The History of Tensas Reunion, Inc.
An old school building, previously designated for white children, was moved from its location across from the Parish Courthouse in the town of St. Joseph to a different site. Once it was moved, it became the site of Tensas Parish Training School—the first public high school for Negroes in Tensas Parish in the state of Louisiana. It opened in 1926.
In the late 1950’s, on that same site at the end of what was then Hancock Street, the school was transformed from the Training School and renamed Tensas Rosenwald. It had expanded to include more modern school buildings, including a brand new gymnasium. It was the only location in Tensas Parish—before or since—of a high school for blacks.
The school remained open from ‘26 until Louisiana public schools were integrated in 1970, when it was closed. After integration, all students were assigned to attend former all white high schools in each of their three home towns in the parish—Newellton, St. Joseph, and Waterproof. But for 44 years, the school had flourished. After its closure, the school was used as a vocational school, and later as a special services facility and finally a furniture store, before it was left by the local school board to decay.
However, that is not the end of the story. Tensasans have a history of resilience, a spirit of hope, a belief in the power of prayer, and a talent for taking what they have and making more than that happen—and once a Tensasan, always a Tensasan!
One Tensasan by the name of Abe Lee Broady Keys, originally of Newellton, shared a dream that she had with some classmates. She wondered what it would be like to see old classmates, to hear about what they were doing and where they were living, and to connect to meet and greet—every year. She visualized them laughing, eating, talking, and remembering their times together. They would be reminded and enriched from recalling their humble Tensas beginnings. They would take hold of those invaluable life lessons that present themselves when quality time is shared with those you care about.
“A vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision is passing the time. Vision with action can change the world”.—Joel Barker
Mrs. Keys thought that a class reunion at home would be ideal and she began calling around to others beginning with James Kelly also of Newellton. They then called Miss Doris Pollard of St. Joseph, Ora Haynes Brown of St. Joseph and several others. It was decided they would begin with an excited bunch of former students from 5 classes—1951 to 1955. Mrs. Keys and a group of enthusiastic classmates contacted other classmates, who all embraced the idea, organized and started the ball to roll. From this group came the decision to hold the first reunion celebration in St. Joseph. It was 1976.
At that time, the United States was celebrating its bicentennial. So the first reunion celebration was called the Bicentennial Reunion. A small group of Tensas consolidated school alumni (namely Tensas Parish Training School, Tensas High School, and Tensas Rosenwald High School) met at the Community Center in St. Joseph, Louisiana to celebrate warm memories of some most cherished school days.
The group, expanding every year, met for the first four years in St. Joseph before Louis Bradley, originally of Delta Bridge and then living in Flint, Michigan, recommended meeting in Flint for the next time. The group approved and the Reunion was now on the move! The Michigan event was so successful that the planning committee agreed to begin holding the reunion out of state every other year.
“It only takes one to have a vision, but a team to make it a reality.”
The organization grew rapidly during the next ten years under the leadership of Mr. James Kelly as its first president. Newsletters were published and circulated to keep members informed.
As a result of the organization’s growth and the members’ commitment, Jim Thorns and Joseph White of St. Joseph, led the charge to apply to the State of Louisiana for incorporation status. On August 5, 1987, the Tensas Reunion was formally organized and chartered with the Secretary of State in the State of Louisiana, and acquired 501(c)4 non-profit status the following year.
In that same year, ’88, the organization’s membership took the first step towards making a difference in the educational opportunities of the descendants of Tensasans by awarding its first scholarship to Shanta Riley of Newellton, Louisiana. Ten years later, the corporation acquired its 501(c)3 nonprofit status and has continued to support education for descendants ever since.
TRI membership is made up of persons affiliated with the Tensas consolidated schools (Tensas Parish Training School, Tensas High School, and Tensas Rosenwald High School) and their descendants, and Tensasans now extend to all corners of the globe. The Reunion is now in its 47th year and sees no signs of slowing down.
“Be the change you seek.”