Segregation infiltrated everything in the south at one time. This included businesses, parks, pools, and restaurants. It wasn't until the mid 1970s that full integration of Louisiana schools was complete.
In Melville, the Black high school was called Phillis Wheatley High School. Pat Mason Guillory and Augusta Carmen Rideaux were students there in the 60s. Guillory recalls, "We knew we went to the black school and others went to the white school. We had to go into a certain side of the store.we had to do that, but we didn't know no other way, we had to."
Their parents and teachers told them that things were going to be different from now on. "They were constantly telling us there is a change. You have to learn to change because the world is changing", says Rideaux.
And Phillis Wheatley wasn't the only Black school in St. Landry Parish. Named after the first president of Southern University, J.S. Clark High School in Opelousas existed from 1953 to 1969. Like Wheatley, it was grades 1-12.
Prior to J.S. Clark, the Opelousas-St. Landry Parish Training School operated from 1919. You can visit the J.S. Clark Memorial Walkway. It's located in the Le Vieux Village Heritage Park in Opelousas. Bricks and Monuments pay tribute to several former teachers, staff, students, and coaches.
One of those honored is Rosa B. Scott Anderson. In 1994, a gunman on Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington State, killed four and injured 23. She was a civilian nurse and risked her life saving others as a first responder. She also treated wounded troops during Vietnam and Desert Storm. She was also the first African American to perform live on television here in Acadiana!
There's also a memorial message from Lawrence Emerson, the school's principal. And another memorial for Preston Fontenot, a football player who died from a head injury during a game against Henderson High School, the black school in New Iberia. The coroner saying a pre existing football head injury most likely contributed to his death that day.
Of course you've heard the stories about Rodney Milburn, champion in the hurdles in high school, eventually winning gold at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.
And his coach, Claude Paxton. Paxton, originally from the east coast, made his way to Opelousas through Xavier University in New Orleans. He was part of an all Black tank battalion in World War 2. Paxton credited with starting the first Negro Little League Baseball Program, eventually becoming the assistant principal at Opelousas High School, and the head track coach at Southern University. Paxton was with us until 1995.
The Brown vs. The Board of Education ruling came in 1954. It took two decades before schools in Louisiana were considered "integrated". In 2021, schools might not be "separate" anymore, but many feel, they're still not "equal" and have a long way to go.