Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Local Educator Fulfills Need for Adult Education

Minnie B. Walker and her father Jim Walker
High School Graduation Day 1935, McDade, LA.
Minnie B. Walker Payne was born in 1926 in the south Bossier Parish farming community of McDade, La on Tinsley McDade’s Plantation, where her father, Jim Walker, was a tenant farmer with five families that worked under him. The information shared in this article comes from an oral history interview of Payne conducted by Bossier Parish Library History Center’s archivist at that time, Nita Cole, in the summer of 2000. During the interview, Payne recalls picking cotton with her siblings growing up there, stating, “I used to pick 380 [pounds] a day.”

According to Payne, McDade, La was named for Tinsley “Tin” McDade. She describes McDade as a small crossroads community during the 1920s. It had the L.R. & N. railroad, which “it would switch at McDade, and he [Tin McDade] would send the wagon there to pick up the food to stock his commissary.” McDade also had a post-office, a store, and a gas station.

Minnie B. Walker age 4, and her mother
Louisa Hall Walker 1917, McDade, La.
When asked if education was important in her family, she replied, “Oh yes, ma’am. Mama saw that all of her children got an education.” In response to the question about her parent’s level of education, Payne stated, “Well at that time see, Mother married Daddy Sept. 8, 1888. It wasn’t too much education that people got other than what they would give themselves, you know. Now she could read and write. And then, when we were walking to New Zion School, she went right along with us every day, and the teacher taught her. She got as high as the seventh grade.”

After finishing the seventh grade, Payne went to C.H. Irion in Benton, where she lived in a dormitory while school was in session. During her time at C.H. Irion, R.V. Kerr was the superintendent, and Mrs. Hessie Player was the dean. Through observation, Mr. Kerr saw that Payne was “a real lady” and obeyed the rules, so he advised the board that she should be assigned as the Assistant Dean. One task assigned to her as the Assistant Dean was to keep the girls from hopping out of the windows at night to meet boys, reminding that they needed to finish their education. She was also in charge of taking the girls to church.

Upon graduation from C.H. Irion in 1935, Payne went to Grambling State University. Due to a shortage of teachers, “Mr. Kerr fixed it so we could go to summer school and get a third-grade certificate, and he would let us teach. And we would go to college on a Saturday or either at night.” “And when school closed, then we would go to summer school.” Payne started her teaching career “in Allentown, where the shell plant is now,” where she was the only teacher for grades 1-7 and made $26 per month. She also taught fifth grade at Butler Elementary School from 1953 until she retired in 1971.

Payne also taught adult education in the evenings, first at an adult education school for veterans only, located on “the Doyline Road” under the supervision of Frank Hughes. On Oct. 3, 1968, Payne purchased the old Redmond Spikes three-room, wood-frame schoolhouse from the Bossier Parish School Board for $273. She paid to have the building moved onto her father’s property in Haughton and to have electricity run to it.

She and her sister, Lula Walker Hardman, established the Jim Walker Adult Education School in honor of their father. The two sisters and Adeline Williams were the teachers in the beginning, and the school was open to any adult in the community that wished to earn their high school diploma. Payne recalls, “I had forty-nine old folk to get their high school diploma under me through Dr. Miles at Centenary College.”

When asked about paying for the building and moving it out to the family property to teach adults, Payne replied, “Yes. They wanted to...the old folks wanted a school to go to.” Payne recognized this need and how important it was for these adults to achieve the simple dream of finishing high school, something that is often taken for granted these days. Later, the adult education school was relocated to Saint James Lodge in Elm Grove.

Oral histories of Bossier Parish residents are one of the many sources that the Bossier Parish Libraries History Center offers. Oral histories provide a window into the past of not only the person interviewed but also into the community that they lived and worked. Often, times providing insights that cannot be found through any other source.

Another fascinating fact that I learned while reading the transcript of Payne’s oral history interview is that her father was the first African American man to vote in Bossier Parish sometime before 1920. To explore the history of Bossier Parish through our oral history collection, visit the Bossier Parish Libraries History Center at 2206 Beckett St., Bossier City.

If you did not make it to Monday night’s R & R with history, it is not too late to register and join in the discussion. This reading and discussion series will focus on Jason Fagone's book, The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies. Facilitating this R & R series is Mr. Rusty Beckham, a history teacher at Benton High School. Back by popular demand, Rusty has an M.A. in History from Villanova University. Call the History Center to register and reserve a book, (318) 746-7717. Monday nights, Feb. 3 through Mar. 2, 2020, from 6 – 7:30 p.m. at the History Center meeting

By: Amy Robertson

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