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28 honored for their role in helping desegregate EBR Schools in 1963-64

Desegregating the East Baton Rouge Parish School System during the 1963-64 school year took courage and sacrifice on the part of 28 Black students and their families.

Sixty years later, those resilient high school students were proudly recognized during Thursday’s School Board meeting for their role in paving the way for a more equitable and just educational system in Baton Rouge.

Nine years after the U.S. Supreme Court declared that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” Baton Rouge finally began to integrate four white schools: Baton Rouge High, Glen Oaks, Istrouma and Lee/Liberty.

“We truly appreciate your effort to preserve the history of the desegregation of East Baton Rouge Parish Schools,” said Freya Anderson Rivers, one of 10 students who attended the board meeting. “Sixty years ago, 28 African American students put their lives on the line while sacrificing their senior year of high school, leaving their beloved schools, friends, teachers, clubs, senior trips, proms and all activities of senior fun to stand up for their beliefs, injustice and equality.”

Rivers said students had to fight the injustice of schools being built on a city dump, using discarded books from white schools, unequal pay for Black teachers and much more.

“We endured isolation, name-calling, spitballs, food throwing, pushing, shoving and even fighting,” she said. “Even out of school, we suffered through denigrating, vitriolic phone calls and cross burnings … We fought to change Baton Rouge and destroy Jim Crow. This history, along with much more, must become required readings for our students.”

School Board Vice President Patrick Martin led the recognition for the students, saying they have “proven to be among the best Baton Rouge has ever produced.”

“The courage and leadership they displayed in 1963 and throughout their high school career and the education they were provided by the Baton Rouge School System has led them to successful careers and lives. By my brief research, several have earned Ph.D.s and other advanced degrees,” Martin said. “They are successful dentists, pharmacists, educators, authors, civic leaders and parents.”

The 28 students honored for leading the desegregation efforts:

Baton Rouge High — Betta Bowman, Elaine Boyle Patin, Charles R. Burchell, Elaine Chustz Green, Doretha Davis, Marion Greenup, Irma Harrison Coleman, Velma Jean Hunter Jackson, Betty Jemison Wagner, Sharon LeDuff West, Aurelius Martinez, Clara Patin Deculus, Patricia Wells Witson and Gail Vavasseur Jones.

Glen Oaks High — Grace Henley Birt, Yolanda Laws, Merrill Patin, Winnie Posey Womack, Paula Waller Barino and Carmen Williams-Dwyer.

Istrouma High — Rosia Bowie, Freddie E. Eagles, Gloria Holloway and Rita Guidroz.

Lee High/Liberty High – Freya Anderson Rivers, Murphy Bell, Louis Morgan and Melvin Patrick.

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Due to the potential for severe inclement weather, East Baton Rouge Parish Schools campuses and offices are closed Wednesday, April 10, 2024, and all activities will be canceled.

Please stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.