The History Center uses exhibits, both on-site and on-line, to showcase some of our vast collections of documents and photographs.
H.G. Temple High School: Remembering Diboll’s African American School
Every community has its center. For many African American communities before integration, their schools became the center of community life. In Diboll, H.G. Temple High School provided an education to the town’s black children, but also became the community’s focal point. Former students and teachers remember the school with fondness and actively work to keep the school’s memory alive.
Although records are scarce, it is clear from anecdotal and photographic evidence, like the American Lumberman photographs from 1903 and 1907, that Diboll had a school for African American children almost from its beginnings. In 1942, teachers and administrators began the process of gaining accreditation for the school as a high school, instead of a standardized elementary. The school needed several pieces of equipment to complete the process, and the African-American community raised $500 towards this goal. Southern Pine Lumber Company, through Henry Gresham Temple, matched the community donations dollar for dollar.
The newly accredited school needed a name, and school officials and community leaders decided to honor their benefactor H.G. Temple. In addition to helping the school financially, Mr. Temple was described as being an “…ethical character, a liberal and cooperative spirit, a giver for and a believer in education,” in a 1947 article in the Buzz Saw by Temple teacher Edna Mae Bradley.
In 1952, Diboll Independent School District broke off from the county school system, and the following year, Diboll built two new schools. One school became the new white junior high and high school, and the other became the new H.G. Temple School. In most segregated towns, when the white students moved into new schools, the black students would move into the old building, not into a new building of their own. Both new buildings were built in a similar style.
During the decade of the 1950’s, the civil rights movement was slowly gaining steam in the United States, and in 1954, the United States Supreme Court, in Brown vs. Board of Education, ruled that laws mandating the “separate but equal” way of life, particularly in education, were unconstitutional. This didn’t automatically desegregate schools anywhere in the U.S., but it moved the process forward.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act, signed on July 2, stepped up the process of integration across the country. By law, schools would have to begin the desegregation process. In 1965, the Diboll School Board unanimously voted to begin desegregation in Diboll that fall by implementing a “Freedom of Choice” plan. Under this plan, all children could attend whichever school they wanted to attend, regardless of race. One black child attended the white school that year.
In 1966, the school board voted to end athletic programs at H.G. Temple High School, and all of the male seniors chose to attend Diboll High School so that they could continue playing sports. Additionally, H.G. Temple teacher Odeysa Wallace transferred to Diboll’s white elementary school, where she taught 5th grade.
The following year, 1967, Diboll’s high schools were fully integrated. Black elementary and junior high students continued to attend classes in the H.G. Temple building for one more year, unless they took advantage of the freedom of choice program. By the start of school in 1968, all of Diboll’s schools were integrated, and the district had fulfilled its requirements under the U.S. Department of Education’s desegregation mandates.
Although the integration process was not perfectly smooth, Diboll did not have many of the problems that characterized desegregation in many parts of the South, especially during the first year of high school integration. Integrating the athletic programs at the beginning of the process probably helped in this regard, since cheering for the high school football team united the town with a common cause. Diboll’s status as a company town also probably contributed to the non-violent success of integration, since most townsfolk, white and black, worked for the same company.
With the final closure of H.G. Temple High School and the building’s conversion into an elementary school that would house students of all races, Diboll’s African-American children had access to the same books, equipment, and teachers as the white children. The African-American community, however, lost some things as well. For instance, the only sport available for girls at the newly integrated high school was volleyball, and H.G. Temple’s award-winning girls basketball players no longer had a team. The black community also lost one of its most important focal points when H.G. Temple closed, although additions such as Walter Allen Park helped keep the community spirit alive, as have school reunions. The H.G. Temple Alumni Association sponsors reunions and helps to keep the memory of the school and its teachers and students from fading into history. The History Center hopes this exhibit will spark memories and serve as a reminder of this important community institution.