TYLER, Texas (KETK) – Before the integration order went into effect, Emmett J. Scott High School was open for Black students in Tyler ISD. The school operated from 1918 to 1970, when it closed due to the integration order. Although the school no longer exists, the legacy of the “Scotties” will continue to live on.
The school was built during the time of segregation and was located on what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Tyler and run by Principal A.G. Hilliard. Students from surrounding areas traveled to attend school since some towns, like Chandler, did not have a high school.
The high school was named after Wiley College graduate Emmett J. Scott, who was a Black author, editor and civic leader in the 1910s.
Although some people may have seen the students at the segregated school as disadvantaged, the Scotties didn’t see it that way.
“Well it was where we had to go, because of segregation, but it was wonderful. We didn’t know we were being discriminated against because we loved everybody… we were all Black,” said Marva Griffith Wallace, class of 1955.
The Scott High Bulldogs excelled in academics, sports, marching band and everything they put their minds to. The high school was rich in clubs to keep the students involved and well-rounded. Students had the opportunity to participate in organizations like:
- Student Council
- National Honor Society
- Spanish Club
- Press Club
- Future Homemakers
- Music Club
“It was the best school in all the land… We were just tops, we were tops in everything, sports, academics,” said Ollie Crawford, former teacher.
The school was known across the state for its excellence in sports. Jesse Rider, class of 1955, said they were so good that white students from the other side of town would come by and watch them.
“The south Tyler kids, they were just as curious about what we were doing as Blacks because we were successful. We were known throughout the state, and they wanted to know what made us tick,” said Jesse Rider.
Former Scotties told KETK News that their sports teams were a force to be reckoned with.
“We had a great football team… the late Willie Campbell, who is an amazing football player, he is the older brother of Earl Campbell, and I say this a lot, that Willie Campbell was probably one of the greatest football players that’s ever been through Tyler, Texas,” said Dr. Shirley McKellar, Tyler District 3 City Councilwoman and graduate of the class of 1966.
Although opportunities that were provided to the students of Emmett J. Scott do not compare to those available today, the students made the best with what they were given.
McKellar was a member of the marching band at Emmett J. Scott High during her time at the school, she said they were also given used uniforms but they got them laundered and they “marched just as well.”
Like other aspects of the school, the band was also known throughout Texas and held the state title for years. The band was under the direction of James R. Williams.
“Emmett Scott held it for the longest coming in first place all those years. We had more wins than anyone put together,” said Janice Johnson Lindsey, class of 1965.
Veretta Rider, class of 1955, participated in the choir and recalled competing in the state competition at Prairie View A&M University. She won first place in the state competition during her junior year.
The reason the students excelled the way they did: their role models.
“Teachers having confidence in us, loving us, making us feel good about ourselves,” said Wallace.
Mrs. Ollie Crawford taught English and Art at Emmett J. Scott High School from 1955 until the school closed in 1970.
“We devoted our lives to teaching the students… they were just a part of the family, the students and their parents and all were concerned about learning,” said Crawford.
Seeing their educators be successful taught the students that they could achieve anything.
“We had role models. It was nothing for me to see a woman come in with a math degree… I had seen the Black librarians, I had seen Black physicians, Black doctors… you know, we had it all,” said Wallace.
Jesse Rider said no matter what they wanted to be, they were encouraged to be the best. Veretta said “there was no doubt” that they were.
“They told us if we wanted to be whatever in life you wanted to be a street sweeper, be the best street sweeper there is and that type of attitude was instilled in us,” said Jesse Rider.
Emmett J. Scott High School created a sense of family and camaraderie in the community.
“Everybody looked after everybody,” said Lindsey.
The high school acted as the hub of the community since there was no community center.
“We didn’t have the community centers in all the places that other people had, so that was the nucleus of our community… every single thing, whether it was gospel, concerts, no matter what it was, it was held at Emmett Scott High School… That was the hub, that was the center of excellence in our community,” said McKellar.
Since the areas were generally segregated, surrounding the school in north Tyler, were businesses that the Black residents often went to.
“We had cleaners, cab companies, insurance offices, drug stores, grocery stores. You mention it, skating rinks, movies. We had what we needed and for most kids, we were satisfied,” said Jesse Rider.
Everyone that had anything to do with Emmett J. Scott High School was proud to be associated with excellence. No matter where the Scotties went, they carried the reputation of the school with them.
“I went to Texas Southern and… if they knew you were from Emmett Scott, it was easy,” said Lindsey.
The lively days of Emmett J. Scott High School came to an end in 1970 after East Texas Judge William Wayne Justice handed down Civil Action 5281 to the Texas Education Agency to ensure all schools in Texas were desegrated. This followed a lawsuit brought against the State of Texas by the United States Department of Education when the court found the schools in Texas to be in violation of the constitution, according to the TEA.
The closure of the beloved school was met with mixed emotions from the community. Some people were devastated.
“We were all very sad about that obviously because we wanted to revamp our schools and make it better and keep it because there was so much rich history,” said McKellar.
Some questions regarding the closure of Emmett Scott High were left unanswered.
“Why would our school have to be closed? Why couldn’t we just integrate and keep our school open? Because it was an amazing place. I would not trade graduating from Emmett Scott with any other school across this nation,” McKellar said.
Although many were sad to see the school go, they knew it was time for a change.
“Tears… I hated to see it close, but that was just one of those things, we had to go,” said Crawford.
She went on to teach at John Tyler High School following the integration order, but never forgot her fellow educators at Emmett Scott High.
“After we integrated, it did something to the teachers because we were split. Some went to Robert E. Lee, some went to John Tyler, but we were still close,” Crawford said.
Following the closure, some former staff and students vouched for the preservation of the campus. McKellar wishes that it could have been made into a community center or museum to keep the visual legacy alive.
The Scotties are proud of the legacy their school left behind and to see how far the nation has come.
“History is revealing itself and it was in the making, and it did come to pass. So as far as making us feel bad about that, we were proud of that because of where we come from… and to live in a society where we can see this come to pass and fruition makes us feel good,” said Jesse Rider.
Through the alumni, great things stemmed from Emmett J. Scott High School. Jesse and Veretta Rider met in high school and said they had the same homeroom class at Scott High all four years.
“God knew what I needed in ’51,” Veretta Rider said. They have been married for “63 glorious years.”
McKellar is now the proud councilwoman over the area where her alma mater once stood.
The City of Tyler honored Emmet J. Scott as a historic landmark in July 2012. The only remaining structure from the school is the old band hall which is now privately owned and used for events.
In 2021, Lincoln Park was renamed Emmett J. Scott Park in honor of the high school. Councilwoman McKellar is now working on getting a historical marker for the school.
When asked if there was one thing they would want the community to know about Emmett J. Scott High School, the Scotties said:
Ollie Mae Crawford, Teacher from 1955-1970: “How well Emmett Scott was able to educate students, or how productive Emmett Scott was as far as students were concerned because now we have students who graduated there in all professions. I think it’s equal to any school… could compete with any school in the nation.”
Shirley McKellar, Class of 1966: “So I looked at Emmett Scott as a true village because they reached out to all the students. Even after we were not at the campus of Emmett Scott. We were out in the community. So they were part of my life, even past being at the school.”
Marva Griffith Wallace, Class of 1955: “That there was love, caring, good friendship. What else can there be?”
Veretta Rider, Class of 1955: “We had the best mentors around that instilled in us to do our best.”
Janice Johnson Lindsey, Class of 1965: “What was instilled in the minds. Do the best that you can with what you have.”