Celebrating Juneteenth by remembering Lincoln High

1945 Panthers Football Team

By Kelli Nesbitt, Parks & Recreation Marketing Coordinator

With Friday commemorating the sesquicentennial of Juneteenth, it’s fitting that we also celebrate the 40th anniversary of College Station’s Lincoln Recreation Center.

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States, and since it started in Texas, we should proudly proclaim it as uniquely ours. As part of that celebration, let’s look back at the proud history of what began as Lincoln High School.

History

More than 2,000 people came to Brazos County as slaves. Formal education didn’t exist until the Public Schools Act of 1871, but 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 Bryan’s Kemp High School.

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.

The A&M Consolidated Negro School opened its doors for the 1941-42 academic year and had six classrooms, a principal’s office, and a homemaking cottage. The school continued to flourish and expanded to 296 children and 10 teachers. In 1945, the school purchased a small plot of land a block away for an athletic field.

The following year, the school’s name was changed 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.

Social Hub

Lincoln High School served as the social hub for College Station’s black community and developed a distinctive personality as it grew. The school colors were purple and gold, and students chose the panther as their mascot. The memorable 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 NAACP was requesting immediate integration of the city’s schools.

The district’s integration plan used a stair-step method through which black elementary students would be fused with white elementary students one grade at a time. Each year, a new class would leave Lincoln and become integrated. 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 1-2 had been phased into the A&M Consolidated school system.

Devastating Fire

In early 1966, a fire destroyed one of the three classroom buildings, displacing 100 students. The facilities weren’t rebuilt, and the fire’s cause was never determined, although some speculated it was intentionally set to hasten integration. The local newspaper claimed several mysterious fires were started by an unknown arsonist around that time.

At the end of the 1965-66 school year, Lincoln’s doors were closed 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 the school district allowed the property to be used temporarily as a city park. Small church groups used the buildings for occasional gatherings. A year later, the school district agreed to lease the land and facilities to the city for 10 years. The College Station Parks and Recreation Department moved into Lincoln, and the facilities were used for continuing education classes and as a neighborhood recreation center.

City property next to the school became a sports field. The homemaking cottage served as the department’s office, and the industrial arts shop was converted into a maintenance shop. The city bought the land in 1978 and completely refurbished the buildings.

Lincoln Recreation Center

In 1980, the Lincoln Recreation Center was officially dedicated, serving as a tribute to the school that once stood on the site. The center is home for many community activities, including youth and senior programs, an immunization program, and an emergency management site.

Still, the memories and influences 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 proudly 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 their heritage and memories.

A $4.3 million expansion was completed in 2019, adding a new gymnasium, additional office and meeting space, and other improvements and renovations. Today, the Lincoln Recreation Center continues its rich legacy of learning, community pride, and freedom.

Reference: Lincoln School “Black Education in College Station,” was started by Jean Clark Robinson and completed by Debbie Joystick.

 


About the Blogger

Kelli Nesbitt (@kneztalk) has served the Parks & Recreation Department for 15 years, the last eight as marketing coordinator. A native of Bryan, Kelli earned a bachelor’s degree in health & kinesiology from Sam Houston State.


 

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