June 25, 2008 - "Bayou Paul School"

They're sprucing up the old one room school to turn it into a museum. For three decades the Bayou Paul Colored School was the only place in the area where African American kids could get an education. One of them was Robert Grace. "It was like family," he says. "Everybody knew each other, and we got along well. We participated in all kinds of chores and whatnot together because we were not just students, but we were caretakers of the place also because we had no funds."

Mr. Grace went to the one room school in the 1950s, taught by his mother, Amanda Grace, who was here from 1936 until the school was closed in 1955. Amanda's nephew Alton Mencer went here in the '30s. Back then it was reading, writing and arithmetic taught to the tune of a hickory stick.

Mr. Mencer says "Kids nowadays, you give them a whipping, and they'll call 911 on you! At that time the teacher used to whip you. Then your mama is going to whip you when you get home again for not knowing that lesson. You would catch two or three whippings for one thing."

The lessons stuck. Amanda Grace raised four sons, all college graduates. Her son George is today the mayor of St. Gabriel. And Robert--he says, "Now I'm working with at-risk kids at the Carville Job Corps Center in Carville, and I think that's due to my mother and the best wishes she gave me to help other people."

Amanda Grace died in 2004, leaving behind hundreds of former students, grateful for her loving attention as well as her stern discipline.

The museum will open this Sunday, honoring Amanda Grace, her legacy and a bright, if troubling, moment in Louisiana education.