Celebrate Black History: Leland College

BAKER, LA (WAFB) - Dr. Jerry Cole looks at pictures of the past at the Baker Heritage Museum. "To say that I'm impressed and really pleased to have the opportunity to visit and look and see these pictures reminding me where we've gone," said Cole.

He's browsing pages and pages of black and white photos that bring back memories. Photographer and historian, James Terry, saved these photos for the Willie Harris Collection, and among them are the student lifestyles and active campus life of Leland College.

The all-black college was founded in New Orleans in 1870 and moved to Baker after the original building burned down in 1923. It began as mostly a Bible college, but quickly, the course offerings expanded. Leland College closed in 1960.

You could say that Dr. Cole is Leland's guardian angel. Since the 1980s, he has kept the grass cut, the property secure, and watched over it. The original buildings on the property are all gone, but 9News has video of when they were still standing, although in disrepair, in 1982. There was talk back then of churches who control the property building, a conference center, and youth camp there.

In 1982, A.E. Carter told WAFB's Donna Britt that he played in Leland's first band.

"Well the band was made up of students there who had brought instruments with them from their homes," Carter said, "...or what we would call, for a lack of better words, a band," said Carter as he smiled.

In the 80s, oil from the Tuscaloosa Trend was being pumped on Leland's campus. It pumped so much oil, that the money made is still maintaining the property and built a small building used by District 4 churches. Dr. Cole is board member.

"They first built the building and put in streets and water and sewer lines with the anticipation of some additional buildings being put back on the campus," Cole said, describing how they had spent the oil revenue.

9News talked with State Representative Barbara West Carpenter, who lives near the Leland campus in Leland Annex. Her parents graduated from Leland and later worked there. Carpenter says her father taught chemistry and her mother taught speech, English, and biology. College staff members could be located in the homes that were built from property that Leland College sold. Carpenter asked her sister Linda to help her locate their parents' pictures form when they were in school, and they found Leland College gold.

"Original Leland College albums and notebooks," Carpenter declares. "This is fantastic," Britt coos, and holds up a paperback, mint green book. "I guess that was like a yearbook," Carpenter speculates.

As she turns the pages, the black paper with sticky corner triangles of the old, old photo albums are brittle. She must be careful as she turns the pages. "You see how fragile these pages are," Carpenter asks. "I don't know what can be done. I'm just gonna' let it be."

Britt points out that Mildred, Carpenter's mother, is in the photos more often than Bob West, her fater. Carpenter smiles. "That's because dad was the photographer on most of these pictures."

One by one Carpenter holds up snapshots from the 40s. "That's when she was Miss Leland in '42."

"That's my dad," she adds.

There are pictures from when her family invited friends to go to the beach in Galveston. Carpenter's family lived in Houston for a time when she was a child. Carpenter can actually say she attended Leland. "I went to school there because my parents were working there," Carpenter laughs, since most Leland grads are a lot older. "They called my school a practice school because education majors would practice teaching in it."

She described the whole first grade class as being about 15 children. They could attend because their parents worked for Leland. Carpenter describes an active, colorful campus. "There were lots of activities, plays. I do remember that outstanding entertainers would come into town. It was a thriving school!"

Back on campus in Baker, James Terry and Dr. Cole are in the 4th District headquarters building. "I'm trying to get a good picture to go in my book of you." Photographer James Terry is writing a photo book about Leland College. As Cole sits at a long table in the meeting area, Terry jokes, "If this isn't a chairman's shot, I don't know what is."

Behind the building a grove of trees stands beautifully filtered by the sunlight. We're still writing history for Leland College, including whatever District 4 churches eventually put on the property. For the time being, it remains a field of dreams.

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