Breckenridge Texan

Stephens County Chronicles: The history of Breckenridge’s Booker T. Washington School

Stephens County Chronicles: The history of Breckenridge’s Booker T. Washington School
March 24
20:07 2024

Initially, a few Black families came to Breckenridge with the men who were mule drivers. When the oil boom hit this area, many more Black families migrated here to work on the oil rigs. Many of the women went to work as domestic help for families in Breckenridge.

Jean Hayworth

As the population grew, many Black families settled in the southeastern section of Breckenridge, known as “the flats,” and two churches for the community were established in that area of town – Mt. Olive Baptist and Bethel Baptist Church. The churches initiated the first schools for the Black children as early as 1921.

In the Spring of 1926, the Gunsolus Creek overflowed its banks and flooded the low-lying areas of the town, which included “the flats.” The two churches in that area were moved to higher ground as a result.

In June of 1926, the Breckenridge Independent School District Board voted to move a large, wooden framed building from the Breckenridge High School campus on the hill, to “the flats” area for the children in that neighborhood to have a real school. It was set up at the corner of South Roberts and Power Street during the summer of 1926 and renovated with classrooms in time for classes to begin in the fall of 1926.

The new school was named Booker T. Washington School by the families who would be sending their children there. Prior to classes beginning, the Black community came together and surrounded the frame building with cinder blocks to make the school better insulated and more secure.

Initially, there were about 50 students enrolled, from the first to the 12th grades. Text books were provided by BISD from the discarded and outdated textbooks no longer in use by the district, plus additional books that were donated.

R.D. (Prof) Hearne was the principal and served in that position for 19 years. The early teachers included Willie Armstrong, Anna Mae Floyd, Eddie Pearl McRuffin, Jesse T. Mosby, Mattie (Gussie) Orman and Katie Swann. George Hatter served as the coach from 1959 to 1964. He coached the girls basketball team in 1960-61 to a 3B Championship. Their photo and trophy is currently on display at the Swenson Memorial Museum on the second floor in the school room. There is a five-shelf display with a variety of memorabilia from Booker T. Washington School. Additionally, for a while, there was a letter jacket and megaphone used by Annie Lee Sykes, daughter of Ruby Davenport, on display. Sykes was one of the cheerleaders for the “Blue and Gold” of Booker T. Washington.

Breckenridge’s Booker T. Washington School had a successful girls basketball team in the 1960-61 school year. These and other photos from the school are on display at the Swenson Memorial Museum in downtown Breckenridge. (Courtesy of the Swenson Memorial Museum)

At first, the children brought sack lunches or walked home for lunch. Initially, there was no running water inside the school except for one water faucet in front of the building. Also, there were two outhouses set up down the hill from the school building, on the south side. They were commonly used at rural schools in the county.

Subsequently, BISD furnished cafeteria employees to cook lunch for the students and teachers in a small cottage not attached to the school building. Among those early cooks were Mrs. Lula M. Fuknette, Mrs. Dolly Shepherd and Mrs. Stella (Mother) Olive.

Mr. Wheeler was another teacher at the school, and he had a garden and taught the students how to grow different vegetables. Mrs. Pearl, known as Mrs. Mack, and Mrs. Willie Armstrong played the piano, which provided the students with a music program that included an elementary choir and an older choir for the junior high and high school aged students.

There also was a kindergarten established, which came about for the working mothers and to help the younger children get a jump on their education, according to Mrs. Adele Foster, who was the supervisor for the first kindergarten. There were some additional funds from BISD to get what was needed to get the kindergarten started. The helpers for the kindergarten included Mrs. Mattie Stephens and Mrs. Gwen Jackson. Initially, the kindergarten met in a house on Dunigan Street, next to Mrs. Mattie Stephens’ store, and later it became part of the Booker T. Washington School.

Other teachers at Booker T. Washington included Allie M. Ward, Ernestine Harmon, Ella Mae (Rucker) King, D.J. Jones, Mr. Nelson, Mr. Muskoo, Mr. Bennie Houston, Mr. and Mrs. I.M. Terrell, Mr. Ammons and Mrs. Pristite. In 2020, teacher Mattie Marie “Gussie” Orman helped me with information about the school. Mrs. Orman went on to teach at North Ward Elementary, and Mary (McCree) Tawight taught at North Ward until 1969. Mrs. Varina Fern Spratt retired from teaching in 1972, after teaching at East Ward and she also taught reading and spelling at Breckenridge Junior High.

The Booker T. Washington School’s 1964 boys basketball team was a state quarter finalist. (Courtesy of the Swenson Memorial Museum)

According to the BISD School Board minutes of Dec. 10, 1963, the BISD Board voted in favor of integration for grades seven through 12th grades for the 1964-65 school year. The elementary grades would start integrating the following year, and all integration was scheduled to be completed by September 1968. They completed full integration by 1966, two years ahead of the original schedule.

In 1965, there were seven Black students enrolled at BHS. The Principal was David Sullivan. Robert Love said, “The Buckaroo players who made us welcome were John Hagler, Ronnie Pendleton, Rex Fry and Mark Hanna.” Love went on to say, “Mr. Sullivan told us if we had any problems to call him.” The first four Black athletes to play for the Buckaroos were Robert Love, Louie B. Hall Jr., J. D. Wilson and Gregory Graham.

The first two Black students to graduate from BHS were Vida Davenport and Jessie Harris. The first Black cheerleader selected at BHS in 1967 was Sandra (Swann) Jones. The first Black girl to walk in the coronation was Nancy Lee Session in 1970, escorted by Robert Love. The first Black Drum Major at BHS was Curtis Hall in 1973. Ned Davenport was the first Black Great Lord Chamberlain in 1986.

The Booker T. Washington building was converted in 1967 into a Community Health Center and was also used as the Community Action Program (CAP), headed by Mrs. Audrey Brown, until 1976. At that point, the building was vacated.

In 2004, a fire gutted the interior of the building, which left only the cinder blocks in place. In 2021, the African-American community in Breckenridge marked the 100th anniversary of a school for Black students established in Breckenridge at the local churches. Subsequently, a reunion group of students has been working toward a historical marker for the Booker T. Washington School. That group is still continuing the work in that process.

In 2021, a park located near the location of the former school was renamed the Booker T. Washington Park, in honor of the school, as well as in honor of the man for whom the school was named, Booker T. Washington, an African American educator, author and leader in the United States’ Black community. The park is located on East Powers Street between Dunnigan and Stoker avenues and is several blocks directly south of Miller Park, aka the Breckenridge City Park. It is located a couple of blocks from the location of the old Booker T. Washington School and was at one time referred to as “Breckenridge Park.”

Earlier in 2021, a group of Breckenridge High School students had done some work on the park as part of a project for the Texas Municipal Community Network’s Leadership program, which invites teams from area high schools to take on projects that will improve their communities. The group chose to work on the small park located on the southeast side of Breckenridge. In April 2021, the students presented their suggested name for the park to the Breckenridge City Commission, which approved the name “Booker T. Washington Park.”

A display case at the Swenson Memorial Museum shows some of the trophies won by athletes at Booker T. Washington School. Other shelves exhibit photos from the school and other awards. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

(Courtesy of the Swenson Memorial Museum)

(Courtesy of the Swenson Memorial Museum)

Cutline, top photo: The Booker T. Washington School in Breckenridge once included a playground and several buildings. This photo and others are on display at the Swenson Memorial Museum in downtown Breckenridge. (Courtesy of the Swenson Memorial Museum)

Editor’s Note: Stephens County Chronicles is a twice-a-month column written by long-time Breckenridge resident, teacher and historian Jean Hayworth. Click here to read more about Jean and read her first installment of the Stephens County Chronicles. And, click here to read more of her columns.



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