Editor’s Note: This is a continuation of Tuesday’s Echos of Our Past
Information on the background of Joseph Luther Jones is difficult to track down. I have been unable to pinpoint a date or a location or his birth. In information about his hiring he was listed as from Leesville, Louisiana, however, I have not yet established if he was a native of Vernon Parish. Jones was a veteran of World War I. He was a graduate of Southern University and did graduate study at Atlanta University. He served the Louisiana Colored Teacher’s Association as President, Member of the Executive Council, Chairman of the Pupil-Teacher Welfare Committee and organizer of the Louisiana Interscholastic Athletic and Literary Organization (LIALO.) He was appointed by Governor Jimmie Davis and later by the State Board of Education to serve on the Improvement of Negro Education in Louisiana. He was a deacon in the St. Rest Baptist Church and a member of the Shriners, Masons and the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. He was an owner of the Benevolent Funeral Association and served as a director of the Minden Trade School (forerunner of the Minden Vocational Technical School that is today the Northwest Louisiana Technical College.)
Jones took over the then Minden Union High School in the Fall of 1922, located on the corner of Talton and Spann Streets. The school was too small to accommodate the students, so the first floor of the U. B. F. Hall was also used for classes. In 1923, the new school building was occupied on the property obtained from Harris. The school was renamed the Webster Training School. A second building was added in 1928 and a library building was erected in 1931. By the tenth anniversary of the school, enrollment had reached 665 pupils, there were 15 teachers, 5 permanent and the school had produced 170 graduates. The curriculum included teacher training, vocational home economics, agriculture and manual training. In 1941, the teacher-training program was discontinued, and the school was renamed, Webster High School.
By 1947, as Jones celebrated his 25th year as principal, a report by the State Supervisor of Negro Education included the following information: The school included a four-room frame elementary building; a new 12-room brick and tile building being used for primary grades, erected in 1946; an industrial and vocational building for home economics, agriculture and industrial shop, and containing 7 rooms, including a temporary arrangement for high school band, constructed of brick; a frame building including 9 academic classrooms, a small music room, a science room, a room for preparing and serving lunches, a principal’s office and a record room; a gymnasium auditorium; a farm shop and barn; separate outside toilets for boys and girls; a circulating library center; and a teacher’ home accommodating 14 teachers. Every teacher employed at Webster High School had a bachelor’s degree with specialization for the grade or field for which he is employed.
So, by 1948, Webster High School was an institution highly regarded in educational circles within the state of Louisiana and with a track record of producing highly capable and well-prepared graduates who were contributing to society in all parts of the nation. It was at this point that the school would suffer the tragedy of the loss of their long-time leader. I will use the description of the death of J. L. Jones from the history of the school prepared by Hayes to tell the story:
“Naturally, along with years of conscientious hard work and leadership comes the wear and tear of the human organism. Thus, the health of our illustrious and capable principal, J. L. Jones, began to fail. However, he could not stop as long as he felt he could go, so, with his loveable personality and the will to do, he completed the school week on April 9, 1948, closed the office door, sat on the campus and took a panoramic view of the Webster High School grounds for the last time. The first day of the next week our school, town, state and many parts of the nation went in mourning for our beloved principal.”
Jones died from a heart attack at his home on Sunday afternoon, April 11, 1948. Funeral services were held at 1:30 p.m. at his beloved Webster High School. Burial followed in the Sheppard Street Cemetery in Minden. He was survived by his widow, one daughter, Catherine, two sisters and one brother.
At some point after his death, I have not yet been able to determine the precise time, the School Board began referring to the elementary school portion of the Webster High School complex as the J. L. Jones Elementary School. In 1953, after the new Webster High School building was completed the structure used to house the elementary grades on the campus was formally given that name. That usage continued after the new Jerry A. Moore Elementary School was constructed in West Minden in 1955. By 1959, the elementary campus on the grounds of Webster High was not adequate to meet the needs of the students. So, on Tuesday, April 14, 1959, Minden voters approved a sweeping bond issue to construct among other projects a new white Junior High School building (which would become Theresa M. Lowe Junior High) and a new 20-classroom black elementary school to be built on a site “centrally located in one of the colored sections of the city.” During the summer of 1959 a site for the new school was picked on District Drive off Joel Street in Minden and plans for the school were drawn by Neild-Somdal-Smitherson and Associates of Shreveport. At a special meeting held on September 14, 1959, the School Board awarded a contract in the amount of $307,000 to the L & M Construction company for the new school and construction began later that month. At the October meeting of the board it was voted to carry the name J. L. Jones Elementary School to the new campus, which opened for classes in September 1960. The school has retained that name until today.
This article proved extremely difficult to put together, sadly, African-American history in Minden remains poorly preserved and hard to pin down in printed sources. I was helped tremendously by some old writings by the late Rodney Seamster and greatly assisted by his Webster High School classmate Randall Wilson of Baton Rouge. In addition, Sheryl Sims of Washington, D.C., who has deep area roots provided me with a copy of Professor Hayes’ history of Webster High. In addition, the excellent African-American history of Webster Parish assembled by Dr. Roy Phillips and Mr. James Smith for the Dorcheat Museum provided vital (by the way be on the lookout as the possibility exists that we may finally be able to offer that work to the public, stay tuned.) This was a brief look at the history behind the man who was instrumental in creating Webster High School in Minden as an institution of educational excellence and whose legacy, through the school named in his honor, remains more than just an Echo of our Past, Joseph Luther Jones.
Webster Parish Historian John Agan’s column appears Tuesdays in the Minden Press-Herald