Antique dealer Ray Stevenson is celebrating a rare item he purchased in an estate – an original 1952 Bossier Porker yearbook from the Bossier Parish Training School.
“I found out they were the first school for Afro-Americans in the 1920s and the 30s,” Stevenson said. “It was amazing to me to find such great history, because I had not heard of the school. Being the very first and having a yearbook, I was very excited about that. I enjoy history, and when I find history I am excited about it.”
The yearbook is similar to others in that it features photographs of the school’s students, clubs and activities. But it is bound in a green, report-style folder. And while many pages are discolored with slight tears here and there, it is in remarkable condition considering it is more than 65 years old.
In his research, Stevenson discovered that the name of the school, which was across the street from where Benton High School currently stands, changed to C.H. Irion School. He said the names of several black schools were changed to avoid confusion with the white schools.
Stevenson also found and spoke with some former students of the school. He said that’s part of his normal research.
“When I find something, I got out into the community – people who actually experienced that, who were back there then – and I ask questions. And oftentimes I get answers like ‘Oh, yeah, I remember. My great-grandmother went to that school.’”
Stevenson said the yearbook is important for its cultural significance.
“Anything historical, especially with the Afro-American community, I am excited about it, because it was who we were,” he said. “We need to know who we were to know who we are and to know where we need to be. The struggles, and all the adversities and all that people endured so that now we can enjoy.”
Pam Carlisle, local history and public outreach specialist with the Bossier Parish History Center, also was excited to learn about Stevenson’s discovery.
“It’s very significant because we try to keep a complete run of all of the bossier parish high schools.” She said. “But we don’t have anything other than photocopies for some of the yearbooks from that school. And I don’t think we have copies form any of the other black schools. It’s pretty amazing that he has that, and it’s amazing what he has been able to track down for African-American history.
Stevenson said he will have the yearbook on display in his shop, Big Mama’s Antiques, 6403 Dogwood St. in Hosston, through the end of the month. For more information on Bossier Parish’s historic black schools, you also can visit the History Center at 2206 Beckett St. in Bossier City.
By Scott Anderson