Monroe’s Ties to a Lost Black University

I am just recently hearing about a private school for African-Americans that was here in the 1890’s and the early 1900’s. To call out my own biases, I thought that Wisner Colored High School was the only school for African Americans during this time period. I knew of at least one small private school, but never any other. This is a murky part of our past. Only a handful of Monroe papers exist for this time period, and this new private school was for African-American students. White state papers very rarely reported on black schools. The school was called, North Louisiana Industrial High School and sometimes the Monroe Academy. It appears they were two names for one school. I think, using indirect evidence, the school started around 1895 and in 1898 Leland University stepped in and made it an affiliate. Never heard of Leland? That is because it closed for good in 1960. It was a very prestigious college in it’s day and was the oldest college for African Americans in the state, even older than Southern! The college opened in New Orleans around 1871 near where Tulane is today. Pressure from the encroaching white community on St. Charles Avenue and a disastrous hurricane in 1915 finally made the university move it’s campus to Baker, LA, where it finally closed it’s doors in 1960. All that remains of the Baker campus are a few crumbling walls.

In the 1890’s, Leland decided to partner with state schools and supply them with funding and teachers. The stipulations for each school were: the property had to be worth at least $2000 and taxes, insurance, upkeep and all incidentals be paid and kept up by the trustees of the school. Tuition of $1 per month, per student was to be paid to Leland. Leland would provide the curriculum and all teachers would be appointed and paid by the University. Once students graduated from the affiliate schools, they would be accepted into the University without having to be tested. The top two graduating students even got a discount on their tuition!

You can read about Leland and their affiliate program here: . Start on page 7. The Monroe Academy information begins on page 8.

Several months back, I posted a clipping showing a turn of the century Monroe school, where the principal was identified as Mr. W.M. Pruitt. The above book states he was affiliated with the school. His wife Loretta, it was stated, was the first woman to receive an A.B. degree from Leland University, class of 1898! She was the daughter of Richmond Dunn, founder of a very prominent family in Ouachita parish. You can find photos of the Pruitts on Ancestry in some of their family trees that are listed. Loretta has a Find a Grave memorial with her photo on it here: . I made one for Professor Pruitt as well, which is linked to hers. I also found a picture of Professor Pruitt’s stone in Magnolia here: . It makes me sad that it is broken and he has been forgotten.

Other principals listed for the school were Rev. J.L. Crossley (1904-5) and Professor Madison J. Foster took over in 1906, both Leland graduates. I find references to the Industrial High School in several state papers and they give a little more information. In the New Orleans Times-Democrat of October 12, 1895, Dr. S.J. Clanton, a graduate of New Orleans University and the Divinity School of Chicago University is listed as “…elected president of the institution.” When Professor Foster took over Wisner school in 1930, it appears one of his Associate Principals, Mrs. Henrietta Windham Johnston took over the principalship. A local recreation center was named for her, which I have posted about before.

I found a description of the school in the Lafourche Comet out of Thibodaux, LA, January 9, 1896:

The North Louisiana Industrial High School opened Monday, Jan. 6. It is located in Monroe for the industrial, literary and scientific education of the colored youths. It closed a successful term at the holidays, with an enrollment of 120. There was a very large increase of attendance on reopening. The citizens of Monroe and of Ouachita parish are deeply interested in the success and work of this institution for the negroes of that part of the State. The pupils are eager, earnest and studious, and the school, on the whole, is well located, and is destined to do a large educational and industrial service for the colored people between the Ouachita and the Mississippi rivers in Louisiana, above Vicksburg, Miss. Dr. S.J. Clanton, of Monroe, is the efficient principal. He and his associates in the work are greatly encouraged by the liberal help and sympathy of the best citizens of Monroe and vicinity.

Later that year, the Shreveport Times (October 3, 1896) wrote:

Special to the Times.
Monroe, La., Oct. 2. – The third term of the North Louisiana Industrial High school (colored) will begin Monday, October 5th.
Its industrial, academic, normal and scientific courses and pastor’s, English, and woman’s missionary training and night school welcomes those of ever faith to its advantages. The aim is to build character.
Rev. Wm. Hamilton says his church and congregation and the work done by them for suffering humanity all speak for themselves and that their aim to urge the advancement and education of their race, is their chief delight. He has secured an appropriation from the colored convention which convened at New Iberia and has also placed the great needs before the home mission and educational boards at New York city, and the national educational board, while in sesison [sic] at St. Louis, from which he expects favorable consideration. he further states that the colored people have their eyes turned toward Monroe, educationally speaking, from the banks of the Mississippi river to the banks of Red river, and seem to be very hopeful and still pray the encouragement of the white people of this city.

The Times of October 9, 1896 stated that a new principal had taken over: Prof. Felix A. Curthright. The Times also reported the next month (Nov. 17, 1896) that Prof. Curtright (notice a different spelling?) called a meeting of the teachers and they organized a “colored teacher’s institute”.

I don’t see a mention of the school in the white papers again until 1902. The New Orleans Times-Democrat reported in the May 26, 1902 paper:

The seventh annual commencement of the North Louisiana Industrial High School, colored, was begun to-day, when Rev. Wm. Hamilton, president of the Board of Trustees, delivered the annual sermon in Zion Traveler Baptist Church. The exercises will continue for two days. There are no graduates.
This school, which was organized under the auspices of the Tenth District Baptist Association, aimed to give the colored children a higher education than they could receive in the public school, and also to give them manual training. The former idea has been carried out in the last seven years, but as to the latter, the only occupation taught is sewing. During the closing term there have been 167 pupils, 75 of whom were boys. The monthly tuition fee is 75 cents for the primary, and $1 for the academic department. Wm. Pruitt, B.S., is the principal, and there are eight teachers. There is also a normal course.
Considering the fact that there is a very largely attended public school and three private schools in Monroe for the colored children, the attendance at this institution is encouraging.

The News-Star of January 30, 1911 reported that at $1000 mortgage of the school property had finally been paid off by the Tenth District Baptist Association. In the May 22, 1915 News-Star, there was talk about building a new Industrial School, as the current property was way too small. (The 1000 block of Texas Avenue).

Whew! That is a lot to take in! This appears to be a private school funded by student tuition. I also just recently found out after reading an interview with him, Mr. Joseph Sharp graduated from this school in 1929! FASCINATING! I found a list of faculty and students of this school, which I will put in my next post!

3 thoughts on “Monroe’s Ties to a Lost Black University


    Pages 52-53

    This organization covers a large territory in Northeast Louisiana. It was organized in 1872 in Cloudy Creek Baptist Church by the following Elders: T. H. Johnson, who was the first President, Phillip Robinson, John Strauther, Stephen Baller, Isaac Grant, Mitchell Sims, H. A. Scates, I. Verwood, J. Jacob and A. Johnson. Drs. J. Tresvant and J. Mangham (white) assisted the brethren.

    They began with seventeen church, membership about 2,000; today (1912) they number more than 10,000. This body has wrought well, and greatly improved conditions in this part of the state. Not only have they preached the Gospel, organized and built up churches, but they have and are now doing a deal of educational work. The North Louisiana Industrial High School located at Monroe with the scholarly Prof. M. J. Foster at its head, is sufficient proof of the District’s interest in education. Elder H. R. Flynn, who for years has been chairman of the Trustee Board, Bishop Hill and the late Bishops Hamilton and Flood and scores of other strong men have labored hard for the educational work of the District.

    Professor Foster, its efficient principal, is a college graduate of Leland University and a man of experience in matters pertaining to school management. With his able faculty, he is doing head, heart and hand work that measures up with any state district school. This school was founded in 1895 by Elders Wm. Hamilton, W. P. Darrington, J. B. Bolden and others. Its present valuation (1912) is $3,000. This host of Christian workers has been led from 1872 to 1912 by the following Moderators: Elder T. H. Johnson, C. Gardner, William Hamilton, Auder Back, Flood and W. W. Hill. Bishop Hill, the present Moderator (1912), is an untiring worker and stands shoulder to shoulder with any District Moderator in the state in point of devotion to the Master’s cause. No District in the state is more loyal to the Convention. She easily holds her place among the banner districts of the state.

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    History shows that St. Joseph Baptist Church was first organized in 1874 on Cotton Port Plantation in the old St. Clair School House in West Monroe, Louisiana, by Reverend Hall. The church was pastored for a year by Reverend Hall. Joseph Bolden was baptized during this time. Reverend Bolden was ordained under the leadership of Reverend Hall. Reverend Bolden later pastored St. Joseph Baptist Church.

    Pastor Joseph Bolden pastored St. Joseph Church in the old St. Clair School until the school burned. After the school burned, the church was moved to the 9th block of Wood Street and erected its first building in 1878. Three members of the church were called to the ministry and ordained: Reverend Odd Wilson, Reverend Julius Hill and Reverend Frank Hood. The following deacons were ordained: Almar Green, Alf Robinson and Alford Scott. Reverend Bolden was one of the founders of the North Louisiana Industrial High School in Monroe, Louisiana. Reverend Bolden resigned as pastor of St. Joseph Church to assume another position.

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    In June 1883 he was elected Sunday school missionary of the American Baptist Publication Society. He also served as secretary of the American Baptist Foreign Mission and in August 1886 was elected secretary at the American Baptist National Convention.[2] The convention was led by William J. Simmons and Richard DeBaptiste. A major issue facing the group was unifying black Baptists for mutual support and to increase their “race confidence” as Clanton put it in a presentation of a paper he wrote. James T. White gave a similar, notable presentation at the conference.[4] He was a pastor in Elgin, Illinois and in Evanston, Illinois. He served as missionary colporteur in Louisiana and Illinois. He was recording secretary for the first District Association of Louisiana, financial secretary of the Ministers’ Mutual Aid Society of Louisiana, and district secretary of the Gulf District of the American Baptist Publication Society.[1] In 1889 he was an officer of the black Baptist Foreign Mission Convention in Indianapolis led by Emanuel K. Love which sent a delegation to the president to protest violence against blacks in the South.[5] He also was editor of the Christian Herald[1] and later, in 1898, of the Louisiana Baptist.[6] He also held the position of field secretary of the American Doctors’ Publishing Society of Philadelphia.[7]

    Clanton was active in the Republican Party. In 1892 he was an at-large delegate from Louisiana to the 1892 Republican National Convention[8] In 1895 he was the secretary at the Colored Baptist Foreign Mission Convention, again presided by E. K. Love.[9] Also in 1895 he became principal of the North Louisiana Industrial High School for blacks[10] In 1903 he became chaplain and principal of the Normal Department of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama[11] and served that year as acting president during the illness of the institute’s regular president[12] Later in his career he moved to the Alabama Baptist Colored University (also called Selma University)[13] and became dean of the Theological Department.[14] In the fall of 1917 he became assistant library at the University of Chicago.[7]

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