Historic segregation-era high school to be demolished

Historic segregation-era high school to be demolished
Cohn High in 2014 (Source: WAFB)
Cohn High in 2014 (Source: WAFB)

WEST BATON ROUGE PARISH, LA (WAFB) - Cohn High School in West Baton Rouge, before integration, was where African-American's attended school. The school was in use for 20 years, from 1949-1969, until the West Baton Rouge School System complied with desegregation.

Since then, the school has fallen into disrepair and the school board has voted to demolish Cohn High in the next few months.

Before that decision, there had been efforts to save the school but without money the buildings continue to sit.

Now the mission is to keep the school's legacy alive.

Wilhemenia DeCuir says whenever she gets sad about what will happen to her old school, she turns to her old yearbooks to remember happier times.

"I went there in 7th grade. I was there from 1950 to 1955," DeCuir said.

After graduating from college, she went back to Cohn High in 1959 as the librarian.

She remembers Cohn started out as a one-building school for primary education. It had six classrooms, a library, lunchroom and principal's office. Eventually two more wings were added, so black students could attend high school in West Baton Rouge.

Joycelyn Green was also a student at Cohn. She graduated in 1966 as the class Salutatorian. She remembers her uncle, who was later an assistant principal at Cohn, telling her stories of how far he had to travel for school before Cohn expanded.

"He lived within one block of the other high school," she said. "But he had to walk all the way to the ferry, get the ferry boat to Baton Rouge and then walk to McKinley High School to attend school."

Cohn High closed in 1969 and the school is nothing like what the graduates remember.

In 2005, DeCuir started the Cohn High Alumni Association, to try and save the old school.

The school board even gave the building to another non-profit, for five years, to try and restore it. During their planning, Hurricane Katrina came through and further weakened the deteriorating structure. Without enough money, the school continued to sit.

Now the school board has accepted plans to demolish it.

"It's a sad day for me because I still love it," said DeCuir. "Even though the building might be gone, I'm still a Cohn High School graduate and I love it."

It's now a matter of seeing what can be saved from inside the building to remind the community about the piece of history that once was.

"Just any little thing that I see. I would like to save something," DeCuir said.

The West Baton Rouge Museum has plans to set up an exhibit with whatever is saved from the school. On October 5, during the Sugar Festival there, they plan to put out a few items that have already been saved. They're asking anyone who may have old items to bring them so that they can be added to the display.

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