Booker T. Washington High School
Booker T. Washington High School was established in 1931 to provide education to “Negro” children growing up in and around Caruthersville, Missouri. Before Washington high School was established, African American children had to go to boarding schools to receive an education. Some attended Lincoln Institute Laboratory School that was run by Lincoln University (then known as Lincoln Institute.) Others went to Nashville, Tennessee to attend high school, and still others went as far away as Topeka, Kansas and Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Unfortunately, not many African American young people went away to school because it was too expensive to commute. It was also unfortunate that students had to leave home and live in boarding situations, away from their families and friends to attain a high school education.
Mr. Charles J. Lunderman, a man before his time, came to Washington School in November, 1930. His first 8th grade class graduated in May 1931. Before school was out that year, he talked the class into coming back in the fall to start a 9th grade class. Washington School consisted of a four-room building, which still stands at the corner of 18th street and Compress Road. There were four teachers Mrs. Lucy Williams, Mrs. M. M. Cunningham, Miss Fields, and Mrs. B. R. C. Parker, and the Principal Mr. Charles J. Lunderman. There was also a three-room “shotgun” house just down the road, which was used as the home economics building.
Some of the students who lived in Caruthersville and had graduated earlier from the 8th grade joined members of the 8th grade class of 1931 in starting the 9th grade class, along with other students from around the area, i.e., Hayti, Wardell, Deering, Portageville and Steele. These students rented rooms in the city. A number of students who had been out of school for several years returned to school. Their return came about as a result of coercion from Mr. Lunderman. One of those older students returning was J. H. Davis, who later became principal of Washington High School. Mr. Lunderman taught all the 7th, 8th, and 9th grade classes.
In 1932, the 9th grade class decided to expand to the CME Church across the street. The church still stands, but it was larger then than it is now. The 7th and 8th grade classes were also moved there, as well as music classes. In 1932 and 1933 more teachers were hired and more high school courses were added. During the 1934-35 school years, Washington became a four-year high school.
The class of 1935 was Washington’s first high school graduating class. There were nine (9) graduating seniors in that class. Commencement exercises were held at the First Baptist Church (Twelfth Street Baptist Church), which was a large Church at that time. The church was torn down and rebuilt smaller. The graduation ceremonies were complete with music, baccalaureate services and all other things associated with graduations. The pastor of the First Baptist Church was Reverend E. D. Payne from Mississippi. The classes of 1935, 1936, and 1937 each had (9) graduating seniors. Classes were still being held in the building mentioned earlier.
High school athletics flourished at Washington. The first basketball game was held in 1932. The school had a basketball team that played regular games during the school year of 1932. Basketball was the first sport played. The games were played outside on a cinder court. If it was cold when the games were played, players and spectators would have to go inside from time to time to get warm. The coach then was Mr. Dunlap from Paducah, Kentucky. During that time, Phyllis Wheatley High School in Popular Bluff, Missouri and Lincoln High in Charleston, Missouri were the only black schools with gymnasiums, so when games were played there the team played inside.
By 1937, many more teachers had been hired and more courses added. The school had a band that was directed by Mr. Lunderman, who, as you can see, was an all-around educator.
In 1937, the WPA (Works Projects Administration) started building Washington School. The building was completed in time to hold classes during the 1937-38 school years.
In 1937, Mr. Gerald Brooks was hired as the band teacher and Mr. Lunderman no longer taught band. The music teacher, Mr. Earl Eulingburgh, came to Washington School during the school year of 1933-34 and taught modern dance and tap to some of the students. These students performed in Hayti and Charleston at district and county teachers’ meetings.
During the fall of 1937, Mr. Lunderman and some of the students went to the field to pick cotton to buy seats to be placed in the auditorium of the new school. The seats were bought from Rogers Theater, a downtown movie house.
The graduation class of 1938 was first in the new Booker T. Washington High School. There were fifteen (15) members in the Class of 1938.
In 1941, the school started serving hot lunches. The lunches were cooked in the boiler room and brought up in the Home Economics room where they were served.
In 1951, Mr. Lunderman left Washington and Mr. Joseph H. Davis became principal. During the year of 1956-57, Mr. Leroy Glenn was hire as the elementary principal for the new elementary school building. Coach Thomas left Washington in 1949. He was replaced by Jack Bush from Kansas City, Missouri. Coach Bush left in1952 and was replaced by Mr. Richard Simmons. Mr. Simmons, who had been a track star in high school and college, started a track team. His track teams remain the bright spot in Washington’s athletic history. The success of Mr. Simmons’ teams culminated with the winning of three consecutive star championships at a time when all schools participated in one class.
The shop building was built, which housed the first indoor restrooms, and another frame building was moved from Caruthersville High School to Washington’s campus. This development took place around 1951.
During the school year 1945-46, the Armory Hall was used for basketball games. These games had to be scheduled so they would not conflict with Caruthersville High School games, since they too started playing their games in the Armory Hall. Mr. Bob Thompson was the coach at that time. Basketball games were played in the Armory Hall until the gym was built in 1956.
During 1956, Drivers Education was offered in the school curriculum, which was taught by. Mr. K. B. Brewer. Business courses (shorthand and typing were also added.)
During 1955-56 school years, the elementary school was built on the southern part of the campus. The primary grades were moved to the new building.
Teachers were continually added in order to staff the buildings that were added to the campus. Mr. Davis left Washington in 1964 and was replaced by Mr. John A. Taylor. Mr. Taylor remained principal until after the 1967 school year, when the school system totally integrated and Washington became the Junior High School.
I would like to thank Mrs. Salone Gilmore Nelson for serving as the primary historian for this synopsis of Booker T. Washington school history. Mrs. Nelson, who attended Washington School from First Grade through Twelfth Grade, taught at Washington for 27 years and is extremely knowledgeable of the school’s history. A more extensive history of Booker T. Washington will be written later. It is important that African Americans be made aware of their history and the institutions and persons that made success possible for many. The achievements of African American people have their roots in the schools, churches, and people who allow nothing less than excellence in spite of the injustices and discrimination they had to face daily. All African Americans have stories very similar to this one, if they go far enough into their history.
Our School Song:
"Dear Washington High"
Dear Washington High
To Us Thy Name Doth Signify
We Cherish All
Thy Precepts And Ideals
Our Aim To You
Is Only But To Glorify
Thy Name Forever
Til We Live On High
To Praise Thy Name
And Worship All You Mean To Me
And Keep Thy Standards
E’er Aloft To Thee
And Make Thee All
That I Will Ever Hope To Be
And When I Die
Oh!, When I Die, They’ll Bury Me.
Dear Washington High
Thy Black And Gold Is E’er To Me.
A Symbol Of
Thy Everlasting Fame,
And o My Alma Mater
I Will E’er Be True
Until On High \
I Pause To Make My Claim
A Former Teacher