‘This is our history, our people, our struggle’ - McKinley High School museum tells remarkable story of Black history
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - It’s amazing what you can learn about and fall in love with.
If you ask Melvin Mitchell, Sr., he’ll tell you his love is McKinley High School.
“We don’t want to forget the story that got us to where we are,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell is a McKinley alumnus and the general manager of the McKinley High School Alumni Center.
McKinley is the oldest high school established for Black students in East Baton Rouge Parish. In 1916, four students became the first Black high school graduates in Louisiana.
”It went from Baton Rouge Colored High School in about 1913 to McKinley High School, named after President William McKinley,” said Mitchell.
McKinley moved over the years, but the original 1926 McKinley High School building is where you can find the McKinley High School Museum.
The museum consists of memorabilia that has stood the test of time, including year attendance books from the 20′s, report cards from the 50′s, varsity jackets from the 60′s, and much more.
Mitchell, who’s a walking encyclopedia of everything McKinley, can tell you stories and the school’s importance to American history. This includes how the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. grabbed the blueprint for the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott at McKinley.
”Martin Luther King when he was figuring out how to put this whole thing together, he came over to meet members of McKinley High School, some of the faculty, some of the professional staff here, and the local ministers,” said Mitchell.
One of McKinley’s most notable moments is the fire in 1998 that nearly destroyed the school’s dreams. The school was eventually restored to what is seen today and is a near perfect replica of its original structure.
Mitchell explained why it was so important to keep this building intact and to keep this museum open.
”It means that... a race of people who had to fight for an opportunity to get an education endured, and this place as it currently exists cannot fail,” said Mitchell.
One of the greatest moments in the school’s history was when President Barack Obama hosted a town hall at McKinley High in 2016. This was the first time a sitting president hosted a town hall at a secondary school in Louisiana.
The speech President Obama wrote is at the museum.
”The president, ‘Hello Louisiana! Hello Baton Rouge! Geaux Tigers! For you not aware, that go is spelled with an x.’ That’s Barack Obama’s signature right there,” said Mitchell.
President Obama then became a member of the McKinley Alumni Association.
Mitchell said it’s hard to not get emotional thinking about that moment, and the impact McKinley has had over the years.
”How could I not? You swell up sometimes inside and say, ‘How I could I not become emotional at this?’ This is our history, our people, our struggle,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell never knew he would find himself in this spot at his former school, but we’ll just say it was God’s plan.
”God has a plan for everybody. It was meant to be. As my aunt told me when I came all the way back to Baton Rouge, she looked at me and told me it was meant to be,” said Mitchell.
For more information, you can call the McKinley High School Alumni Center at 225-614-5065. The Alumni Center is located on 1520 Thomas Delpit Drive.
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