A small gathering of people at a Lakeview cemetery one morning last week paid tribute to a man who had a big effect on public education in Louisiana.
On Thursday, on what would have been Warren Easton’s 167th birthday, students, alumni and faculty dedicated a new marker at the grave of the Canal Street high school’s namesake.
The idea began nearly two years ago as Warren Easton High celebrated its centennial, but a lack of information about the onetime superintendent of Louisiana and Orleans Parish schools caused a lengthy delay. In fact, no one even knew if he was buried in the state.
“It took a couple years of searching, but we finally did locate him,” said David Garland, president of the board of the Warren Easton Charter High School Foundation.
Research done by the school recently found that Easton was buried in a modest grave in Greenwood Cemetery at Canal Street and City Park Avenue.
After school officials and alumni began to research Easton, what they found about his contributions to public education in the state and city was astounding, especially because so little information was readily available, Garland said.
Easton was superintendent of the state’s school system from 1884 to 1888. He was elected leader of the city’s school system in 1888 and continued in that role until he died in 1910.
Among his contributions to local education: launching classes in calisthenics, drawing, music, shorthand and typing; beginning fire drills; and requiring smallpox vaccinations of students.
“It was amazing to find out the number of things he innovated back in the 1800s and maybe early 1900s that we’re actually still doing today,” Garland said.
Easton also established the State Normal School in Natchitoches, now known as Northwestern State University, as well as the teachers’ pension league, and he organized the Louisiana Teachers’ Association, of which he was a president.
Easton today is the oldest high school in the state. Boys High School was founded in New Orleans in 1843, long before Easton was a school administrator, but when it moved to the Canal Street site in 1913, it was renamed to honor the man whose fingerprints were left across the state’s schools.
Originally all-white and all-boys, it became coed in 1952 and racially integrated in 1967. It became a fundamental magnet school in 1977. After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, the school was closed for one year. In 2006, it reopened as a charter school.
“What we found out about (Easton) and the importance of this man, it was basically forgotten history as far as the city is concerned,” Garland said.
“It’s difficult to find information about Mr. Easton. Hopefully, by doing this, we will make him a part of the history of New Orleans and part of the Orleans public schools system, because he is and was an incredible part of that system.”