BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - After roughly three decades in Storyland, "Buckskin" Bill swapped his pioneer outfit for a suit and tie, joining the East Baton Rouge School Board.
Bill Black was elected in 1995 and served for 16 years between 1996 and 2012.
"Sometimes, we used to start off our meetings saying, 'Let's do the march!'" said Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, who joined the board the same year as Black. "He was a great person to work with. We loved teasing about Penny the Elephant."
He served during a momentous time that brought a great deal of change to a parish and city divided. For example, the school system was still the focus of a desegregation lawsuit dating back to the 1950s – one of the longest running lawsuits of its kind nationwide.
"He and I were a little taken aback… when we were called into the federal courthouse shortly after taking office and not so gently reminded that we were all 'guilty,'" said fellow board member, Noel Hammatt.
During Black's years on the board, they worked to overhaul the school system. They introduced more magnet schools and other reforms. By 2003, the case was settled.
Then there was the state of the schools themselves: old, with many leaks. "When we got on the board, computers were issued with plastic bags to put over them when they weren't in use, in case the rain came through," recalled Hammatt.
For the first time in decades, the board successfully pushed for a series of new taxes to help fix the schools and build new ones.
But there were also some darker days. Baker, Central, and other communities eventually broke away to former their own districts, but through it all, from his days on WAFB to those on the school board, colleagues say he had one guiding principle. "He was very compassionate about kids," Smith said.
"Education and educating kids to build a better world. That's what Bill was about," Hammatt said.