Who’s That?: The Names Behind Lafayette’s Schools, Part 2
Last week, we told you the stories of the men and women whose names are on Lafayette's elementary schools. Today, we continue our "Who's That" series with the men and woman whose names are on Lafayette public middle and high schools.
Much like the elementary schools, the names on the parish's middle and high schools are a mix of people from the 19th and early-20th century and those who left their legacies on students within the last 50 years.
Let's dive in and take a look at those names and the people behind them.
L. J. Alleman
Lenesse Joseph Alleman was a native of St. Mary Parish. After graduating as valedictorian from Vanderbilt University, he returned home to become the principal of the Centerville Grammar School. In 1901, before he turned 30, he was elected to be Lafayette Parish schools superintendent. His salary: $1,000 per year. During his time as superintendent, Alleman secured wagons to take students to and from school. Because of this, Alleman is credited with creating Louisiana's first school bus system.
Alleman remained in that post until 1919, when the United States Government appointed him to the Federal Board of Vocational Education. In that role, he interviewed returning World War I veterans to place them in colleges, at vocational schools, and/or in jobs. At the same time, Alleman accepted a professorship at the Louisiana State Normal College--today's Northwestern State University. He later became the head of the school's education department. He taught there until his retirement in 1942. Alleman died of a heart attack in 1944.
In 1958, the Lafayette Parish School Board named its new school in the Magnolia Park subdivision after Alleman. The school opened in 1959, along with the S. J. Montgomery, Truman, and J. W. Faulk schools.
Patriotism runs in family: Alleman's son, L. J., Jr., was a lieutenant in the U. S. Army during World War II.
From 1887 until his death from appendicitis in 1928, Paul Breaux was the principal of the Lafayette Parish Training School, the parish's segregated school for Black students. Breaux was so closely associated with the school that the district informally referred to it as the Paul Breaux School during his lifetime.
The school moved from the current LeRosen Preparatory School property to a new campus on Magnolia Street in early 1953. At that time, the school district formally renamed the Lafayette Parish Training School as Paul Breaux High School. Students initially protested the move to the new facility because the campus, while expansive, lacked amenities the old campus had.
The school board eventually built a gymnasium and auditorium, and Magnolia Street was later paved. In 1966, the school board constructed an addition to accommodate the growing number of students enrolling there.
In 1970, Paul Breaux High School closed as part of the parish's desegregation efforts. Paul Breaux Elementary School remained on campus, moving to the old high school building. The old elementary school building became the W. D. and Mary Baker Smith Career Center. The school board eventually removed the lower grades from the Paul Breaux campus, converting it into the middle school that it is today.
Street Smart: Paul Breaux also has a road named for him. Paul Breaux Avenue is located in the Truman Addition near the Martin Luther King, Junior, Center.
In 1963, the Lafayette Parish School Board voted to build a consolidated high school voted to build a consolidated high school to service the Broussard, Youngsville, and Milton areas. They named that school for Ovey Comeaux. Comeaux represented that part of Lafayette Parish on the school board for 48 years.
Random trivia: Ovey Comeaux High School is situated less than a mile from where the Verot School used to be. Yes, the road was named for an actual school that operated from the 1890s until 1938. It was located near what is now the intersection of West Farrel Road and Verot School Road.
The LeRosen campus is named for Lafayette High School's first principal. W. A. LeRosen was a native of Shreveport who moved to Lafayette in the 1890s after getting his degree from Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee. LeRosen also worked with Dr. N. P. Moss (more on him in just a little bit) to organize the graded public school system in Lafayette Parish. In 1902, LeRosen resigned his post to go into the newspaper business. He bought the old Lafayette Advertiser plant and founded the present-day Daily Advertiser.
The Lafayette Parish School Board initially built the LeRosen campus in 1953 as an elementary school. After the elementary school was shuttered, the campus became a charter high school before being converted into an alternative school.
Historical irony: LeRosen Elementary School was built in 1953 as a segregated, all-white elementary school on the original site of the segregated, Black-only Paul Breaux School. LeRosen Elementary School was closed in 1999 as part of a federal desegregation order.
On some literature and other materials, you'll see Edgar Martin Middle School referred to as "Edgar A. Martin." The use of "Edgar A. Martin" is incorrect. The "A" was the namesake's FIRST initial.
Agnon Edgar Martin was Lafayette Parish's first schools superintendent. He was appointed to that position in 1882 when the director of public education position was abolished. Martin served as superintendent until 1887. Born in 1841, Martin served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. After the war, Martin helped his father run private schools that allowed white students to avoid going to integrated public schools with former slaves who had been freed after the war. Martin taught at a private school in Scott until his appointment to the superintendent's position. He died in 1892 at the age of 50.
In 1962, the Lafayette Parish School Board named its new Broadmoor school after Martin. The school board initially named the school Agnon Edgar Martin Elementary School. However, the board later voted to remove "Agnon" from the school's name at the request of Martin's family.
Family tradition: Martin's son-in-law was Felix Latiolais. Latiolais lays claim to an historic first, too: He was Lafayette's first city marshal, serving from 1910 until his election as Lafayette Parish sheriff in 1916.
N. P. Moss
A physician by trade, Dr. Nathaniel Peter Moss was a member of the Lafayette Parish School Board at the turn of the 20th Century, serving as president for most of his time on the board. In his role on the school board, Moss was instrumental in organizing the Lafayette Parish schools into the grade system we still use to this day. Moss later served on the state school board.
Moss gradually moved away from his medical practice so he could tend to his other business pursuits. He owned and operated the Moss Pharmacy at the corner of Vermilion and Jefferson Streets. He was also a co-founder of both the Lafayette Building Association and of First National Bank, serving as president of the latter until his retirement in 1924. As a local business leader, Dr. Moss successfully advocated for the development of more roads across Lafayette Parish to help farmers bring their products to markets in and around Lafayette.
In 1926, the Lafayette Parish School Board named its new grade school after Dr. Moss. At the time, Moss was living with his daughter in Roanoke, Virginia. He died there in 1941 at the age of 76.
Good news, bad news: Dr. Moss has the dubious distinction of having two different campuses named for him and then having his name removed from those schools. The original N. P. Moss campus retained his name even after the middle school moved to its new location on Teurlings Drive. The new N. P. Moss campus became the David Thibodaux STEM Academy. The old school is now Raphael Baranco Elementary. Still, part of Dr. Moss's legacy lives just outside the doors of Baranco Elementary. Moss Street, which runs alongside the school, is named for him.
W. D. and Mary Baker Smith
William David Smith continued Paul Breaux's legacy of educating Black children in Lafayette Parish. After Breaux died in 1927, Smith took over as the principal of the Paul Breaux School. He served in that capacity for 40 years. The World War I veteran had an Ivy League education. He earned his master's degree from Columbia University. In addition to his educational pursuits, Smith was a deacon and Sunday School teacher at Good Hope Baptist Church. He was also active in the local NAACP, the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, and a number of other organizations. W. D. Smith died in 1977 at the age of 80.
Mary Baker Smith taught alongside her husband at the Paul Breaux School, working there from 1927 until 1970. Her students in the segregated school recalled that she was tough on them. That's because she wanted to teach her students how to excel and succeed in a world that was not designed for Black peoples' success. In fact, her students said she kept pushing them even after they left her classroom and high school because she wanted them to advance in their professions and their lives. Smith remained active in community affairs after her retirement, serving in various capacities at Good Hope Baptist Church, including vacation bible school director, deaconess, and church pianist. Lafayette Consolidated Government paid tribute to Smith and her contributions to the city and parish in 1999, declaring May 8 of that year to be Mary Baker Smith Day in Lafayette Parish. Mary Baker Smith died in 2008 at the age of 103.
In 1997, the Lafayette Parish School Board renamed the Lafayette Parish Career Center in honor of W. D. Smith. In 2011, the board unanimously voted to add Mary Baker Smith's name to the school. As board member Shelton Cobb explained back then, Mary Baker Smith deserved to be recognized on an equal level as her husband for her contributions to the local educational community.
Wait, there's more: The City of Lafayette used to have a building named in honor of W. D. Smith. The former W. D. Smith Neighborhood Center was located on Orchid Drive near Debaillon Park. That building is now a Church of Christ.
Edward Sam was a career educator who helped shape the Lafayette Parish education system during and after the Civil Rights Movement and desegregation.
A Korean War veteran, Sam began his career as a teacher at the Holy Rosary Institute. He later moved to Paul Breaux High School, where he worked as a teacher and as an assistant principal. In 1964, Sam was appointed principal at what was then known as the Youngsville Negro Elementary School. In 1965, Sam changed the school's name to honor three families that worked to educate Black children in the Youngsville area. That school is now known as Green T. Lindon Elementary. From there, Sam became principal at Paul Breaux Elementary School, at Vermilion Elementary School, and at Truman Elementary School, where he spent 20 years as headmaster.
In 1990, Sam retired and ran for a seat on the Lafayette Parish School Board. He won and dedicated the next 20 years of his life to helping the children of Lafayette Parish--especially at risk youths--obtain an education. Sam was active in the creation of the schools of choice program. He was also instrumental in pushing the district to make upgrades to schools on Lafayette's northside to help the district achieve unitary status in its prolonged desegregation lawsuit. Among those upgrades are the new J. Wallace James campus on West Willow Street and the new N. P. Moss campus (now the David Thibodaux STEM Academy).
Outside of his educational pursuits, Sam was active in his church community. He was a longtime greeter and lector at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church and served on the Holy Rosary School Board. He was also a member of the Lafayette Crime Stoppers Board and the Southern University Alumni Association Board. Sam was active with the Lafayette NAACP, the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, the Lafayette Parish Heart Association, and a host of other groups.
Sam died in 2015 at the age of 84. One year later, the Lafayette Parish School Board named its new accelerated school in Sam's honor.
Carnival time: In 1969, Sam was selected to be King Toussaint L'Ouverture XI by Lafayette Mardi Gras Festival, Inc.
David Thibodaux was passionate about education in Lafayette's public schools. An English professor at UL, Thibodaux won a his seat on the Lafayette Parish School Board in 1994, ultimately rising to the board's vice presidency. In that role, he fought for new schools to replace aging structures across the parish, smaller classroom sizes, and other items that he felt would improve education in the parish.
Thibodeaux died in a motorcycle crash in 2007. He was 53.
In 2012, the school board placed its new science, technology, engineering, and math academy at the new N. P. Moss campus on Teurlings Drive. The board voted to name the school the David Thibodaux STEM Academy. It's lasting tribute to a man who by all accounts put the children of Lafayette Parish first.
Higher aspirations: Thibodaux unsuccessfully ran for Congress four times.
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