Preserving a piece of McAlester history

In this file photo from February, Primus Moore, a retired McAlester educator, is shown Thursday outside the L’Ouverture School building at 1401 E. Cherokee Ave. 

It’s a piece of history many members of the community want to save before it’s too late.

The L’Ouverture Class of 1965 now owns the L’Ouverture School building at 1401 E. Cherokee Avenue, which McAlester Public Schools most recently operated as the school’s Key Academy.

“We want to preserve the history and the integrity of the building,” said Primus Moore, president of L’Ouverture’s Class of 1965. “We wouldn’t want to see it bulldozed down and become a parking lot or something else.”

A public meeting regarding the L’Ouverture school building is set for 3 p.m. Saturday at Mount Triumph Baptist Church, 408 E. Wyandotte Ave. It’s to seek input about what the community would like to see done with the historic building, said Carrie Parks, one of those helping spread the word about the event.

Moore, a retired teacher at MPS who also served as principal at Eugene Field Elementary, has pleasant memories of his days at L’Ouverture.

He and Herbert Keith, the Class of ‘65 valedictorian, are part of the group that obtained the building from MPS as well as the former L’Ouverture Gymnasium, near the corner of Fourteenth Street and Wyandotte Avenue.

The original L’Ouverture School opened in 1908 to serve the African American community in McAlester. Later, the building currently standing on East Cherokee Avenue replaced the original structure.

L’Ouverture School operated at full capacity until 1968, when integration with McAlester Public Schools resulted in the transfer of 115 L’Ouverture High School students to McAlester High School. The first through eighth grades continued to operate at L’Ouverture for a short time longer.

Moore feels there’s too much history in L’Ouverture to let it be lost for future generations. He recalled how he felt inspired by educators during his time at the school.

“Dr. Willa Strong was the last principal at the school,” Moore said. Strong, who graduated from L’Ouverture in 1924, went on to become an educator. She inspired Moore, as well as many others.

“She inspired a dream that everybody can succeed,” Moore said. “That’s what we tried to do.” Moore considers her inspiration and the legacy of L’Ouverture as a part of history that many African American youth in the community do not know.

Today, Moore believes Strong inspired many of the L’Ouverture students she knew to lead successful lives. Many of his classmates went on to do well, he said.

“I call it a ‘can-do’ spirit,” Moore said. Dr. Strong instilled a belief that “I can do anything I want to do,” he said.

Strong died in 1971. On the day of her burial in Oak Hill Cemetery, the McAlester City Council passed a resolution renaming Eleventh Street between Electric Avenue and South Avenue as Strong Boulevard in her honor.

Moore feels finding a fitting purpose for the L’Ouverture School building will help with awareness of history associated with the school as well as the legacy of Strong and other educators who touched so many students’ lives.

Strong’s contributions have already received statewide recognition. She’s a 2014 posthumous inductee into the Oklahoma African American Educators Hall of Fame.

Moore is hopeful Saturday’s meeting will provide some ideas on what use the building may serve in the future. One suggestion has been using it for after-school programs, but nothing has been finalized at this point, leading to the need for the Saturday meeting to hear more possible ideas and suggestions.

“We’d like to get as much community input as possible,” Moore said.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

Contact James Beaty by email at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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