Calvert Rosenwald School, Texas

Posted on January 6th, 2014 by

The Calvert Colored School, a C-shaped, red-brick building with an auditorium and stage, opened in 1929 for children in 1st through 11th grade. Previously “most black children attended elementary grades in the ‘plantation’ schools and only attended to the 8th grade at most,” according to the Tour Guide of Historic Calvert. The Calvert Colored School’s first principal, W.D. Spigner (spy-g-ner), inspired the local African American community and convinced the school board to make improvements such as indoor plumbing in 1948, the addition of a 12th grade class in the early 1950s, and a gymnasium in 1957. As annual enrollment climbed to 375, around half the senior class went on to college, often at historically black Texas colleges such as Prairie View A&M and Huston-Tillotson University. The school’s most famous former student is Tom Bradley, who was elected mayor of Los Angeles.

The Calvert Colored School, now a multi-purpose center in Calvert, Texas
Photo credit: Hollace Ava Weiner, 1/14

The school building became an elementary in the 1970s and was renamed W.D. Spigner Elementary, in honor of its longtime principal. In 2010, the school closed due to declining enrollment city wide. The school district gave the land and the building to the Calvert Colored W.D. Spigner Alumni Association Inc., which is based in Dallas and is turning it into a multi-purpose center. The association holds its quarterly board meetings and annual reunions on the premises.

James Whitaker, Calvert Class of ’56, president of the alumni association
Photo credit: Hollace Ava Weiner, 1/14

Alumni president James Whitaker, Class of ’56, recalled that all of his school teachers lived in the surrounding neighborhood and knew each child’s family. “The teachers were committed. They expected more,” he said. “Today’s students feel their teachers are not committed. Ours kept the bar high.” He reminisced about helping the janitor shovel coal. “Every room had a heater. Around 1950 they put in gas, which was lousy!” Whitaker didn’t realize how good an education he got at Calvert until he entered the military and began comparing himself to other young men from around the nation.

Detail from the Calvert School
Photo credit: Hollace Ava Weiner, 1/14

By Hollace Ava Weiner

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