Washington High School History
The Houston and Texas Central Railroad established the town of Groesbeck on February 20, 1871, with schools being established shortly thereafter. These early schools were either private schools that students paid tuition to attend or community schools established by the county judge at the request of residents. As was common during the time period throughout the Southern United States, schools in Groesbeck were segregated with separate facilities provided for white and black students. The first known school for black students was a community school located on a one-acre tract near what is now the Lone Star Cemetery. It was established in 1882.
On May 24, 1890, the Groesbeck Independent School District was established. Two new schools were soon built, one for white students and one for black students. Documentation has not been found, but this first school for black students was probably located on the site of the previous community school.
Washington High School was the last school built for black students in the Groesbeck Independent School District. It was completed in 1957 and served first through twelfth grades until integration occurred in 1969. It was a vital part, both educationally and socially, and a source of pride for Groesbeck’s black community.
••• The first known school for black students in the Groesbeck area was established about 2 miles southeast of the town. On January 4, 1881, Joseph and Mary Scott sold one acre of land for the sum of five dollars to Edmond Ingram and Matt Chatman, trustees of the black community school of the area “to be used for school and church purposes.” On April 29, 1882, Edmond Ingram and Matt Chatman deeded the one-acre property and schoolhouse to Limestone County to be used “for said colored school community for school purposes.” The Groesbeck Colored School #46, as it was called, was established as a community school by the county judge. The one-acre property where this school was located is next to what is now the Lone Star Cemetery.
On May 10, 1890, fiftythree people petitioned the county judge to incorporate Groesbeck for school purposes in order to create an independent school district. The election was held on May 24 with a 43 to 24 vote in favor of incorporation. In their meeting on May 26, 1890, the Limestone County Commissioners canvassed the election returns, and after it was determined that a majority of the votes was in favor of incorporation, Limestone County Judge L. B. Cobb declared the Groesbeck Independent School District established.
Shortly after the Groesbeck Independent School District came into existence, two school buildings were constructed, one for white students and one for black students. The school for white students was constructed on city block 274, the site of the shortlived Groesbeck College, which had been established in April 1871. There is no documentation to indicate the location of the first black school, but more than likely, it was built on the one-acre tract mentioned above. In 1900 the trustees of the Groesbeck School District purchased lot number one located in section 74 of the town of Groesbeck, on which the second school building for black students was constructed. This school was located on South Leon Street in an area of the community known as “the Flat.”
In 1922, Groesbeck ISD constructed a new five-room, brick school building for black students. It had an office, and three of the classrooms could be converted into an auditorium. It was located on North Grayson Street and was named Blackshear School. This building cost $11,500 with $250 in donations from the black community, $9,950 from a bond issue passed by the residents of the school district, and $1,300 from the Rosenwald Foundation.
Mr. R. B. White was the principal of Blackshear followed by Mr. S. Echols and Mr. L. G. McDonald. In 1932, Mr. Nelson Washington became principal, and under his leadership, the faculty and the courses offered increased. These courses included home economics, social studies, and agriculture. The first football team was also organized. Later, two frame buildings were moved to the location to house the lower grades and an addition to the building was constructed to better accommodate the upper grades.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the school board began to focus their attention on improving the conditions at the Blackshear School, and some improvements were made. In June 1954 the school board discussed installing toilets and a sewer line at the Blackshear School, but decided not to take any action at the time because of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on segregation. In their meeting on July 7, 1955, the members of the school board conducted a lengthy discussion on segregation and agreed a new building was necessary regardless of when complete integration was to become effective in the Groesbeck ISD.
On July 12, the trustees again discussed the topic of segregation and agreed that all schools in the district would “continue to operate on a segregated basis.” It was also agreed that a new school building for black students needed to be constructed. Twelve acres located on Highway 14 were soon purchased as a site for a new school, and a bond election was called to determine whether bonds in the amount of $125,000 should be issued for the construction of a new school. In trying to persuade the voters to approve the bond issue, school board president, Milton Ferguson, was quoted as saying, “ I believe that the patrons of this district are fully aware of the need and are ready to respond to it.” The bond election was held on October 15, 1955. The bond issue passed with 87 votes cast in favor of issuing the bonds and 39 votes cast against it.
The new building, which was named Washington High School in honor of Principal Nelson Washington, was completed at a cost of $122,000. It was officially accepted by the school board on January 22, 1957, and was dedicated on March 10. In a newspaper article, Mrs. J. B. Mack, the reporter for the school, stated that “everyone is still thrilled with the happy memory of the wonderful time had Sunday at the dedication of our fine new school building. The program was carried out in a manner befitting the occasion. Everyone seemed at his best and what was said and done reflected the high caliber and thoughtful selection of those participating.”
Washington High School was constructed by the Mack Adams Construction Company of Fairfield on the 12-acre tract purchased by the school board from the Parker estate. This property is located on Highway 14 in south Groesbeck. Thomas, Jameson, and Merrill of Dallas were the architects and engineers of this new school. The building contained 9 classrooms, a homemaking room, a science lab, a vocational shop and classroom, a cafetorium, offices, and a lobby, making a total of 14, 840 square feet. In the summer of 1959, the lunchroom building from the old grammar school was moved to the Washington Campus and converted into a shop for vocational agriculture.
In 1959, Mr. Washington retired, and Mr. Elwood Enge became principal. Mr. Enge had previously served the Washington School as a social studies teacher and coach since 1947.
In 1964, when Kosse and Fairoakes consolidated with Groesbeck ISD, the district received $16,000 per year over a ten-year period from the Department of Education for these consolidations. In 1965 some of these funds were used to build a gymnasium and a new fourroom wing to Washington High School.
By 1967, there were sixteen teachers and four aides, and expectations for learning were set high. Much attention was devoted to the development of the school’s athletic, music/ band, and homemaking programs. Students participated in various sporting, musical, and literary events. Washington High School published its first and only yearbook, The Bear, during the 1966-1967 school year. The Bear was the school’s mascot. Parent and community participation was high as demonstrated by the school’s very active PTA. Blackshear/ Washington Homecomings were held annually at the school with parades downtown.
After the Supreme Court’s ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, the topic of segregation was discussed at a school board meeting on July 12, 1955, but the decision was made to continue to operate on a segregated basis during the 1955–1956 school year. The district continued to operate in this manner until 1965.
To comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the school board passed a “Freedom of Choice” policy. The district operated under this policy during the 19651966 school year. Under this policy, complete freedom of transfer would be allowed at any time within the district prior to the opening day of the school year.
In August 1966, a sixmember team from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare visited Groesbeck to investigate the school system. The findings of the HEW team are as follows:
• There have been discrepancies in the administration of the free choice plan.
• Facilities in the all-white Groesbeck Elementary School are vastly superior to those in the all-Negro Washington School.
• There is misunderstanding and misinformation among Negro citizens in Groesbeck as to the opportunities for a better education open to them.
• There is an undercurrent of fear of economic reprisals and physical violence among Negro citizens of Groesbeck.
• People in responsible positions influenced Negro schoolchildren in making their choice of school.
• Additional facilities, including a gym and classrooms, were built at the Washington School pursuant to an agreement made several years ago between the school board and several Negro leaders, whereby Negroes promised not to send their children to the white schools in exchange for the new facilities.
As a result of this report, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare demanded that Groesbeck ISD comply with the Civil Rights Act. The board of trustees refused to change the district’s policy, and as a result, Title I funds were cut drastically from $77,732 to $51,403. The funds that were cut were funds for new programs that had recently been applied for. Continuing funds would not have been affected until a final determination about Groesbeck’s compliance to the Civil Rights Act was made. In September 1966, the district was also notified that students from Groesbeck would not be eligible to participate in the Neighborhood Youth Corps program.
In October 1966, the school board submitted a new plan for the transfer of students from one school to another within the district. This plan was acceptable and the Title I funds were restored. Within a week’s time, 22 black students transferred from the Washington School to the other two schools in the district. On November 24, 1967, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare dismissed its case against the Groesbeck School District. In 1968, in order to comply with federal guidelines, the school board adopted a plan for total integration that began with the 1969-1970 school year.
Following integration into the Groesbeck Independent School District, the Washington High School building was used as a junior high school and served that purpose until 1989. Afterward, it served intermediate students and was named Enge-Washington Intermediate School to honor Principals Elwood Enge and Nelson Washington. Much of the old Washington High School building sat vacant for several years after a new Enge-Washington Intermediate School was completed in 2011. The main part of the building was demolished in August 2018.
Even though most of the building is now gone, parts are still being utilized by the district. The fourclassroom addition, which was constructed in 1965, has been used as a daycare for many years, and the gym continued being used by middle school students and by community youth basketball teams. The standalone building that housed the offices and cafeteria is currently being renovated to become the district’s culinary arts school.
••• Washington High School was a vital part of the educational and social fabric of the black community and an important part of the history of Groesbeck. It produced many graduates who went on to become leaders in business, education, and the community.
Even though Groesbeck ISD later used the building for other purposes, Washington High School ceased to exist when integration occurred in 1969. The Class of 1969 was the last graduating class, which just celebrated the 50th anniversary of its graduation. They, as well as many others who attended Washington High School, have many fond memories. By placing a Texas Historical Marker at the site where the building once stood, future generations will learn about its importance to the community, which in turn will serve to keep its memory alive.