Alumni of Prairie View Interscholastic League on school's history: 'The records have been destroyed'

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Saturday, December 16, 2023
Buried school history: Prairie View Interscholastic League's schools have demolished, but efforts keep legacy alive
The Prairie View Interscholastic League played an integral role in developing African American students in the arts, literature, athletics and music across Texas since the early 1920s. Now, many former PVIL schools have been demolished for various reasons.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Local historians throughout the state are working to preserve the legacy of the Prairie View Interscholastic League. It was similar to the University Interscholastic League system, which is what oversees Texas schools now. But it was devoted to all-Black campuses during the tail end of segregation.

J. Warren Singleton beams with pride when he talks about his time as a student athlete for George Washington Carver High School in Baytown during the early 1960s. He ran track and field, played football, and won numerous awards in other categories.

"It was one of the Black high schools in the state of Texas," Singleton said. "There is not another high school that I would have picked to go to if I had an opportunity. It gave me everything that I needed -- the education, the life lessons. It prepared me on how to deal with racist situations in the 60s."

However, the school no longer exists and its history is slowly fading away. Carver served all-Black students from the early 1920s to late 1960s during a time when segregation was still very much alive in Texas.

The University Interscholastic League (UIL) was established by the University of Texas in 1910 to make rules and settle disputes for academic and athletic competitions at white high schools in the state.

When it was recognized that there was a need for a similar organization for Black high school students, the Colored Teachers State Association of Texas and the Negro School Division of the State Department of Education created the Texas Interscholastic League of Colored Schools (TILCS) in 1920.

In 1923, the TILCS changed its name to the Prairie View Interscholastic League (PVIL) when it came under the control of Prairie View A&M College. It is estimated that the PVIL governed 17 different categories including essay writing, music, and woodworking for 500 African American schools, including Singleton's.

"You have your sciences, humanities, and athletics. All those combined can make a well-rounded person, which makes a well-rounded citizen. So, you can be a contributor to society," Phyllis Earles said.

Earles is an archivist and head of the special collections archives department at Prairie View A&M University.

She has been researching the PVIL on-and-off for the last 20 years. She said much of the records, materials, and history from the league have been lost, ever since it was disbanded in 1970. This was the year when Black students were integrated and finally allowed to compete in the UIL.

Many former PVIL schools were then demolished for various reasons. Singleton said Goose Creek CISD's board deemed Carver unsafe because a tar-like substance was found bubbling to the surface of the playground. Its deed was reverted back to Exxon in 1998.

"It was hard for me to deal with seeing my school being demolished and for the reason it was being demolished. Our history was basically buried," Singleton said.

Earles said people she's spoken to say records (transcripts, game results, rosters, etc.) at many of these schools were thrown in the landfill.

"The records have been destroyed. Any resemblance of the schools has been destroyed," Earles said.

During its 40-year history, PVIL schools achieved a list of notable accomplishments, winning several state championships and producing professional athletes, who became top draft picks for the NFL. One example is Beaumont-Charlton-Pollard alumnus Bubba Smith, who became the No. 1 overall draft choice in 1967 by the Baltimore Colts.

Barbara Jordan, who graduated from Phillis Wheatley High School, went on to become the first Black U.S. congresswoman from the southern U.S.

That's one of the reasons why Singleton and Earles feel so passionately about preserving the league's history.

"It means so much to me because it's someone's past. I use the analogy of a quilt. In order to have a colorful quilt, you have to have different colors of thread. Each community, each race, each belief is a different color in that quilt. In order to have a true resemblance of what we represent in the United States, particularly in Texas, everyone needs to be included," Earles said.

Several efforts are now underway to help keep the legacy of the Prairie View Interscholastic League alive. The African American History Research Center at the Gregory School in Houston's Fourth Ward currently has an exhibit that will be available to the public until early January.

Singleton continues to add to their traveling exhibit that pop ups every February for Black History Month in Baytown. He became a local historian and founded the Baytown Carver High School Recognition and Preservation Society. He told ABC13 he's written about 400 articles as a guest columnist for the Baytown Sun Newspaper, mostly pertaining to PVIL stories.

Meanwhile, Earles encourages anyone with historical documents, photographs, vintage uniforms, or trophies to reach out to help add to their collection.

"Make it accessible, so that all the information can be shared. Good, bad, ugly, it's still part of history. That makes us look at what we're doing now and what changes we still need to make," Earles said.

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