Keeping a Legacy AliveRonald Roach’s article, “A Rich, but Disappearing Legacy” (see Black Issues, Aug. 14),
brought much needed attention to the historical significance of Black boarding schools. Gilbert Academy, which was located here in New Orleans, appeared on a partial listing of closed historically Black boarding schools.
The academy was named after William L. Gilbert, a wealthy Connecticut businessman/philanthropist, who contributed approximately $50,000 and a $40,000 endowment to the enterprise. It initially served as an orphanage for the children of deceased slaves, who had fought for the Union during the Civil War.
Gilbert Academy operated under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church between 1865 and 1949. In 1919, it officially became part of New Orleans University. Eleven years later, in 1930, New Orleans University merged with Straight College to form Dillard University, and Gilbert Academy inherited the St. Charles Avenue facility. Gilbert Academy later became the first standard four-year high school for Blacks to be accredited by the
Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.
Former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, a Dillard University trustee emeritus; noted writer, the late Tom Dent, author of the critically acclaimed 1996 civil rights movement retrospective, Southern Journey; jazz pianist and Dillard alumnus Ellis Marsalis, father of Grammy and Pulitzer prize-winning trumpeter Wynton Marsalis; and Mickey Patterson, a track star and the first Black woman to win an Olympic medal, all graduated from Gilbert Academy.
Dent was the eldest son of former Dillard University president, the late Dr. Albert W. Dent, who served the institution from 1941-69, and Ernestine Jessie Covington Dent. From 1984-86, Dent worked as a writer on Young’s biography, An Easy Burden.
Gilbert Academy continues to thrive at Dillard University as both the William L. Gilbert Academy for Young Emerging Scholars and the William L. Gilbert Early College Learning Center. Annually, approximately 80 middle and high school students from various parts of the United States participate in the Young Emerging Scholars program. It is an intensive, six-week summer residential program designed to enhance the students’ current and future academic performance, and aspirations of going to and graduating from college.
The Early College Academy, which began this fall as a high school signature center for the New Orleans Public Schools system, is an academic program with a concentrated focus on liberal arts training leading to professional careers. While in high school, Gilbert students will have the opportunity to earn college credits for advanced-placement courses they take at Dillard.
We believe this Early College program — supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation — reflects the enduring legacy of the original Gilbert Academy because it provides an exemplary curriculum and a gateway to a college education, or to a worthwhile profession.
Dillard University will continue to ensure that the Gilbert Academy legacy lives for many years to come.Sincerely,Dr. Michael L. Lomax, President,
Dillard University, New Orleans
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