Grant

From left, grant collaborators are Caddo Parish Public Schools educator Dionne Procell Brown, Southern University at Shreveport representatives Marquel Sennet and Dr. Lonnie McCray, and local writer ML Dumars.

The Bishop Blue Foundation was one of 44 organizations selected by the National Park Service to preserve and highlight stories related to the African American struggle for equality in the 20th century. The foundation received a $50,000 grant to aid in telling the stories of local African Americans to students in Harrison County and in Caddo Parish, Louisiana.

According to National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith, “These grants will preserve a defining part of our nation’s diverse history. By working with underrepresented communities to preserve their historic places and stories, we will help tell a more complete narrative of the African American experience in the pursuit of civil rights.” This project is supported through a grant from the African American Civil Rights grant program as administered by the National Park Service, Department of Interior.

The Bishop Blue Foundation keeps alive the legacy of Bishop College, the HBCU (Historically Black College/University) established by Northern missionaries and freedmen in Marshall in 1881. Bishop moved to Dallas in 1961 and, by the time it closed in 1988, was known for producing dynamic teachers and preachers – people like Rev. Harry Blake and the late Rev. E. Edward Jones, who were civil rights activists and held national leadership roles.

The funded project, Classroom Culture, focuses specifically on the educational experiences of African Americans in Caddo Parish, Louisiana and Harrison County. The project will feature four Harrison County schools Central/Pemberton, Marshall Senior High, Bishop College, and Wiley and five Caddo Parish schools, Booker T. Washington, Herndon, Central, Byrd and Fair Park.

The project aims to collect oral histories from school alumni and to create an interactive travelling exhibit. The exhibit will include digitized letters, pictures, and memorabilia reflecting the interplay between education and civil rights.

“I know all too well that the African American experience in the Ark-La-Tex needs to be better documented. Our stories need to be told,” said Harrison County Commissioner Zephaniah Timmins.

Dr. Lonnie McCray, Dean of Arts at Southern University in Shreveport, is part of the grant collaborative team. “Not only will the oral histories serve to highlight the struggles African Americans endured while attempting to secure an education, but they will also serve to preserve the history of people of color in Northwest Louisiana. Documenting their experiences of education during the civil rights movement will be an invaluable asset to our archives.”

Another key partner in the project is the Northwest Louisiana Archives, whose director, Dr. Laura McLemore, stated, “It is essential for our children to know this history.”

She believes that collecting and sharing oral histories can be part of the ongoing process of integration. “Understanding of our common heritage is essential if we are ever to solve our common problems, achieve common goals, and become a truly unified community.”

“We should always challenge authorized histories,” said Dr. Elisabeth Liebert, Director of the MLA Program at LSU Shreveport and co-author of the grant. “While they represent a mainstream narrative, they overlook the complexity of individual experiences. That’s the reality of any published text: it can’t include everything.”For more information on the project, contact the Bishop Blue Foundation at info@bishopblue.org