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E.S. Richardson

After last week’s first look at the individuals who had their name attached to Minden schools, this week we will discuss probably the best-known of that group, Superintendent of Schools, E. S. Richardson.

Edwin Sanders Richardson was the 2nd child born to James Sanders Richardson and Sallie Havis Richardson on August 31, 1875. (Edwin’s younger brother, Samuel Milton Richardson, born on January 5,1878, would become a well-respected doctor in Minden as would Samuel Milton’s two sons, Samuel Milton, Jr. and Thomas.) E. S.  Richardson was reared in Claiborne Parish, and attended the Eureka School in Langston, where his father was the teacher. In addition, Edwin studied one summer under T. H. Harris, later the Louisiana State Superintendent of Education. Upon finishing all the education available to him in Claiborne Parish, young E. S. Richardson took jobs teaching in one-room schools in Claiborne and Webster Parish for $30 per month. He saved this money and was able to attend George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1900, he was awarded a Licentiate of Instruction from Peabody. Although he never returned to school as a regular student, Peabody awarded him a B. A. degree in 1935. He also received an honorary Doctor of Laws from Centenary College in 1938.

From 1900 to 1904 he served as Principal of Atlanta, Arkansas, high school. While he was there a new school building was built, an omen of things to come in his career. Richardson was offered a lifetime contract by the school’s Board of Trustees, but in 1904, he was given an opportunity to return home to Louisiana as a teacher at Saline School in Bienville Parish and left the Arkansas job.

During the next four years, he worked in the Bienville Parish School system, first at Saline, later at Liberty Hill School and finally as teacher and Principal at Bienville High School, where once again he supervised the construction of a new building. Shortly after the Bienville building was completed, Richardson was named Superintendent of Schools of Bienville Parish. A position he held until 1911.

Professor C. A. Ives hired E. S. Richardson to work in the Agricultural Extension Department of the LSU in 1911. The years he spent in that post shaped Richardson’s philosophy of education. His writings from those years show he was already sketching out plans for school consolidation, agricultural education, vocational training and centralized control, ideas he would later implement in Webster Parish. One notation in 1917 outlines a consolidation campaign nearly identical to the one he conducted in Webster Parish years later. During his years in the Extension Office, Richardson became best known for his use of audio-visual equipment. He used trucks that had projectors built onto the truck bed, enabling him to go to the farmers in the rural areas and show films on the latest techniques in farming.

In 1919, Richardson was named Superintendent of Webster Parish Schools, a job that became the crowning achievement of his career as an educator. With the strong backing of School Board President W. G. Stewart, Richardson transformed the Webster Parish Schools into a model system copied by counties throughout the country.

When Richardson took over in Webster Parish, there were 39 schools in the parish, 35 of these were 1 to 3 room schools. There were only 4 certified high schools in the parish. In the White schools of Webster Parish there were 100 teachers: 18 held a B. A. degree; 32 others had two years of college and a teaching certificate; 46 had passed an examination and met no formal education requirement; and 9 had not even passed the examination. The only Black school operated by the parish was a small building in Minden. (There were some other Black schools operated by churches.)

Richardson hit the ground running in his new post. His routine included nearly daily visits into the schools, personal evaluations of the teachers, and contact with parents and civic leaders. He began a public relations blitz to support a consolidation campaign, by persuading the rural residents that the educational opportunities for their children would be much greater in a larger school. Richardson’s consolidation campaign was a smashing success. By 1925, 10 centralized, state-approved high schools were built. These were located in: Shongaloo, Evergreen, Minden, Dubberly, Heflin, Springhill, Sarepta, Cotton Valley, Doyline, and Sibley.  By 1928, each of these schools had new buildings and all except Evergreen’s were brick. Twenty-four small schools were abandoned and only seven small schools remained. Richardson contracted with the W. H. Luck Company of Minden to build bodies for 40 “school trucks,” or buses, to bring the rural children into the larger schools that offered a broader curriculum.

By 1931, the remaining seven small schools were closed and Richardson had completed implementation of the County Unit system, a uniform parish wide system of purchasing with a centralized warehouse. Books, equipment and supplies were purchased by the parish and standardized in all schools. If a school needed a new desk, or additional books, instead of having to find an outside source, they merely contacted the central warehouse in Minden. A uniform salary schedule for teachers, based on education and experience was adopted. By the time Richardson left Webster Parish in 1936, the White Schools had 127 teachers: 4 held M. A. degrees; 65 held B. A.’s; 30 had 3-years of college; 26 had completed 2-years of college; 1 had 1-year of college; and only 1 teacher had less than 1 year of college training.

In 1922, Richardson succeeded in passing a bond issue to help fund the Webster Training School for Black students and to hire a supervisor for Black schools (the Rev. Jerry A. Moore subject of a later column in this series).. The bulk of the funding for that project came through direct fund raising in the Black community, but the school system did provide some support. Richardson helped establish a rather unique, if somewhat offensive system of funding the Black schools in the rural areas. The Black residents signed a contract to plant and grow a cotton crop on parcels of School Board land. When the crop was sold, a portion of the proceeds would be dedicated to community schools. Through the Rosenwald Fund and this “share-cropping” system Webster Parish opened 35 black schools, and by 1932 the Webster Training Institute had 5 buildings and expanded course offerings. Not forgetting his agricultural background, Richardson also created canning kitchens and meat processing plants at rural schools and arranged for students to participate in soil erosion projects being conducted in the area.

Richardson was also instrumental in obtaining Rosenwald funding to set up the new Webster Parish Library in 1929 to serve both Black and White residents. Richardson served on the first parish Library Board. The School Board hired 11 teacher librarians and allowed the branch libraries to be placed in the schools during the school year, in addition to financially supporting the library system.

Richardson’s achievements and the improved school system in Webster Parish did not escape local, statewide and even nationwide notice. He was in great demand to speak at conferences nationwide on his County system, which was seen as the answer to many problems of rural school districts where individual communities couldn’t support adequate schools. In the late 1920s, the Webster Parish School Board raised Richardson’s salary to $5000 per year (as discussed in a recent Echo) over the state allowed maximum of $4000, and the Board went to the State Supreme Court to assure Richardson received the well-deserved raise. In 1927, the State Association of School administrators held a 3-day meeting in Minden to study the Webster Parish system as a model, and educators from various parts of the nation came on a regular basis to observe the Webster Parish Schools as a pattern for their own districts.

Such achievements made it inevitable that Richardson’s career advanced, and in 1936, he was named President of Louisiana Tech. His tenure at Tech was cut short in 1941, when the Sam Jones administration purged all administrators appointed during the years of Long control.

After leaving Tech, Richardson returned to Minden, where he served as Executive Secretary of the Webster Council, coordinating activities between Federal and parish agencies involved in the construction of the new Louisiana Ordnance Plant. Later as a housing shortage emerged he accepted the position as Federal Rent Director for the Minden area. His final position of public service was as a Field Representative for the State Department of Commerce and Industry under Governor Jimmie Davis. Richardson retired and moved back to Ruston in 1948, where he died on October 11, 1950.

Richardson’s legacy in the schools is obvious, but there was a family aspect to the legacy. Several family members became teachers in the local schools. Most notably, Cindy Richardson Madden, who taught music locally for many years. She and her sister Sue 

Richardson Kinsey have provided me help on E. S. Richardson over the years. They are great nieces of E. S. Richardson as their father was Dr. Thomas Richardson the educator’s nephew.

After World War II it became obvious that the Minden School complex, hosting all grades, was being overwhelmed with students and expansion was necessary. The School Board passed a plan to build two separate elementary school plants. However, economic conditions prompted a delay in moving forward in the hopes that construction costs would stabilize. Finally in 1947, the board moved ahead, only to be delayed by a brick shortage (the same problem had occurred in 1923 while building the 1924 MHS).

Construction on the two schools began in late 1948 and both schools opened for classes in the Fall of 1949. The school in West Minden on Crichton Hill (and built on land obtained from the Crichton family) was named West Side Elementary. The other school built on reclaimed land near Turner’s Pond (on land obtained from the Turner family) was called East Side Elementary. In 1955, after a bond issue paid for improvements at the two schools, they were renamed. West Side became the W. G. Stewart Elementary and East Side became E. S. Richardson Elementary. Of the three schools named in 1955 (the third was a free-standing elementary school on the Webster High School campus named for J. L. Jones), Richardson is the only one still standing.

So now you know that E. S. Richardson is more than the school by Turner’s Pond, you know that he was a man with vision who helped make our schools some of the best in the nation. You can fully appreciate why the Webster Parish School Board chose to make his name more than just an Echo or our Past but to memorialize him with a school named in his honor.

Webster Parish Historian John Agan’s column appears Tuesdays in the Minden Press-Herald

“The country then was almost entirely covered with a dense thicket of brush, briars and vines. Cane was abundant on all the streams and abutting hill points, but fire breaking out and spreading, all over the land, killed this mass of brush, while a second fire cleaned off all the face of the land, leaving it an open, beautiful country. You could see a cow or deer as far as the eye could reach through the intervening living timber. New grasses sprang up, the wild pea vine and switch cane, and a better range for farmer’s cattle, hogs, deer and turkey was never seen. Murrell cultivated his first crop with the hoe, both his ponies having died. The woods abounding with all manner of game, he got his main supply there from. A turkey for dinner required only a few minutes hunt, venison steak was to be had at any hour, and bear in the proper season was readily converted into the best of bacon. Wolves, too, abounded. It was common to see them, of moonlight nights, traveling around the house or cow pen. Mrs. Murrell left her churn at the creek side one night and the wolves carried it off it to a tree top fifty yards away and knawed (sic) it to pieces. They were fearful on young pigs and calves.”

A similar description comes from “Biographical and Historic Memoirs of Northwest Louisiana:”

“North Louisiana at this time was covered with a dense mass of brushwood and interlacing vines the home of the wolf, the bear, and the panther. Numbers of horses and cattle, the progenitors of which had wandered from the inhabited sections of the territory to this wilderness, ran free and wild.  Several tribes of Indians were living here and there, now and then visited by tradesmen in search of peltry, and the country by hunters in search of game. The few earlier settlers that ventured into these wild regions had to fairly hew their way, for only a few devious trails and paths were to be found. Roads, there were none, save the road that connected Monroe and Natchitoches. Subsequently the United States having established a garrison several hundred miles above, on Red River, at Fort Towson, opened what was known as the Military Road, connecting this post with Natchitoches and Alexandria, for the purpose of transporting supplies to that far-off post. The settlements in those early days being so wide apart, and hunting and traffic with the Indians being the chief occupations, direct roads were impossible. But gradually, settlement followed settlement, clearings increased, and from these clearings and the camps of the hunters, fires broke out sweeping over all the land, killing the tangled undergrowth or brushwood, even destroying the foliage of lofty trees. In the following years fires again raged, consuming all the dead and fallen rubbish that then encumbered the ground. Being thus relieved of its heavy undergrowth or brushwood, in its place forest grass and switchcane sprang up, and in one season a mantle of green covered the nakedness of the earth. Then all north Louisiana appeared as an immense park, diversified with vast openings and vistas most enchanting. Game of every kind, peculiar to this region, increased rapidly, particularly the deer and the turkey. The buffalo came up from the wide prairies of the Attakapas, and in a few years North Louisiana became known as the Hunters’ Paradise. The surveyor’s chain was stretched across the land, and both surveyor and hunter carried back to the older settlements, and to the States east of the Mississippi River, such glowing descriptions of the beauty of the country, the fertility of its soil, its health, its abundance of game, the streams abounding in fish, and in winter every pond and lake crowded with all manner of water fowl, that a regularly increasing tide of emigration set in to this promised land. So rapid was this emigration that it became necessary to divide this immense parish of Natchitoches, for the seat of justice was too far to be reached by distant settlements, consequently, in 1828, the Legislature passed an act incorporating the parish of Claiborne, naming it for Louisiana’s first governor.”

Thus prior to 1836, it was intrepid spirits that set forth for the wild frontier of Webster Parish, but seeking a wild frontier with just as much hard work needed to create a lifestyle, but perhaps a little more security from life-threatening attacks. After 1836, when the majority of the hostile Indians were removed from the southeast in the era that produced the “Trail of Tears” other motivations became the predominant force in migration to Webster Parish. 

What we today label the “Bible Belt” is a land very similar in topography, extending from Georgia to East Texas, broken only by the Delta of the Mississippi River in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Crossing this region, you will see similar names for counties, churches, towns, streets, and families. It is in fact one large cultural region. The expansion of this cultural region was perhaps the strongest force behind the settlement of the late 1830s and the 1840s in Webster Parish. The free land was still available, only it was even more desirable, after the fires mentioned in the quoted material above had eliminated the underbrush. The hill country land form didn’t lend itself to large plantations, but these new settlers were coming from a region that didn’t have large plantations either. They were happy with the idea of prosperous individual farms, but not grand estates. Entire communities came in mass migrations. Examples such as the Mt. Lebanon Community in Bienville Parish, that involved a large group of families coming from the Edgefield District of South Carolina and in essence transporting a community four states to the west. Webster Parish received a substantial number of the leading citizens of Houston County, Georgia, who came in several different wagon trains of several families each in the 1840s. These people were seeking “elbow room” and available land, in a country populated by a people they knew on a type of land they had known their entire life.  The vast majority of the settlers of Webster Parish in those antebellum years followed the path from the Atlantic seaboard west to Louisiana. If those of you whose families came here in those years check, you will likely find ancestors born as the family moved in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, before the family reached its new home in Louisiana. 

Another group represented in Webster Parish was a surprising number of immigrants from Great Britain. In the late 1840s, John Chaffe, settled here and throughout the 1850s, the number of natives of the British Isles grew in Minden. These settlers came because word of mouth spread that there was a colony of Englishmen in Minden and many of our early business leaders and prominent families that still play a key role in our community today were attracted to Webster Parish because of this little outpost of Britannia.

Finally, we cannot ignore the African-American settlers of old Claiborne Parish. Few came here voluntarily as “free people of color,” the term used in those days. There were at most around 50 free African-Americans living in Claiborne Parish prior to 1843 and by that year the number was dropping.  The others were brought here as property, slaves. The slave pattern for our region largely followed the national pattern usually coming from the largest slave market in the country “down the river” in the parlance of those years, New Orleans. In 1840, the total population of Claiborne Parish was 6,185. Of that number there were 44 free persons of color while the slave population was 2,295. By 1850, the numbers changed little with total population being 7,471 and there being 2,522 slaves; however, all 44 free persons of color were gone. In 1860, the last Census before emancipation, the boom times of the 1850s were reflected with total population reaching 16,848 and there being 7,848 slaves. There were four free persons of color in Claiborne Parish that year. Only one lived in Minden, Joseph Populous a barber at the Reynolds Hotel who left for New Orleans the summer of that year.

Thus, while the earliest settlers of Webster Parish came because of the promise of change with added safety, the later arrivals came, whether from Georgia or England, for the promise of new opportunities while retaining some of the flavor of home while others were brought here unwillingly to work the land. These settlers of the earliest years of local history started the Echoes of Our Past that reverberate in our community today.

Webster Parish Historian John Agan’s column appears Tuesdays in the Minden Press-Herald

As part of his overall public relations campaign, Richardson put together a presentation, featuring photos and diagrams describing his efforts in Webster Parish and “hit the road” having speaking engagements in all parts of the country touting the “Webster Parish system.” (Until just a few years ago, remnants of the traveling display were still housed at the Webster Parish School Board offices.) National educational publications wrote of the success in Webster Parish and Richardson basically spent his summers making presentations all across the nation.

Not surprisingly, job offers began to come to Richardson, and while he did manage to leverage those offers into two pay raises, he remained in Minden and seemed satisfied. However, in 1925, he received an offer from an unnamed school district in Texas that seemed to be too generous for him to turn down.

Under the terms of his most recent one-year contract with Webster Parish, Richardson was paid $4000 per year (roughly $58,000 in 2019 dollars) provided a house to live in and a travel budget. The offer from Texas paid more, approximately $5000 ($73,000 today) with similar perks and the additional suggestion that the outside interference to his control would be much less in the ISD structure in Texas. In June 1925, Richardson discussed the offer with  W. G. Stewart, President of the Webster Parish School Board and indicated he was strongly leaning toward accepting the Texas offer.

In a specially called meeting held the second week of July, the School Board made an effort to solve the problem. The Board unanimously approved a glowing resolution of support for Richardson and raised his salary to $5000 per year, matching the Texas offer. The immediate reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Two prominent local citizens, Joe R. Miller and J. B. Snell (former principal of Minden High School and future School Board President) made lengthy remarks in favor of Richardson’s work before the vote was taken. After passage, editorials praising the action were printed by the Shreveport Journal and the Baton Rouge State Times and letter of congratulations were received from Dean Ives, State Superintendent of Education T. H. Harris, the head of the Louisiana Teacher’s Association and the Superintendents of Schools from Caddo, DeSoto and other parishes throughout the state.

So, it seemed the problem of retaining Richardson had been solved, and essentially it had been for more than a decade, before he eventually left Webster Parish to become President of Louisiana Tech in 1936. But the September session of the 2nd District Court saw a new problem arise. On September 15, 1925, Seth David Knight of Springhill, father of three children in the Webster Parish School system, filed a suit in the court, challenging the pay raise for Richardson. Knight, born in 1869 in Ottumwa, Iowa (don’t know if he had any ties to Walter “Radar” O’Reilly of M*A*S*H who also claimed Ottumwa as home), was living in Webster Parish by 1908. In that year he spoke at the reunion held by the Camp Henry Gray of the United Confederate Veterans at the Timothy community in North Webster. That is rather odd considering his heritage as a northerner. What brought him to our area is not clear, he is listed in the Census records as a farmer, so he did not come to work with the timber or railroad industry that brought so much immigration to this area in those years. Records during the years of the farm depression in the 1920s indicate he was a cotton farmer as in 1926, he pledged to reduce his cotton planting by 25% in the community effort to raise cotton prices by increasing demand.

Knight’s petition claimed that the School Board’s action violated Act 120 of 1916, passed by the Louisiana Legislature. That law stated that the annual salary of parish superintendents of schools shall not be more than $4000 nor less than $900. On the surface, it appeared that Knight had cited an “open-and-shut” violation of the law and the raise would have to be rescinded. However, things are not always what they seem. District Judge John S. Richardson (no close relation to E. S. Richardson) took the case under advisement and announced on October 8 that it was going to require further analysis to reach a valid decision. In the interim, he let the increased salary remain in place and Richardson stayed on the job with the higher pay. 

Judge Richardson held the case for over six months, and finally on May 29, 1926, he handed down his ruling. The jurist found in favor of the plaintiff, Knight, and ordered the pay increase revoked. Richardson’s salary was immediately reduced, back to the $4000 per year. The ruling sparked an outcry in educational circles, particularly from the Superintendent of Schools in Caddo Parish, E. Weldon Jones. Jones penned a letter to the Shreveport Times in which he pointed out that he, and several others superintendents in the state, made much more than the $4000 limit and that the result of this ruling would be a loss of many capable leaders for Louisiana schools. District Attorney William D. Goff of the 2nd District announced immediately he was filing an appeal with the Louisiana State Supreme Court. 

Goff’s appeal would be based on the nuances of the constantly changing nature of Louisiana law. The ordinance cited to overrule the pay raise had been put in place under the Louisiana Constitution of 1913. A problematic document that had been written in a convention that proved to operate largely outside its legal parameters. Nearly every guideline set in place by that document had been challenged and usually reversed. The problems with that constitution had led to the passage of the new 1921 Constitution. At its core, the gist of the argument to reverse Richardson’s ruling was this.

 The 1913 Constitution had specifically given the power to set salaries for superintendents to the legislature. However, the 1921 Constitution had strikingly different language and made no specific mention of legislative control over salaries. Further, Act 100 of 1922 specifically outlined the procedure for the hiring of superintendents. It placed entire control over the matter to local School Boards and omitted any mention of legislative control over salaries. Thus Goff contended that the Constitution of 1921 voided the law passed in 1916 and the 1922 statute clarified that the matter of pay was strictly left up to the discretion of the parish School Board.

The appeal was promptly filed and began its long and tedious journey through the system. It would take more than a year for the matter to be settled. I have to wonder if private arrangements were not being made to compensate E. S. Richardson for the pay he was losing while the matter was being adjudicated, but there is no written evidence of such. Finally, on October 4, 1927, more than two years after the approval of the pay increase and more than16 months after it had been suspended, the Court spoke on the issue. In an opinion written by Justice David N. Thompson, the court ruled that the 1922 law negated the 1916 regulation cited by Judge Richardson. It further stated that it was clear from the record that the power to hire and to set salaries for superintendents of schools in Louisiana rested solely in the hands of the parish School Board.

Thus Richardson’s salary returned to the $500) figure and he continued his successful tenure as Superintendent of Schools. As mentioned earlier he remained in the post until being named President of Louisiana Tech in 1936. After he was removed from that job when Sam Jones purged all officials appointed by the Long organization from state jobs. Richardson returned to Minden where during World War II he headed the Webster Council a quasi-governmental organization that coordinated actions between government, civilian and military groups to support the war effort. After retiring from that post he moved to Ruston, where he died in 1950. Knight does not appear again in the local news and he died in 1948 at the age of 80 and is buried in the Timothy Cemetery. This Echo of the Past reminds us that all decisions involving government policy and public money are complex, no matter how simple they may seem and often take the intervention and direction of the courts to be resolved. 

Webster Parish Historian John Agan’s column appears Tuesdays in the Minden Press-Herald