One interesting resource for learning about our past is the files of court cases centering on our community. There are large legal databases that will contain the records of your average case but they are expensive and difficult to access. More easily accessed are the records of cases that were appealed to higher courts. In today’s article, we are going to look at the circumstances surrounding a case ruled on by the Louisiana Supreme Court in 1927. In some ways, this article is also timely as we are currently in the midst of an election season with key elections involving school funding in Webster, Caddo and Bossier Parish. This case also centered on a school finance issue. Today’s Echo is a brief look the case of Knight v Webster Parish School Board.
In 1919, the Webster Parish School Board hired Claiborne Parish native, E. S. Richardson, of the Agricultural Extension Department of Louisiana State University as their new Superintendent, replacing Thomas W. Fuller, who had died. Richardson, who had previously served as Superintendent of School in Bienville Parish was recommended for the job by Dean C. A. Ives of the School of Education at LSU. Ives had been the Principal of Minden High School who oversaw the construction of the 1910 Minden High School building.
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.
Going back now to 1925, the amazing progress taking place in Webster Parish had not gone unnoticed. Richardson was an outstanding promoter of education and his plans. Reading his notebooks that are preserved in the archives at Louisiana Tech, his skill at strategizing is truly amazing. He wrote of detailed efforts to get his plans approved, including such minute details as the seating arrangements at dinner parties wanting to place the proper “influencer” next to those he sought to persuade. He outlined his efforts in going door-to-door in the rural communities speaking individually with parents, persuading them to fully support his plans for consolidation.
To be continued…
Webster Parish Historian John Agan’s column appears Tuesdays in the Minden Press-Herald