McKinley High School is now a place where students of all races can get an education. However, more than 100 years ago, McKinley was named Baton Rouge High Colored School. It was the only place in the state where African-Americans were accepted. Parents would send their children here, so they would not end up as sharecroppers. WAFB's Tyana Williams took a trip back to the old campus with the school's oldest living graduate.
McKinley High was not always a vision of color. It came up when the line between black and white was never crossed. "You had Baton Rouge High School, and then you had the Baton Rouge High Colored School," says Eddie Johnson. This graduate of 1958 says it's time young people of today look back and learn why the black community has to put a value on education, and a value on those who paved the way at McKinley, like Coach Eddie Robinson, Judge Trudy White, and Dr. Delores Spikes. "Children today don't have a sense of importance of education. We were instilled had to have an education to be productive," Johnson says.
In 1907, Dr. J.M. Frazier, Sr. followed a dream of seeing black children have a future that was not in sharecropping. They came from all over. "Natchez, Mississippi; Woodville; Opelousas; New Roads," Johnson says. Having their children beside them in the field was not the dream, so parents packed up their children and sent them here to get an education. Dr. Frazier started the old Hickory Street School, and when they outgrew it, moved the kids to Perkins Road to start Baton Rouge Colored High in 1913. Then, in 1916, the first black graduates in Louisiana, a class of four, came from Baton Rouge Colored High.
A lightning strike ruined that school, so students were then moved to the corner of Louise and Thomas Delpit. There, the facility was named McKinley High Colored School in 1926. It was named after the 25th president. "I'm a McKinley person to the bone." Isabella Morgan Herson was among that first class. "I'm 97, now - 97. 1928 - first class to come through, the first class," she says. Isabella Herson, or Izzy, as she was known in school, is the only living graduate from the class of '28.
Lots of things have changed since her time, and not just the classes. She remembers home economics classes and having to sew her own graduation clothes. "Definitely separate at first, finally no separation," she says. Schools have integrated, and the "colored" has been dropped from the school's name. Still, times were not always easy. "Books I had in 1958, high school books were torn, hand me down books from other high schools, white high schools. Not interested in how books looked, but what was in the book," Eddie Johnson says.
Then, proud McKinley alum saw the original school that was built in 1926 burn. However, it was rebuilt. We're told that it was a struggle to get it to its present location. Leaving the block empty was not a choice. "Freedom isn't free. Debt you have to pay to be free," Johnson says. A groundbreaking past made way for a more color blind future, but McKinley will forever bare a reminder of the old days. McKinley's class of '58 will celebrate its 50th reunion at a banquet this summer. The banquet is actually a celebration for all McKinley alumni. Special awards are passed out to a graduate from every class.