TEXAS CITY — There are many schools across America named for Booker T. Washington, a civil rights activist and a teacher from Virginia. Washington also founded the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama, which is now known as Tuskegee University.
In 1912, black students in Texas City went to school at First Baptist Church on First Avenue, and all classes were taught by Drucilla Kiltrell. Professor H.K. Hornsberry was the school’s first principal until 1935. After Hornsberry’s tenure, Professor George Sanders came aboard and stayed until 1947.
During Sanders’ leadership, the Texas City school board met and gave the school a new name, chosen by Sanders — Booker T. Washington School.
Upon Sanders’ retirement, Calvin Vincent assumed the leadership from 1947-67 and moved the school forward, achieving great heights and goals that were set forth by its founders to make it a strong institution of learning for black students.
When the school officially closed in 1967 because of the integration of public schools, many of the former students continued to excel in the classroom and in athletics and continued to be productive citizens in the Texas City community and beyond.
In 1981, some of the former students decided to form the Booker T. Washington Exes, which, to say the least, is a who’s who list of Galveston County leaders such as Harold Adams, Sarah Godfrey Giles, Ernest Wisby and Myrtle Giles Davis. They all had to finish at Central High School in Galveston because Booker T. only went to the 10th grade.
Davis also not only went to Booker T., she ended up teaching there and at Texas City High School. In January, Davis was honored by the group at its 28th annual Martin Luther King Jr. program that recognizes local community champions.
The group is led by Lynn Ellison, who is a former teacher, coach and city commissioner and still is a community activist in Texas City.
Lee Gordon, who still lives in Texas City, is a 1962 graduate of Booker T. Washington. Gordon retired from the U.S. Army and later retired from the Harris County Probation Department.
“Our teachers really cared about us and pushed us to succeed and be prepared for life,” Gordon said. “I also felt that whatever I done mattered.”
Gordon played basketball and football and was a member of the track team.
“It makes me really proud to know that we are an integral part of many solutions in our community,” Gordon said. “Dr. Ellison really does a lot by giving us senior citizens something to belong to. It’s really a joy to be a part of this group.”
The first graduating class of Booker T. Washington came in 1954. Clyde Johnson, Maurice Goldman and Eleanor Williams Forman were among the graduates.
They are all members of the Exes. They also were part of the group that went from first grade to 12th grade; however, another segment of the organization started at Booker T. but because of integration, had to finish at Texas City High School.
Hazel Jones, who is the group’s poet laureate, created the club’s motto, “Armed with knowledge of our past, we can march boldly and proudly into our future.”
And with that motto intact for the past 33 years, the club has raised scholarship funds for local students, conducted voter registration drives, presented civic and religious programs and even had Muhammad Ali as one of its guest speakers.
Also still residing in West Texas City is 67-year-old Mercie Prevost, who graduated from Booker T. in 1964. Although she’s disabled now, Prevost was active in extracurricular activities and participated in track and field, basketball, volleyball, band, cheerleading and art.
“My fondest memory while attending school was becoming a state champion in track,” she said.
“I received first place in both the 50- and 100-yard dash. Even though I’m disabled now, I know that God has abled me to still be apart of the Exes.
“I pray and thank God everyday for giving me strength to keep on being active in day-to-day activities.”
Meeting with each other every month, group members make sure to reach out to those less fortunate and continue to raise scholarship money for Galveston County students. Ellison serves as president, Clarence Caldwell as vice president, Bobbie Garrett as treasurer, and May Pearl Jones as secretary.
One of the biggest highlights for the Exes is when they led a campaign representing all African-American schools of Texas that were closed because of desegregation in 2006.
With the success of that campaign, State Rep. Alma Allen introduced House Bill 200 that was passed honoring and recognizing the history and achievements of those former schools.
There is now a historical marker at the George Washington Carver Cultural and Historical Museum in Austin honoring all of those schools.
“It’s a huge blessing to know that you can help serve youth in your community,” Prevost said. “Staying together as a group and loving each other, you can never go wrong. God has brought us a mighty long way.”