Lockhart locals hope to bring life back Carver High School
By Kristen Meriwether, Editor LPR
Carver Vocational High School was once a thriving high school for the Black community. Built in 1923 through partial funding by the Rosenwald Foundation of Chicago, the school was the only option for African Americans to get a high school education in Lockhart.
Carver had six classrooms where dedicated teachers ensured students got the best education—even with hand-me-down books. Upstairs housed an auditorium with a beautiful hardwood floor that hosted dances, proms, and graduations for generations of Black students.
“Carver was more than a school to us. It was a home. It was a home away from home,” Class of 1964 alumni Robert McLain said in an interview with LPR. “It was a place you knew you could be safe. It was a place you could go and be entertained.”
For Black students in the tumultuous 1950s and early 1960s, Carver provided a space where the hatred they saw outside those four walls was left behind.
“They called you by your name,” Class of 1958 alumni Robert Wright said in an interview with LPR. “They didn’t call you the n-word, or black, or other things. You had an identity at Carver High. And that’s important.”
The classes were small, and teachers got to know not just the students, but the family as well. The teachers were committed to not only teaching math, English, and science, but encouraging students with a “sky’s the limit” attitude.
“I don’t know if we could have survived in the 50s, had we not had the teachers we had,” Wright said. “Carver built a lot of character in us during some very very tough times.”
The school was kept meticulously clean, students dressed up to attend classes, and corporal punishment—which was acceptable in that time—was used to keep order.
“It was a great learning experience because the teachers really taught us,” Class of 1959 alumni Shirley William told LPR in an interview. “The teachers made sure we were taught. They didn’t play. They took it very serious for us to have an education.”
There were no gangs, no fights, no drinking, and no drugs on campus, according to Wright. He attributed that to strong family values.
“Most all of us came from religious backgrounds,” Wright said. “In those days, it was the core of the black community.”
In all of the interviews LPR conducted, every single student talked about how important attendance was, and how missing school wasn’t an option.
“Our parents did not allow us to slack off because the education was important,” Wright said. “They saw that as the road out of where we were.”
The education was strict, but the students at Carver also knew how to have fun. The auditorium on the second floor had a spacious hardwood floor and a stage for performances. They didn’t have a specified drama teacher, but students would perform stories geared towards the African American experience, or things students wrote.
Following Friday night football games, the students would host dances. Throughout the year the space became the place students and their friends could go and let loose.
“It was mostly on Fridays. If you thought you could dance, you’d come up and dance.” Class of 1964 alumni Joe Roland told LPR in an interview. He added laughing: “If you thought you could sing—like I did—you went up.”
Roland, who called his time at Carver “one of the greatest times of my life,” was part of the last graduating class of Carver High School. Public schools were integrated in the fall of 1964 and Carver High School was closed that year.
Carver continued to serve the community when the Head Start Program began using the building in the late 1970s or early 1980s (depending on who you talk to). Head Start moved into a new building in 1997. Since then, Carver High School has been abandoned and Father Time has not been kind.
“When Head Start left, that’s when the vandalism was very heavy,” Class of 1958 alumni Homer Williams, who acted as a caretaker for the building, told LPR in an interview. “They just tore up everything they could get their hands on. Sometimes I would get calls at the midnight hour, you need to come to the school, because vandalism was taking place.”
Time to Restore
Hatti Carter played on the playground of Carver High School as a child, but the Lockhart native never had a chance to attend before it was closed. Her oldest brother attended, and she was always amazed at stories past students shared.
“I have a soft spot in my heart for this school,” Carter said in an interview. “As I’ve gone through life and learned to appreciate my journey and my history, where I came from, where I started, things I’ve been doing, and this school represents all of that.”
For years Carter has watched Carver High School deteriorate. Portions of the roof have given way. The windows have all been broken and since covered up with metal sheets to keep the rain out. Vandals have come in and spray painted the inside and outside of the building, scratched graffiti in the walls, and tore up some of the few pieces of original furniture remaining. Going in today one would never know the rich history that was once housed inside the crumbling walls.
“To have it tossed aside, and forgotten, wasn’t acceptable to me,” Carter said.
Through the years she has met people who stopped by to visit the historical site and wanted to help revive the building. She has taken some small donations to paint over graffiti on the outside or haul off trash left inside. But the amount of money needed to truly renovate the building—likely in the millions—would need to be taken in by a non-profit. Carter said she and the network of supporters she affectionally calls “The Village” would like to see a conservatory made up of ex-students, as well as people in the community and neighborhood form that.
They also want to see the Caldwell County African American Historical Commission established. That group would be able to collect historical artifacts and documents about Carver High School, with the hopes of them being housed in the renovated building. The process has already begun on that, but the lack of a non-profit created roadblocks with the Caldwell County Commissioners Court.
Once the pieces are in place, renovations could begin. Everyone LPR spoke with wanted to see the building turned into some kind of multipurpose cultural center. It would not just be for the Black community, but for Lockhart at large.
The roadblocks haven’t deterred Carter, or the “The Village.” Last week Carter put up large poster sized photos of past students to once again draw attention to Carver High School.
“I wanted to share with people that are just passing by a glimpse of the type of history that was made, or the journeys that people made coming through Carver,” Carter said.
LPR visited the site twice last week and saw nearly a dozen cars driving up in the time we were there. Carter reported heavy visitation all week. The hope is that the draw will inspire action.
“For anyone that appreciates life journeys, this is a project you want to get involved in. Because it entails the very essence of people’s lives, and where our lives expand one to another,” Carter said. “It’s important that people understand this is not a Black project. It’s a project for the community, for the city, for our neighborhood.”
Please view our photo gallery here to see additional photos of what Carver High School looks like today.