My father was a Jew, my mother Negro, and I a Catholic. I am everything the Ku Klux Klan abominates.”

Sorrell, E.W. (Principle of Cohen)

Eli Whitney Sorrell

Four years later, the school’s first yearbook was published. It was named WA-LO-CO which was the abbreviated version of Mr. Cohen’s full name. They dedicated it to members of the Dad’s Club who had tirelessly worked toward making their school a success. Staff members of the first annual book wrote in its forward message to all students, “As the years pass, may our first annual grow dearer and dearer because it brings back to us fond memories of days worth reliving.”

Below are various photos taken from that 1953 yearbook.

 

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Dads’s Club

Sitting (left to right):

Samuel Bringier, William H. Mitchell, Jack Moore, E.W. Sorrell, Edward Simmons, Gerald Halthon, Harold Millon

Standing (left to right):

Robert Lee, William Clark, Charles Coffey, Albert Butler, Herman Bush, Henry Adams, Sr., Henry Elloie, Sr., Robert Perry

President: Dr. George Talbert

 walocoCohen's Yearbook Staff (1952-53)

Yearbook Staff

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Our Hostesses

Standing: Sue Jane Mitchell, Marie Smith, Alice Wilson, Mattie Leahman, Halemon Hess

Center: Laverne Hayes

Seated: Lorraine Poret, Myrna Lynn Weems

The first graduating class of 1953 consisted of 280 students. There were 242 members of the junior class, 184 sophomores and 30 members comprised the faculty. Graduation was held on June 3, 1953 in Booker T. Washington High School’s Auditorium.

Faculty members in 1953: Urcelle Bradley (English-Economics) / Zelda Brown (Librarian) / Pelham  Calhoun, Sr. (English)/ Ora Carter (Physical Ed.)/ William Clark (Science) / Charles Coffey (Typing-Bookeeping) / Althea Deterville (Physical Ed.) / Joyce Dugas (Math) / Lois Gonzales (French) / Irma Henry (Music) / Clarence Hunt (Biology) / Dorothy Jackson (Spanish) / Alice Johnson (Math) /  Consuelo LeBlanc (Homemaking)/ Robert Lee (Math) / Theresa Lewis (Art) / Rose McKendall ( Spanish) / Harold Millon (Physical Ed.) / Marguerite Paul ( Science) / Robert Perry (Counselor) / Minnie Payton (English) /  Joyce Plicque (French) / Dorothy Powell (Latin) / Martha Ringgold/ (Typing-Shorthand)/ Margery Sarter (Speech) / Thelma Smith (Secretary) / Cecelia Speaker (Social Studies) / Solomon Spencer (Music-Band) / Thelma Taylor (Social Studies) / Ernest Wilderson (English)

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Girls’ Basketball Team

Standing (left to right)

Geraldine Pickett, Joyce Verrett, Ollie Edwards, Delores Reuben, Willie M. Rogers, Marva Blunt, Bernadine Washington, Mrs. Althea Deterville, Coach

Kneeling: Rosalie Porter, Ivoryola Thompson, Brenetta Johnson, Alma Porter, Helena Sykes, Myrtle Washington, Dorothy McCullum, Hazel Thomas

Seated: Mary Palmer, Dorothy Wilson, Barbara Middleton, Bonnie Moon, Jacqueline Smith, Whyoming Robinson

Cohen's Miss Wa-Lo-Co and Court (1952-53)

Miss WA-LO-CO and Court

Back row, standing: Merita Sarrazin, Sophomore Maid; Audrey Castine, Junior Maid; Elsie Williams, Senior Maid; Center: Ernestine Desdunes, Miss WA-LO-CO

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Baseball Team

Standing (left to right): Mr. Harold Millon, Manager, Theodore Benton, Andrew Slack, Oscar Brown, Earl Farrar, Milton Johnson, Lawrence King, Huey Bursey, William Miller

Kneeling (left to right): Cleveland Kimbrough, Thomas Glover, Leonard Washington, Irvin Roussell, Leo Lambert, James Johnson.

 Sources: WA-LO-CO (1953 yearbook of Walter L. Cohen), The Times- Picayune, 29 January1949 p.1, 12 February1949 p.9, 13 February 1950; The Louisiana Weekly, 13& 20th August 1949

Lolita Villavasso Cherrie

24 thoughts on “Walter L. Cohen High School – Early Days 1949-1953

  1. What a pleasure it was to open the first message in my email folder this morning about the school I graduated from in 1960. I went to Cohen in my junior and senior years. As an adult, I am now really able to appreciate my high school even more now that I know how many people had to fight to make it possible for me and my family and friends to be able to attend. My brother, Peter Braud and my sister-in-law, Sundra Simmons Braud, and cousin Donald Villavasso also graduated from Cohen. I recognize some of the names of my cousins mentioned, Dr. Rivers Frederick, Tira Walker, Merita Sarrazin. I also remember Mr. Sorrell who was the principle and Mrs. Deterville who was the coach. I really enjoy reading about my home town and appreciate my cousin, Lolita Cherrie and her team for making these history events available to us. Thank you for all that you do.

  2. What a delight to read about the history of my high school. I have many, many fond memories of my 4 years at Cohen. Mr. Sorrel was the principal when I entered the school as a freshmen and Mr. Perry was the principal when I graduated in 1960. It was also great to see a picture of Mrs. Deterville.

    Many thanks to Robert Perry for this post.

  3. Thanks Lolita, for all those memories. I was Miss Cohen and I don’t remember the year. It was fun, exhausting because my grandfather sent me to Cohen and I had to take a bus and trolley to get there. I still have friends from those days and would love to hear from those who I’ve missed. Alice Wilson – in one of the pictures – died several years ago and that was tragic. (Cookie)

  4. Reading the history of Walter L. Cohen High School and seeing faces and names of the pioneers that strived for excellence in preparing students to be viable forces in community rekindles the spirit of unity that exemplifies the goal of our progenitors of education at my high school alma mater.

  5. I enjoyed reading this information. I graduated in 1967 but as child growing up in the area I would go to watch the band practices. Also I had a sister who graduated in the Class of 1962, one sister in the Class of 1969, a brother in 1970, another sister in 1975 and a brother in 1975. I cherish and hold on to the Class 1962 yearbook and my Class 1967.

  6. It was heart warming to read about Cohen’s beginning,I’am sitting here with tears in my eyes as I see the old building,coach Millon,Mr.Sorrell,Mr.Coffey,Mr.Elloie and the principle Mr.Perry . High school was hard for me the brite spot was meeting Jean Williams in typing class be that as it may those four years I have cherished to this day.

  7. Hi Marceline…You would have been Miss Cohen in 1954 since I saw your pretty picture listed as a junior in the 1953 book.

  8. I am also in tears as I read for the first the history of my high school. I am a graduate from the class of 1967 and I cherish the four years of my high school life. Since I recently buried a family member, Daniel Sykes, who taught at Cohen during my four years, it is an even greater privilege to recall memories of Mr. Sorrell, Ms. Deterville, and Mr. Perry as some of the names mentioned. I celebrate my 50 year reunion in a few days and I am extremely excited to recall memories with friends.

  9. I am beyond thrilled to read the history of my high school. I am a member of the Class of 1965 and a true Green Hornet. I am proud to be one of its graduates and currently belong to the Alumni Association. In August 2015 we celebrated our 50th Class Reunion. For the last two years a few of my classmates meet once monthly for Lunch to enjoy each other’s company and reminisce old times and discuss current events. It is a very time for us all.

  10. As a 1960 graduate of Cohen it is wonderful to see and relive the memories. My years there were a great experience and I will forever treasure them. Mr. Sorrell was our principal and Mr. Lee, Mr. Coffey. Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Clark, Mr. Perry , Mrs. Deterville and Coach Millon were outstanding faculty and staff members. Also, Miss Wa-Lo-Co listed above was Ernestine Desdunes one of my neighbors. Those were the days and thanks for the memories.

    • Thank you so much for sending me Miss WA-LO-CO’s last name. You have saved me a trip back to the special collections of the main library to search for it. I will add her surname to our storyline….Lolita

  11. In the Fall of ’60, as a Xavier senior, I did student teaching at Cohen under Mr. Hamilton’s tutelage. Cohen was a very orderly high school. The faculty members were models of behavior, and my foreign language students were tops. I remember names like Carole Vidal, Beatrice and Robert Perry (the kids), and Brenda August.

  12. This is a wonderful article and thank you for posting. I’m a proud class of ’73 graduate and remember well Mr Perry, Mr Millon, Mr Coffey, Mr Sorrell, Ms Plicque, Ms Sarter, Ms Deterville, Ms Bradley, Ms Powell, Ms Leblanc. My class still meets on a regular basis and are a support for each other!

  13. (WLC c/o 1982)

    My FIRST Love…I just fell in LOVE all over again. Thank you sincerely for sharing this legacy with us. I’m even more PROUD to be an HORNET after reading our History. Totally PHENOMENAL!!!
    #loveGREEN
    #liveWHITE
    #hornet4lyfe

  14. My mother Helen Turner was one of the graduates of this class. I followed in her footsteps graduating from Cohen

  15. Great historical article on my high school alma mater W. L. Cohen, class of 1970. The pictures of the staff are very youthful compared to when I attended. I was the last of six Crier siblings that attended Cohen Sr. High with their graduations starting in 1956. The namesake of the school Walter L. Cohen had an illustrious business and political career that should have been part of the curriculum for a person of color to attain such achievements would have been a great role model for all Cohen students. I indirectly met Attorney Turead as a teenager while he and my dad were conversing. The more I read about A. P. Turead the more I admire his career. Great work Lolita Villavasso Cherrie!

  16. Wow, I attended Cohen from 1989- 1993. It’s so amazing to read this story of how Cohen got it’s start. My mom, uncles, and aunts went to Cohen as well. I love how Turead fought back against the unethical people trying to enforce a law that was in fact against the law. I love my school years even more..
    C/O 93
    Charisse Smith

  17. My wife Lynn Hansell Decuir (class of 1972) and I spent the weekend in New Orleans as her class celebrated their 45th year reunion. It was great! She loves her classmates and her alma mater. My first teaching job was at Walter L. Cohen and it was three of the best years of my career. There is something special about being a part of such a rich tradition.

  18. I attended WA.LO.CO. from 1968-1971. I had no idea who he was until I ran across this website. Thanks so much. I also attended Alfred C. Priestley from 1963-1968 and thanks to Creole GEN I now know who he was !

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