Group wants Napoleonville Primary School renamed to honor its legacy
The building that now houses Napoleonville Primary School was once the segregated Black high school in Assumption Parish.
Known as William H. Reed High School, there is a newly formed committee consisting of W.H. Reed alumni, pushing the school board to honor the legacy of the school and the man whose name it once held.
At 93-years-old, Thomas Bailey II still remembers many musical moments after more than 30 years as a band director. He moved to Assumption Parish nearly 60 years ago.
As the band director at Reed, Bailey is one of the last living faculty members.
“Not only was there a band, but I went from classroom to classroom teaching songs,” Bailey said.
The first building was constructed in 1939. Bailey was later hired to work at the segregated Black school, and his first mission was to give students new experiences, no matter how simple.
“This may seem kinda silly, but I brought them to New Orleans where they had a chance to go up steps that go up by themselves,” Bailey explained.
Focused on taking small town students from a segregated school out of town, according to Bailey, those experiences may have helped inspire the many Black students who attended the school.
“That kind of motivated them to say ‘well look, I’m gonna go in there. I’m gonna do well on my instrument… I’m gonna practice at home so that life may be a little bit better for me,'” Bailey said.
“Right now, there’s no documentation, no trophies, no records, or anything in the parish that says Blacks were ever educated,” explained Darwin Hadrick, a 1964 graduate of W.H. Reed High School.
Hadrick is on the committee to rename NPS to William H. Reed.
“We formed the committee because for years we had nothing that was in the archive or history books that said how the Blacks were educated in Assumption Parish,” he said.
According to Hadrick, the school board should honor Reed, the former teacher and pastor who advocated for the education of Black people in the parish despite the hardships faced.
As an alumnus, Hadrick remembers those hardships well.
“For years, we were provided with used books from the Assumption Parish school board. These books, many times, were tattered and torn and pages missing. Yet, the students at W.H. Reed, under the help of our faculty, we were able to persevere,” Hadrick explained.
“The parish wouldn’t provide buses for the basketball team,” said Barry Sylvester, son of the late Alvin Sylvester, who coached basketball at Reed. "So my father and my mother, Mrs. Mildred Dugas Sylvester, had to take the team in two cars."
“We just want that to be brought back and give us an opportunity to celebrate what we have accomplished from 1939 until 1970,” Hadrick said.
Those accomplishments are something Bailey has remembered fondly over the years, including the creation of a continuing education program that gave adults of all races an opportunity to get their GED.
Those opportunities were always the goal of Bailey and the faculty at Reed, for all people in Assumption Parish to have access to a quality education.
“The biggest thing there I would say was night school. Later it evolved to being something for the parish, and it helped,” Bailey said. “I’m hoping that it helped a lot of people."
When asked about the school board’s upcoming vote, Superintendent John Barthelemy had no comment. One board member said the they may be open to considering other options for honoring W.H. Reed High School, including a potential scholarship.
The Assumption Parish School Board will vote on the proposed name change at their next meeting on March 16.