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A Bit of History

by
Gladys Denson Mays

 

The Newport Public School District was established in 1879.  The first school for black children in Newport was the Newport Grade School, which opened in 1881.  Early sessions of the school were held in St. Paul A.M.E. Church on Lake Newport at the end of Fourth and Beech Streets and in St. John Missionary Baptist Church, near the corner of Fifth and Laurel Streets.

The Newport News reported in 1884 that the Newport Colored School would open its session on October 4 of that year and run for a full nine months. The school district purchased a lot on Main Street and built a school for black children.  This building was described in the Arkansas Gazette in 1891; "The Colored school house in Newport is said to be the finest and best arranged building of its kind north of the Arkansas River."  Rev. Samuel A. Mosley was the principal and E.J. Wheeler was his assistant.

The school was a two-story, box-like frame building in which grades one through eight were taught.  When the school proved to be too small to meet the needs of Newport's black children, the school was moved to a existing building at 201 Arrington Avenue.

The Arrington Avenue school was of frame construction, with two rooms upstairs and three rooms down.  One of the lower three was a large auditorium-type room.  There were board walks on Arrington Avenue to the school.

After the March 1, 1926, fire which destroyed much of Newport, several families lived in the Arrington Avenue school, which was not in use at the time.  My family moved there and remained until our home was built at the location where I live today (Garfield & Clay Streets).

Early principals of the school, following Rev. Mosley were: Ed Craigen, 1898-1904; E.J. Wheeler, 1904-1915; W.C. Howard, 1915-1918; J.D. Gilbert, 1918-1920; C.A. Gettis, 1920-1922; and C.W. Harrison, 1922-1925.

In 1823, construction was begun for a new brick building.  The first sessions were held in the new school in 1924.  Tom Gregg, the president of the school board, spoke at an open house and dedication ceremony.  He explained that the moving of the school facility south of the levee would allow the children room for a playground and permit the expansion of the facility in the future.  This became the school complex between Jackson add Clay Streets.  Principal C.W. Harrison was in charge of the new building.  As a result of the establishment of the school at this site, an old pond was filled in bringing through streets (Clay and Arrington) south to the new school building.  

In 1925, Prof. W.F. Branch was elected principal by the School Board.  He served twenty-three years.  During these years, the school was raised to the eighth and then to the twelfth grade, and the boys' shop and the home economics buildings were constructed.  A local citizen, Asa Pickston, gave $700.00 on the home economics building.

In 1948, Prof, Branch was succeeded as principal by Curtis B. Craft. Under the leadership of Mr. Craft, the building program was completed.  An athletic field east of the school was purchased, an elementary school (the J. N. Hout Elementary School) was built, and audio-visual aids were added.

In 1954, Mr. Craft was succeeded by Mr. Norman. S. Calhoun.  It was during the tenure of Mr. Calhoun that the high school was named the W. F. Branch High School, honoring the past principal-Prof. William Franklin Branch. 

Mr. Calhoun was a native son. He taught science and coached basketball. He made an enviable record while Working here. His basketball team, the "Pirates", won District and State honors. In twelve years of coaching, his teams won 389 games and lost 69. His girls' teams won 108 games, losing 28. For ten years he served as president of the Jackson County Teacherís Association.  Calhoun Circle was named in his honor in 1962. Mr. Calhoun resigned in 1968.  He was the last black principal of W.F. Branch High School.

Those who were associated with Branch High point with pride to the many students who have gone forth to make a mark in life. They have chosen many fields of endeavor, and theirs is a story of progress.

The above was gleaned from many sources, including interviews, newspaper articles and the memory of the writer, who taught at Branch a number of years before the school was closed in 1970.

 

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Last modified: 06/11/06