The faculty of Sam Walker Houston High prepared their students for successful and meaningful lives despite having to operate under the deprivations of the system of Jim Crow Segregation. How did the faculty accomplish this with few resources and little money?
“Boy you all had it easier than us, it was hard to be accepted.”
- A former student of Sam Walker Houston and Huntsville High School on his experience as one of the first African Americans to integrate Huntsville High School.
Sam Walker Houston Museum and Cultural Center is located on 10th Street in Huntsville. The museum was established to celebrate the legacy of Sam Walker Houston. Houston was an African American educator who established the Sam Houston Industrial Institute in 1906. He was taught by W.E.B. DuBois at Atlanta University and was influenced by the work of Booker T. Washington. He corresponded with both men throughout their and his life and both of them visited his school. Houston combined the ideas of both men by preparing his students to get a skilled labor job and/or to go to college if they could afford to do so. The school quickly evolved into providing African Americans with ten years of education. When the Institute was brought into the Huntsville Independent School District (1930) it soon evolved into an elementary school and a four-year high school housed on the same site. In 1955 the High School moved to its own site. (1)
The Sam Walker Houston Museum focuses on the history of the high school it is named for. LaJuana Glaze is the Museum’s director. She is a 1960 graduate of Sam Walker Houston. Mrs. Glaze believes the museum’s purpose is to educate the Huntsville community about what the African American faculty and students at Sam Walker Houston accomplished despite the deprivations of segregation. (1)
They accomplished a great deal. Mrs. Glaze gives credit for this to the school’s teachers. She stated that the teachers made sure that students learned and that they were prepared for college. They also made sure SWHS’s students were prepared to work and had the vocational skills they needed to support themselves as college students or to go directly into the work force. Mrs. Glaze said many male and female students did go on to college and that many young men entered the military and later worked in the Texas oil industry. Sam Walker Houston High was recognized many times by various Black and White educational organizations as one of the best rural schools in the country. (1)
The school also excelled in sports. In 1951 the school won Black State Championships in football and basketball. John Oliphant was a member of the 1951 team and remembers that the team was so good that the football team from Huntsville High wanted to play them (Huntsville High won the White State Football Championship in 1953) and that they played unofficially on Saturdays at Pritchett Field on the college campus. “Huntsville was a football town. That was one thing back then everyone could agree on,” stated Oliphant. Sam Walker Houston also fielded girls basketball teams and co-ed track teams. (1) (2)
The school also excelled in music. The school choir won numerous local and state awards. The marching band entertained students and community members at football games and parades. (1)
All of the above was accomplished with minimal resources. The football team wore used uniforms from Sam Houston State that parents and coaches dyed maroon (Sam Houston’s school colors were maroon and white). They also obtained used helmets and pads from the college. The band parents got old uniforms from Huntsville High School and dyed them maroon and painted the school’s mascot and logo on them. Teachers had to make due with used books and had to borrow lab equipment when Huntsville High students were not using it. However, Mrs. Glaze remembers that SWHH’s students were determined to excel in whatever they were doing despite the school’s lack of resources. They were taught that they were as good as White students and they believed it. (1)
However, Sam Walker Houston students did want change. Mrs. Glaze remembers students protesting during the Civil Rights Movement and being arrested. Sometimes it would take weeks for parents to figure out where their children had been jailed so that they could visit them and eventually bring them home. John Oliphant wanted to “stop going to the black, the back door in restaurants…we wanted to be categorized as Americans, not as negroes or the other word white men had for us.” (1) (2)
And things did change. Mrs. Glaze remembers the businesses in downtown Huntsville taking down the “Colored” and “White” signs after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law. African American students began attending Sam Houston State in 1964. The Huntsville Independent School District began integrating its schools in 1965. (1)
Sadly, the integration of Huntsville schools did not necessarily benefit African American students. They were enthusiastically accepted onto athletic teams. However, if they wanted to be a part of an academic or arts program they were forced to audition or to submit work despite having proven their competence at Sam Walker Houston. White teachers and administrators and teachers were brought to run Sam Walker Houston, and the few African Americans teachers who were not forced into early retirement or fired were not allowed to teach in their subject areas. Instead of seeing the amazing accomplishment of Sam Walker’s Houston’s staff and students, despite the lack of resources they had to work with, and imagining what they could do with proper resources for both Black and White students the school was closed and seemed destined to be forgotten. (1)
Fortunately, the Sam Walker Museum and Cultural Center has not allowed Sam Walker Houston High to be forgotten. The museum runs programs that teach Huntsville high school, elementary school and college students about the history of the school and its founder. Sam Walker Houston and the school he founded still inspire students to “make a difference” and to work to make themselves the best that they can be. Perhaps someday, if another high school is built in Huntsville, it will bear the name of the man who demonstrated and inspired his people to show that they would not be limited by segregation or by any other restrictions placed on their lives.