Before Texas became a state, it was the Republic of Texas. And Houston was the temporary capital of the Republic. It is difficult to imagine that Houston started as a small outpost and grew into a community. As the town grew, the new community needed educated citizens, and schools began to open to serve the multicultural community. The oldest schools in Houston are ancient, and while many are still in operation today, others have become culturally symbolic of the history of the area. Here is a list of some of the oldest schools in Texas that represent a diverse population.
1. Harvard Elementary School
Harvard Elementary School opened in September of 1898 in the neighborhood of Houston Heights. The school is considered the first school in Houston and still operates today. The Houston School District wasn’t formed until 1924, so the schools were supported by parents. Mothers and aunties made hot meals for students and helped keep the school clean, and the classroom duties were the teacher's sole responsibility.
2. Almeda Elementary School
In 1893 the Almeda School District was formed, and the first school Almeda Elementary School was established. The first year the school was in operation, the students had classes in a barn with haystacks as desks. The following year a one-room schoolhouse was built. And in 1901, a permanent structure was built for students. In 1936 it became part of the Houston School District as the city expanded into the area. The school moved to a new building in 2011 and is still in operation today.
3. The Gregory School
The Gregory School opened its doors in 1872 in Freedmen’s Town, or the Fourth Ward of Houston. Post-Civil War, recently freed slaves created a community called Freedmen’s Town. The Gregory School was the first school to serve the community of emancipated slaves. The school was named after Major General Edgar M. Gregory, an abolitionist. The school served children during the day and adults in the evening as they learned different trades and entered the workforce. The school is considered the first school for African American children in the Houston area. The original school building was destroyed during a storm in 1893 and eventually rebuilt and reopened its doors for the community.
In 1984 the school closed its doors and was left abandoned. Luckily, historians, archivists, descendants of students, and local activists stepped in and were able to find the funds with the City of Houston and the Houston Public Library. The school was restored and is now the African American Library at the Gregory School. In 2019, the historically significant school was recognized by UNESCO and became part of the international registry of locations associated with the slave trade.
4. Burrus Elementary School
The Burrus Elementary School first opened in 1899 under the name Independent Heights County School. In 1924, the district changed the name of the school to honor former slave who turned educator James Dallas Burrus. Burrus was from Tennessee, and he went on to become the first African-American professor of mathematics at Fisk University in 1882.
5. The Kincaid School
The Kincaid School opened its doors in 1906 in the Greater Houston area. It is the oldest independent, coeducational school in the area. Houston native Margaret Hunter Kinkaid founded The Kincaid School. She trained as a teacher but was unable to teach in the Houston public school system because she was married. So she set about finding a way to teach and took it upon herself to start her own school. And without a formal building, she gave classes out of her dining room for the first few years. The school is a PK-12 school that focuses on a well-rounded education, including the arts and sciences.
6. Dow Elementary
Dow Elementary School opened in 1887 and later moved to a permanent building in 1912. The school served the Sixth Ward in Houston. At the time, Houston did not have officially segregated schools, but they had unofficially deemed schools for certain communities. Dow Elementary was for the Hispanic/Latino community. Since the Sixth Ward was not predominately Hispanic, students had to make the commute to the school, causing tensions in the community. The school eventually closed its doors. Since then, the building has served the community through Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts. Today part of the campus has been turned into a community park, and the remaining building has been refurbished for the community.
7. Cascara School
The Cascara School opened as a small schoolhouse in 1893 and was renamed in 1906 for Sidney Sherman. The school building was the second oldest in the city, but the original structure was destroyed and rebuilt. The school will be rebuilt again as one of Houston Green Schools, with new facilities focused on LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards. These guidelines were created by the U.S. Green Building Council to provide builders with a framework for green building.
8. Booker T. Washington High School
Booker T. Washington High School in Independence Heights was established in 1893 in Houston's Fourth Ward for the African American community. The school was originally built to serve segregated students and was the only African American high school in Houston.
9. Incarnate Word Academy
Incarnate Word Academy is Roman Catholic all-girls school. The school was founded in 1873 and was originally called Incarnate Word Academy for Young Ladies. ]It is considered the first permanent school in Houston. The nun, Mother Jeanne de Matel, along with the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament, were tasked with creating a girls' school to help educate the young women of Houston. The Bishop asked the Sisters to bring their knowledge and to share their faith and values with Houston's young women. Students were daughters of prestigious families as well as daughters of farmers, ranchers, and recently emancipated slaves. At the time, this diversity was truly innovative, and the school continues this open-minded approach to education with a multicultural and diverse student body.
10. Baylor University
In 1846 the Baptist community leaders wanted to establish a Baptist university. Baylor University opened and became a Baptist University serving Houston. The university later opened a campus in Waco and has continued to expand. After years of staying quiet about the controversial founders, the school has recently recognized its place in history. The founders of Baylor were slaveholders and were on the Confederate side during the Civil War. African American students were not admitted to the school until 1964. Recently, the conservative religious school was part of an investigation into how sexual assaults were handled on campus. And in 2015, the school was deemed to be inappropriately handling sexual assault cases on campus. Today the school continues to struggle with its image and does not permit LBGTQ groups on campus or at events.
Notable Baylor University Alumni
Willie Nelson – Singer/Songwriter
Rand Paul – American Senator
Robert Griffin III – Quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens
John Lee Hancock – American Filmmaker known for several sports movies
Ken Paxton – Former Attorney General of Texas in 2015
11. Texas Southern University
Texas Southern University, located in downtown Houston is a public university that opened its doors in 1927. The university originally opened under another name as a segregated college for African American students. In response, in 1936, the school offered four-year degree programs in a variety of subjects. In 1947, a student denied entry into the University of Texas School of Law filed a lawsuit against the University of Texas and the State of Texas. The state responded by opening a new school with more programs, including a law school. Again the school took on a new name. In 1960, students from Texas Southern University held the first sit-in and were influential in overturning school segregation in Houston. Today the school boasts some impressive alumni, from musicians to state representatives to NFL athletes.
Notable Texas Southern University Alumni
Megan Thee Stallion – American Rapper and Performer
Hank Johnson – U.S. Representative for Georgia (2007)
Jim Hines – American track and field athlete and National Football League (NFL) player
Mickey Leland – Anti-Poverty activist and Congressmen for Texas (1989)
Robert Taylor – Former American Sprinter and Gold medal winner in the 1972 Summer Olympics
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