By Kelli Nesbitt, Parks & Recreation Marketing Coordinator
People of all ages filter through the Lincoln Recreation Center for various activities and programs, but many don’t realize the building’s historical significance. With February being African American History Month, it’s a perfect time to take a look back at the proud history of Lincoln High School.
More than 2,000 people arrived in Brazos County as slaves. Formal education didn’t exist until the Public Schools Act of 1871. By 1923, 127 African-American students were enrolled in the A&M Consolidated School District. The district accommodated only elementary school students until it began busing pupils to Kemp High School in Bryan.
In the 1930s, the number of African-American students steadily grew along with tuition and transportation costs. After approval in the 1941 bond election, the school district purchased five acres of land for $500 to build a high school.
A&M Consolidated Negro School opened its doors for the 1941-42 academic year and consisted of a building with six classrooms, a principal’s office, and a homemaking cottage. The school continued to flourish and expanded to 10 teachers and 296 children. In 1945, the school purchased a small plot of land a block away for an athletic field.
In 1946, the name of the school was changed from A&M Consolidated Negro School to Lincoln High School and Willie A. Tarrow was named principal. Tennis courts, an industrial arts shop, a science building and a gymnasium were added in the next decade.
Lincoln High School served as the social hub for College Station’s black community and developed a unique personality as it continued to grow. The school colors were purple and gold, and students chose the panther as their mascot. The school’s motto was, “Forward forever, backward never,” and its song was, “O’ Lincoln High.”
Discussions about integrating the A&M Consolidated School District began in 1956. After a series of meetings and seminars, officials adopted a “wait-and-see” approach. In the early 1960s, the school district received notice that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was requesting immediate integration of the city’s schools.
An integration plan adopted by the school district was a stair step method through which the black elementary students would be fused with white elementary student’s one grade at a time. Each year, a new grade would leave Lincoln and become integrated, and attendance at Lincoln became voluntary.
Two of Lincoln’s teachers were reassigned to A&M Consolidated High School, and several white teachers were relocated to Lincoln. By 1965, grades one and two had been phased into the A&M Consolidated school system.
On Jan. 20, 1966, a fire destroyed one of three classroom buildings, displacing 100 students. The facilities were not rebuilt, and the cause of the fire was never determined. Some speculated that the fire may have been set to force integration more quickly. The local newspaper claimed several mysterious fires were set by an unknown arsonist during that time.
At the end of the 1965-66 school year, Lincoln’s doors were shut for good. The remaining students were integrated into other A&M Consolidated schools.
In 1967, an informal agreement between the City of College Station and school district allowed the property to be used temporarily as a city park. The buildings were used only for occasional gatherings of small church groups. In 1968, the school district agreed to lease the land and facilities to the city for 10 years. With that lease, the College Station Parks and Recreation offices moved into Lincoln and the facilities were used for continuing education classes and as a neighborhood recreation center.
City property adjacent to the school became a sports field. The homemaking cottage served as the Parks and Recreation Department Office and the industrial arts shop was converted into a shop for the department. The city bought the land in 1978 and entirely refurbished the facilities.
On June 6, 1980, the Lincoln Recreation Center was officially dedicated and has since served as a tribute to the school that once stood on the site. The center is home for many community activities, including youth after-school and summer programs, a senior outreach program, immunization program, and as an emergency management site.
The memories and influence of Lincoln High School remain and its many trophies are proudly displayed. As the first and only African-American high school in College Station, the building displays an official Texas Historical Subject Marker for African-American Education.
In 1982, former students formed the Lincoln Former Students Association. In addition to organizing biennial reunions, the group provides scholarships for black students and is dedicated to preserving the heritage and memories of the school.
Today, the center continues the legacy of learning, community pride and freedom as it grows stronger each year. A $4.3 million expansion, approved by voters in the 2008 bond election, will soon be underway that will add a new gymnasium, additional office and meeting space, and other improvements and renovations. The project is scheduled for completion in 2017.
The Lincoln Recreation Center plays host to a variety events to celebrate African-American History Month throughout February. We hope to see you there!
RESEARCH YOUR FAMILY
Tuesdays: Feb. 2, 9, 16 & 23 | 10 a.m. | Free
You’re invited to learn how to research your family history to explore your roots and develop your family tree.
FEEL THE BEAT OF THE AFRICAN DRUM
Thursday, Feb. 4 | 6:30 p.m. | $5
Live drumming and teachings of West African Dance.
Thursday, Feb. 11 | 6:30-8:30 p.m. | Free
Epic arts platforming the beauty and sisterhood of African American women and the struggles of society. Digital graphics and traditional canvas artwork by John Gibson, 2011 Texas A&M University graduate.
Thursday, Feb. 11 | 7 p.m. | $7
Ages 21+ can enjoy select tasting of five distinctive wines from Perrine Winery: fruit-infused, sweet blend/infusion, dry white, smooth dry red and dessert. Tasting is $7 per person and includes a tutorial on how to read wine labels and how to pair wines with foods. Must present a valid state or government issued photo ID.
LINCOLN LEGACY DAY
Monday, Feb. 15 | 3-7 p.m. | Free
Celebrating and honoring the legacy of Lincoln High School days from 1941-1965. A personal reflection by the former students, lectures and children’s activities.
Thursday, Feb. 18 | 6:30-8:30 p.m. | Free
Munch on popcorn and watch “42” on our 32-foot inflatable high definition screen. “42” is a powerful story of Jackie Robinson signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers to become the first African-American player to break the baseball color barrier.
DANCE OF THE DECADES FAMILY FUN NIGHT
Friday, Feb. 26 | 6:30-8:30 p.m. | Free
A night of music and dancing from the 60s, 70s, 80s & 90s. Fun night of games and free food. Dress to impress in your favorite era. Prizes will be awarded!
For more information about programs and events at the Lincoln Recreation Center, visit cstx.gov/lincolncenter or call 979-764-3779.
To learn more about College Station’s history, visit cstx.gov/heritage.
Reference: Lincoln School “Black Education in College Station” was started by Jean Clark Robinson and completed by Debbie Joystick.
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