Future of DeQuincy’s only black historic site uncertain

By Rita LeBleu

Grand Avenue High School Alumni Joseph Eaglin of DeQuincy and Elijah Stevenson of Singer can’t remember the winning time for their record-breaking 880-yard dash in the mid-1960s.

“We just ran. We didn’t run to break existing records or to set new ones,” chimed in Don Victorian of Baton Rouge. “We didn’t even know how well we were doing at the time.”

Eaglin, Stevens and Victorian were just a few of the record-setting athletes who were gathered at the Grand Avenue Gym in DeQuincy on Saturday, July 17. They were not there to relive glory days. They and more than 20 PRD&G alumni accepted a $500 donation from the Queens of Aldebaran  No. 12. This Eastern Star Order is a Houston New Life Grand Chapter.

The get-together was held outside because the gym is in bad shape. The future of DeQuincy’s only black historic site is uncertain. Eaglin has called celebrities for help and looked for grants to refurbish it, but with no success thus far.

PRD&G stands for Pioneer, Rosenwald, DeQuincy Colored School and Grand Avenue High School, schools attended by DeQuincy’s black community before segregation was declared unconstitutional.

“There really wasn’t a school called pioneer,” said Ethel Pullard Crawford, a 1962 graduate. She began the alumni association in 1993 for the purpose of getting together with a dwindling list of former classmates. “The P is representative of the informal schools that predated Rosenwald. The first was probably at Evergreen Missionary Baptist Church.”

Rosenwald isn’t a name unique to DeQuincy’s black school. Julius Rosenwald partnered with Booker T. Washington to build black schools across 15 states.

Record-setting athletes

Alumni have been exploring the school’s history, including past athletic achievements of alumni as a way to ensure the Grand Avenue Gym, placed on the Historical National Register in 2017, remains a symbol to future generations.

“Did you know Grand Avenue had back-to-back state championship tennis teams in ’65 and ’66,” asked AV Dixon, Westlake.

Dixon was on the championship tennis team both years, as well as the football team, which won the state championship those same years, plus one.

Daisy Cole is the DeQuincy City Council member for the district. She said Grand Avenue still holds the world record for scoring more than 200 points in a basketball game. The basketball team defeated Cameron-Audrey Memorial High School 211-29.

“A couple of those players are still alive,” Cole said.

That was a boy’s basketball game. Around that same time there was one particularly intimidating player on the girl’s team, Delores Pullard. She once held the Guinness World Record as the tallest woman at 7 ft. 5 in. She died from complications of surgery in 1971. Today she is considered the fourth-tallest woman who has ever lived.

“We just passed her the ball and she dropped it in,” Crawford said.

Grand Avenue’s Coach George “Slack” Johnson had no paid assistants and coached the Tigers to three state titles in football in three years. Faculty member Edward J. Blount assisted Johnson with some of the sports.

 Victorian tried to track down Grand Avenue’s Louisiana Interscholastic Athletic and Literary Organization (LIALO) records to compare them against his own memory and current records. The LIALO kept records of Negro schools only and didn’t exist after 1970 when schools were desegregated. Victorian heard the records had been archived at Southern University. He called and came to a dead end.

The LIALO records, for scholastic achievements as well as athletic and extracurricular activities such as band, no longer exist. Nor do most of the black schools that were once the backbone of the black community.

Edwin Lewis, the first black student to integrate the all-white DeQuincy High School in 1966, was there. Lewis, who now lives in Lake Charles, was raised by his grandparents, John and Idel Antoine. He went to Milwaukee to spend the summer with his parents. When he returned to Grand Avenue at the start of the school year, Principal C.E. Coney called him into the office and told him he would have to attend DeQuincy High School. He had turned in his paperwork before he left for the summer and had forgotten that he had done so.

Coney and the Grand Avenue teaching staff were known for high educational standards. Coney was known for his exceptional educational background.

Lewis said he endured name-calling at DeQuincy High School, graduated with a B-plus average and played football and track his junior and senior year under Coach Walker.

“He was a stern man, a man of little words, but he was a fair man,” Lewis said of Walker.

If he had stayed at Grand Avenue, Lewis would possibly have likely received scholarship offers. However, he has no regrets, hoping his move made things better for everyone who came after.

A future for Grand Avenue Gym?

After desegregation, the Grand Avenue High School became the desegregated
DeQuincy Middle School. A new school was completed not long after and AV Dixon heard the Grand Avenue Middle School classrooms were torn down after asbestos was found. The Calcasieu Parish School Board gave the property to the City of DeQuincy. The gym is all that remains and has been used for educational and community activities and events until the City of DeQuincy shut it down because it was not up to code. That was before the 2020 hurricanes that caused further damage.

Mayor Riley Smith said the city is still waiting for engineering reports outlining damages to the gym.

“Unfortunately, this is a very slow and frustrating process but until we have the reports, we are unable to move forward,” he wrote in an email to the American Press. “Once we have received the reports, we will be in contact with the Grand Avenue Board Members to discuss the future for the gymnasium. Personally, I would like to see its restoration. There is so much history involving this property, and I would hate to see it become another condemned building. As you know, DeQuincy has sustained so much loss as a result of the Hurricanes and I am hoping there will be some way we can avoid the loss of this building.”

“We formed the alumni association to maintain the memory, to maintain the spirit and to maintain the unity of Grand Avenue,” Crawford said. “I would like to see the gym preserved not only for us but also for our parents, for all the disenfranchised and for those who worked so hard to educate us.”

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