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We’re joining the party! Each month, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) hosts the #ArchivesHashtagParty for all types of archives to share their collections on social media around a fun topic.

This month’s party celebrates #ArchivesBlackEducation and the librarians of the Genealogy Center searched the Collin County Archives for some interesting photos and facts about the history of Black education in Plano.

Not long after the county and the town were founded in the late 1840s, Plano focused on education, with the first school being built circa 1850. At this early time, there was not a school for Black children; education options started expanding after the Civil War:

  • The Shepton Colored School was a private school opened in the late 1800s and operated until 1946.
  • Starting in 1888, a public Black school was held in the Shiloh Baptist Church. By 1896, the school had its own separate building and taught Grades 1 through 7. Often referred to as the “Plano Colored School” in early listings of county schools, this school was closed in 1900 for no apparent reason.

Plano would go without a public school for Black children until 1904, when the Plano Independent School District (PISD) opened a colored school with a three month term. After a few years, the school started a seven month term, and by 1929, a regular nine month term was approved. Eventually, PISD took over the private Black schools as well, and opened more public colored schools, such as the Plano Colored High School (renamed Douglass in 1961) during the 1930s. Other improvements were made to the colored schools during this period, including classes from Douglass being allowed to participate in certain programs at Plano Public.

School in the old Methodist Church, Collin County Images

After the Supreme Court ruled that public schools could no longer be separate but equal in the Brown vs. Topeka decision in 1954, Plano’s Black community opened formal discussions with the school board about integration. Talks went on for years, due to the overcrowding of Plano schools.

In 1961, federal desegregation mandates were imminent and serious integration talks were resumed. The school board and the community wanted to work to be the best for all Plano students. In 1964, the Board voted to give the students of Douglass High School the option of staying in Douglass for the school year or shifting to Plano High. They chose to move, leaving Douglass housing Grades 1 through 8. The school ran for another year as a primary school, with Grades 7 and 8 moved to the junior high. Douglass officially closed after the 1967-1968 school year.

Today, two of Plano’s schools are named for local black citizens and educators: Thomas Elementary School and Hightower Elementary School.

Thomas Elementary School, opened 1978
James Lawrence Thomas, Collin County Images

James Lawrence Thomas, or “Mr. Jim” as he was called, opened the first laundry service in the city, provided janitorial service for most of the downtown businesses and was Plano’s first African American fireman. He was known as an unselfish humanitarian for the more than 60 years that he lived in Plano. He provided not only for his own family of nine children, but also to both Black and white friends, and neighbors who needed it most.

Hightower Elementary School, opened 1998, renamed for both John and Myrtle Hightower in 2010
John F. and Dr. Myrtle Hightower (images from PISD)

Mr. John F. and Dr. Myrtle Hightower were both career educators, working in PISD as teachers and counselors for many years.

Mr. Hightower taught science at Douglass High School before serving as a counselor in the Special Services Department, Director of Special Services, and Coordinator of Ethnic Relations.

Dr. Hightower served on many committees and boards throughout Plano and has been honored with numerous awards. She was selected as one of Plano ISD’s 100 Heroes, she is a Collin College Living Legacy and a recipient of the Texas Hero for Children Award.

Additional Resources

If you’d like to learn more about Black Education in Plano, the following titles are available to check out from the Plano Public Library:

A Century of Excellence: Plano Independent School District, An Historical Perspective

My Remembers: A Black Sharecropper’s Recollections of the Depression

Remembers of Mose: The Life of Most Stimpson and His Times

Plano, Texas: The Early Years

Football and Integration in Plano, Texas: Stay in There, Wildcats!

Hightower Elementary School History

Thomas Elementary School History

Header image: School, April 1, 1907, Collin County Images

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