Photo courtesy the Bonham Public Library
A History of Booker T. Washington School
By Tom Scott
Bonham Daily Favorite, July 31, 1994
This brief story of the Bonham Black Schools was written so that a history of the schools would exist. The schools produced some great citizens who therefore should be remembered.
Part of the difficulty in dealing with the history of the Black schools in Bonham results from the absence of official school records from the founding of the public school system in 1890 until 1904. The so-called first record book of the Bonham school boards in this time period no longer exists and its fate is unknown.
In order to compensate for this lack of official proceedings it has been necessary to rely on the memories of those persons who were products of the school system. In this effort special thanks are given to Mr. Willie Ross, Mrs. Noble S. Smith, Mrs. Noble Chapman, Mrs. Manella M. McKee and Mrs. Hattie Nichols.
The first school for negro students was called the Bonham Colored School. it is believes to have been built in the late 1800's, but whether is was privately operated or a product of the city school system is unknown.
The school, a one room frame structure located in northwest Bonham on Franklin Street. The staff of two consisted of teacher and principal Professor Higgs who was assisted by a Mrs. Crawford.
This building was destroyed by fire probably about 1896. In that year a new site was purchased in east Bonham. The deed of record is the first evidence that the school was probably established as a part of the city school system.
Recorded in Deed Book 62, page 565 of the Fannin County deed records is the purchase "by the trustees of the Public School of the City of Bonham" for a sum of $200 a part of Block 17A of the Bailey Inglish Survey from the sellers Berry Stone and William Johnson. October 24, 1896.
The school was staffed by Principal Thurston, Mrs. V. A. Johnson Bradford and Mrs. Eliza Bennett, first grade teachers, Mrs. Viola Johnson, second grade teacher, and a Mrs. Crumpton, fourth grade. It is possible that these were the only grades required at that time or it seems certain that these teachers were responsible for more than one grade. As will be seen from later records, no more than four teachers were ever employed for a school year.
With the beginnings of Bonham Public School record Book #2 we have a limited amount of information concerning the operation of this school. Scholastic reports for all the Bonham schools were reported in the local newspaper, The Bonham Daily Favorite. These reports were filed as a matter record in the act of the Bonham School board. A sampling of these reports give some idea s to the size of this school. In November, 1904 40 students were reported enrolled. By December the number had more than quadrupled to 179. It has been suggested that this sudden upsurge was the result of many of the black children returning to school after an autumn spent picking cotton in the fields of Fannin County.
A year later, January 1905 the enrollment was 227, but a decline occurred in 1909 with an enrollment of only 166. Evidently a problem was developing with the attendance. At the February 1911 meeting of the school board, Principal J. H. Stewart was commended for his efforts in enforcing the attendance and punctuality regulations with a resulting increase in enrollment to 150. By the end of 1911, 216 students were enrolled with a 91.5% attendance record.
The early years of the century show that at most only four teachers were employed annually with very little turnover among the staff. The most frequent changes were in the principal's position. Between 1904 and 1920 this position changed about every four years. Among the men filling this charge were J. H. Stewart, H. S> Smith, J. A. Sykes, and S. C. Patton. Mrs. Viola Johnson and Mrs. Wade Johnson remained in their positions for many years joined by a number of different teachers who lasted only one or two years.
During these years the school was structured to provide only nine years of education. By 1920 however, grades ten and eleven were added. Along with the state mandated change in 1940 the twelfth grade was added.
Although nothing in the records indicate when or why, by 1920 the name of the school was changed from Bonham Colored School to Booker T. Washington. However the two names were used interchangeably until the end of the decade.
At the February 21, 1928 meeting of the school board, a previously appointed committee reported that their study indicated the need for the construction of two new school buildings for the system and that the passage of a bond issue to construct the facilities would be needed. On motion of board member Bland Smith the board voted to request the Bonham City Council to call for a bond issue in the amount of $50,000. Late records indicate the election was called for April 14, 1928.
The bond issue passed and at the April 22 meeting the board moved to purchase a ten acre tract of land for the construction site. The board also ordered to received bids for construction of a red brick building.
On May 22 bids were received and opened. The bids were structured not only for new construction but also for razing the old building at the corner of Seventh and the Denison Bonham and New Orleans Railroad road bed. Six bids were received ranging from Wood Brothers high of $16,063.00 to Francis Steger's low bid of $12,900.00. On motion of board member Sid Smith the contract was awarded to Steger.
At that same meeting the budget for the 1928-1929 school year was approved reflecting the evident changes for Washington School. The school's budget was set at $19,301.86 which was t include $1000 for repairs to old furniture, $13,100 for the building and contract, #1400 for furniture, and $300 for other equipment.
On June 15, 1928 the deed for the purchase of the building site was recorded in the deed records of Fannin County. Ten acres of a 36 acre tract Block 9 of the Bailey Inglish survey comprised the site. The land was bordered on the south by U.S. Highway 5, on the west by the rail bed on the D.B. and N.O. Railroad and on the north and east by the remaining portions of the original tract. The land was sold by L.C. Wilson, Jr., administrator of the estate of Lake C. Wilson, Sr. for $1500.
Construction was well underway by the summer of 1928.
In January of 1929, the school board was informed by a letter from G. T. Bludworth of the State department of Education that a grant from the Julius Rosenwald fund would be awarded to Washington School with $1000 for any expense on building and equipping the building, $200 for the library, $200 for additional equipment for the home ec department and $400 to assist in the erection of a teacher's home. (Note: This teachers home was discussed by the board over the next several months but evidently no action was taken on it.)
At that same meeting after discussion with the contractor over the appearance of a large crack in one wall of the building, a satisfactory arrangement was reached for acceptable repair and the board accepted the building. The records do not indicate whether the building was occupied immediately or not. The first official record was the opening of the school in October 1929 with Ray Seay as Principal, and faculty Mrs. Ray Seay, Mrs. Myrtle Johnson, and Virgie Johnson.
Growth of the school after World War II required the addition of two frame classrooms moved to the site from Jones Field, a pilot training base located in Bonham during the war. In 1946 a hanger was moved from the base and converted to a gymnasium on the grounds of the school. A stage was built at one end of the gym by two local men, Earl Johnson and Tony Ballard.
For years the school facility served as a focal point for the entire black community. The annual KP picnic was held on the grounds for many years and community dances were staged in the gymnasium. The student body was always encouraged to participate in a wide variety of extracurricular activities. In sports the school won several district and state honors. The eagle was adopted as the school mascot and the school colors of green and white were always proudly displayed at all events.
Other than those previously listed these men also served in the administration as principal of Washington School: Mr. Butler, Mr. James Seay, Mr. W. J. Taylor, Mr. E. C. Erwin, Mr. J. L. Halford, Mr. M. B. Walton, and Mr. R. E. Carreathers.
The 1960's brought many changes in the education process. Schools consolidated, Federal programs such as Headstart and Title One were instituted. With the changes came the end of a segregated school system. The Class of 1966 was the last to graduate from Booker T. Washington School. The next year the school was closed as the Bonham School District integrated.
The portable buildings were sold from the site and the brick structure razed in the late 1960's. The property was sold in 1967 and is now a commercial site. The oldest living graduate of the Black School System in Bonham is "Uncle" Willie Ross who will celebrate his 107th birthday on September 8, 1994.
Another is Mrs. Noble Stewart Smith who shares with Mr. Ross the distinction of being the oldest graduates. Mrs. Smith's class had thirteen members and was one of the last of the classes to attend only nine years.
According to local tradition the Bonham colored school began in a one-room structure in northwest Bonham in the early 1890s. Enrollment in the 4-teacher school grew from 40 pupils in 1904 to 216 in 1911. By 1920 the school offered 11 grades and was called Booker T. Washington. A new school complex, funded in part by the Rosenwald Foundation, was built on 10 acres here in 1928; Ray Seay served as principal. The school expanded to 12 grades in 1940, until 1966, when it closed due to school integration. The school served as a focal point for Bonham's entire African American community.
Location: Katy Blvd. & E. 5th Street, Bonham
Photo of a 1946 5th grade class from Bonham-Fannin County History Collection
The Black Community of Bonham, Texas, Forgotten Dignity: A Photographic History, 1880-1930
Texas A&M Commerce. The fifth student on the first row is Miss Rose Walton, whose father was principal. The teacher is Mrs. L. M. Robertson.
Washington Has Good Faculty
Bonham Daily Favorite, November 8, 1961
Much has been written and spoken in commendation or criticism of our school system in this country. Since Sputnik I first appeared in the skies it seems that the amount of criticism has out weighed the commendation.
Washington school is but a minute segment of this vast American school system but as a part of the American school system it has come in for its share of criticism. The faculty, student body and administration will be the first to admit that much of the criticism is justified and is making every effort to improve the situation. Often times we are so busy pointing out the bad features of our system that we often over look many of the good ones.
In keeping with the American Education Week theme — “Your Schools” we feel it fitting at this time to point out some of the good features of “Your School.”
At a time when the nation as a whole is suffering from a shortage of qualified teachers, Washington school can very well be proud of the fact that it has no teacher on the staff with less than a bachelor degree. It has two with master degrees.
Most educators will agree that one of the first prerequisites of a good school is qualified teachers, teaching in their major or minor field.
Teaching in Washington school today we have:
First Grade — Miss Dorthy Ryan, 1956 honor graduate of Washington school and a 1960 graduate of Prairie View A&M college, major Sociology, minor Elementary Education.
2 A and 3 B — Mrs. Emma Hancock with a bachelor degree from Huston Tilliston college, major Elementary Education. An honor graduate.
2 B and 3 A — Mrs. Clarice Henry, graduate of Texas college, major Physical Education minor Elementary Education.
Fourth Grade — Mrs. Dorthy Railback with a bachelor degree in Education.
Fifth Grade — Miss Alice Ruth Oliver, an honor graduate from Texas college, major Elementary Education.
In the Junior and Senior high school we have teaching:
Sixth Grade - Mrs. Alcenia Walton, a graduate from Tuskegee Institute, major Homemaking, minor Elementary Education
Band and Language Art — R. E. Embry, a. graduate of Huston Tilliston college, major music education.
Physical Education and Social Science — J. N. McNealy, a 1953 graduate of Washington school, a 1957 graduate of Butler college, major Physical Education, minor Social Science. McNealy has done some additional work in Mathematics and Physical Education at North Texas State.
Mathematics and Physics — F. T. Hawkins, a graduate of Prairie View A&M college, major Mathematics and minor Physics.
English and Music — Mrs. T. M. Maddrey, a graduate of Texas college with a major in English and additional work at the University of Southern California.
Homemaking — Mrs. N. V. Chapman a graduate of Prairie View A&M college, major Homemaking Education.
Vocational Agriculture — W. C. McPhaul with a bachelor and master degree from Prairie View A&M college in Agriculture Education.
Completing the instructional staff at Washington is R. E. Carreathers serving as principal and Science teacher with a bachelor degree from Prairie View A&M college and a Master of Education degree from Southeastern State college with additional study at the Uniyersity of California and North Texas State-
In addition to the above Mrs. Virginia Simpson, counselor for Bonham independent school system, serves Washington. She assists with the testing program, administering many of the tests personally and serves as coordinator for the counseling activities of the school.
Mrs. Erma Tate, curriculum supervisor, works very closely with the faculty of Washington school assisting also with the testing program in elementary and junior high school. Mrs. Tate supervises the in-service training program which is a vital part of our school system which serves to keep the teachers up-to-date o the latest trends and methods.
Mrs. Olvin Gross, school nurse for the Bonham independent school system, coordinates the vaccinating program at Washington school and supervises the general health of the school. Mrs. Annie S. Oates serves Washington school as a visiting teacher, dividing her time equally between Washington and Pendleton high of Honey Grove. Mrs. Oates works very closely with the civic and welfare organizations of the city and does a good job of encouraging parents to keep their children in school.
Mrs. Bulah Wilson prepares wholesome hot lunches each day, and Dock White has the responsibility of keeping our grounds and buildings clean and attractive.
Within the past few years Washington has attempted to broaden its curriculum so as to prepare its graduates for jobs immediately after graduation as well as meeting college entrance requirements. Washington requires 18 units for graduation, this is two units more than the state minimum of 16. In addition to the regular courses one may expect to find in a high school, Washington offers three years of vocational agriculture, and this year typing and physics have been added to the curriculum.
The extra-curriculum activities of Washington school consists of softball, football, basketball, band, choral club, library club, honor society, N. F. A., N. H. A., Hi-Y., Jr. and Sr. Deans and participation in various interscholastic league contests. All these we feel help to give the students a well rounded education.
In addition to a well qualified staff and a good curriculum, any good school would need ample visual aid equipment and teaching aids. Washington is equipped with a tape recorder, 35mm projector, 16mm projector, duplicating machine, and many other individual teaching aids.
Two of the most recent developments at Washington school of which we are very proud are the new Vocational Agriculture building and the organizing of an active P. T. A.
Another problem which has come in for its share of fair criticism is the over crowding of classrooms and the over loading of teachers with students. Our own school board was so concerned about this problem at Washington until they employed an extra teacher in 1960-61 and yet employs this teacher today with no aid from the state.
We invite all parents and interested citizens to visit the school during American Education Week and get better acquainted with your teachers and your school.
The Booker T. Washington School's 1964 Graduating Class: Back row left to right- Mrs. Annie S. Oates (Sponsor), Shirley Perry, Guy Ransom, Douglas White, Billy Carter, Harrison Phillips, Douglas Ransom, Jerry Wyatt, Alvis Anderson and Mr. R.E. Carreathers (Principal). Front row left to right- Bernetha Wright, Magnolia Palmer, Elnora Smith, Fred Barr, John Wilson, Calvin Wilson and Mae Helen Brooks.