The legacy of the Alice O. Wilkins School gathered this past weekend for a reunion and banquet.
Nearly 100 alumni and their families gathered to celebrate the school for black students that was founded in the late 1800s and named after Wilkins in 1937.
The theme for the night was continuing the legacy of the Wilkins School, and a four-member panel discussed the issue. Panel members included Patricia Bell, Wilkins graduate and educator from California; Lillie Rogers Hawkins, a Wilkins student who served in the Women’s Ministry of Liberty Baptist Church in Tyler; Leslie Barnes, a Wilkins alumnus and an educator from Missouri City; and Frankie Barefield-Taylor, a Calhoun High School graduate of 1967 working part-time for the Houston ISD.
(From A History of Alice O. Wilkins School in the banquet program)
The school started in the late 1800s in one room that held grades one through five. James Choice was sent from Prairie View College to open the school that was called the Port Lavaca Colored School. The Rev. A.K. Black succeeded Choice as the teacher at the school.
In 1907, 16-year-old Alice O. Crawford of Chicago and a graduate of Fisk University was hired to teach in Port Lavaca after being turned down by Victoria ISD due to her age. She married Horace Miller, who preceded her in death, and then married Dr. J. H. Wilkins of Galveston.
The first graduating class was in 1910 and consisted of three students – Ernestine Kitchen, Fannie Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Rydolph.
The school moved to a location on the bayfront in the 1920s after a fire destroyed the original building. It now consisted of two small houses, one for grades one through four and the other for grades five through 10. Wilkins and Jennie Sayles were the only teachers.
In 1923 a new three-room building, named the Rosenwald School, was constructed on the original site, and several of Mrs. Wilkins’ students joined her on the staff after attending college.
In 1937, Dr. A.W. Jackson, principal, recommended that the school be named after Wilkins, and in May 1938 there was a dedication ceremony along with the graduation of the first class from the Wilkins School.
Wilkins stressed academic excellence, honesty and fair play in the 35 years that she guided the school. On April 29, 1942, Wilkins fell ill in her classroom and died several days later in Victoria. She was known as the Mother of Black Education in Port Lavaca.
The last graduating class of Wilkins School was in 1955 and consisted of eight graduates – Dennis Barefield, Adrene Fore, Bath Peoples, John Alvin Barefield, A.J. Garner, Jo Alice Washington, Thomas Dean, and Clarence Garner.
The school was integrated into the Calhoun County Independent School district with a grade a year until integration was achieved. Wilkins School closed its doors in May 1965.
CONTINUING THE LEGACY
The Wilkins Alumni & Ex-Student Association was formed in 1981 and since that time has awarded 29 scholarships, including this year’s scholarship that went to Anastacia Chidinma Gladys Serieane Hawkins.
A memorial presentation of the alumni that had passed away since 1981 was shown in reverent silence.
A visual presentation of Black history was set to the song, “Lift Up Every Voice and Sing,” ending in rousing applause when President Obama appeared.
Keeping the legacy going was the reason why many people came to the reunion.
“It’s very important that we reflect back on our teachers and the generations and the troubles we survived and overcame,” said Margaret Reynolds. “You need to be appreciative of everything you have because our forefathers have paid a price for it.”