In 1893 Grover Cleveland became president, Thomas Edison finished the first motion picture studio, the World’s Fair debuted in Chicago, and “Colored High” — the only secondary school for African Americans in the city — opened in Houston’s Fourth Ward. Most know the school now as Booker T. Washington, so named in 1928 before it moved to Independence Heights in 1959.
Former notable alumni include Eldridge Dickey, the first African-American to go in the first round of the professional football draft, Grammy award winner Jennifer Holliday, and Dr. Rogers Whitmire, who among many other accomplishments, was the first student of any race to graduate from Michigan State University’s medical school in just three years.
For 40 years, from 1965 to 2007, Franklin D. Wesley served as principal of the school. For the past 37 years, the high school has also been an Engineering Professions magnet. Engineering students at the school partner with NASA, Texas A&M, and other entities on various projects.
Not every institution makes it to its 125 year anniversary and the alumni and supporters of the school are planning a yearlong celebration. It kicks off on March 17 with a golf tournament that will raise money for a replica of the statue of Booker T. Washington which resides at Tuskegee University in Alabama. The replica would be placed at the high school.
Then on March 24, a parade and family reunion will take place. Parade organizer John Gibbs said that participants are still being invited but all are welcome. Motorcycles, Corvettes, horses and wagons, and antique cars carrying local dignitaries will make a 1.5 mile route before ending back up at the school. The Family Reunion will be held immediately after the parade on the school campus. Community members, alumni and students can sign up for a vendor booth.
A gala will be held at the end of October, as it is the hope of organizers to have it on Homecoming weekend. By then the school’s new building, a $56.5 million project which was part of HISD’s voter-approved 2012 Bond Program, will be complete.
“It’s not every day that you have a 125 year anniversary and get a brand new school that is entrenched in success,” said Gibbs.
“We are community proud and Houston Strong.”
Frank North, a Booker T. Washington graduate and pharmacist who recently obtained a master’s in Public Administration, said that he was honored to be a part of the planning, as his grandfather attended “Colored High,” his mother and father attended and met each other in the halls of Booker T. Washington, and his brothers and sister attended the school.
North said the overall goal is to give financial support to students through scholarships and programs that expose them to better careers and outlook on life. He says he hopes to reengage alumni and community stakeholders and to reinforce the legacy that Booker T. Washington High School has had in the community.
“Everything I have accomplished and set to achieve was shaped and inspired by my experiences at and of Booker T. Washington High School,” said North. “To have the opportunity to celebrate Booker Washington’s collective history and strengthen its future in the community and city to me means that I am celebrating, honoring and in some cases reuniting and strengthening family.”
Current principal Carlos Phillips has been at the school for three years. He says he is honored to serve during the school’s historical year and also looks forward to the completion of the new campus.
“[It] will add a greater value that will showcase honor, pride and discipline among our students who deserve to be educated in a state of the art educational facility to support their learning and other academic endeavors,” he said. “Our success will continue to thrive on how our students and the school community responds to the needs of our students and supports all facets of learning that will develop well rounded students who can compete globally.”
Mayor Sylvester Turner has long been an advocate of the school since the time he was in the Texas Legislature.
“I would like to extend my best wishes to the alumni, staff and students of Booker T. Washington as you celebrate your 125th anniversary,” said Turner. “As we come together to celebrate, let us also remember the life that Booker T. Washington lived and the many obstacles he faced. Born into a life of slavery, he understood the importance of obtaining an education and persisted until he finally became a teacher. His actions opened doors for all of us and his legacy should encourage us to never give up on our dreams.”
For general information about the festivities or to participate, please contact Dr. Frank North at firstname.lastname@example.org, Lorraine Gibbs at LGibbs@HoustonISD.org or Roxanne Castillo at ECastil7@HoustonISD.org.