First Black supervisor of instruction in the Ouachita Parish School System

Gertrude Allen Ammons was the first Black supervisor of instruction in the Ouachita Parish School System. She was born to Mr. and Mrs. Ben Allen, Sr. of West Monroe on March 15, 1888. She received her first formal training in the Church Schools of Ouachita Parish.She received her B.A. degree from Southern University with further studies at Hampton Institute. Before returning to Ouachita Parish, she taught in Madison and East Carroll Parishes.Ammons, Gertrude-1.jpg
In the early 1920’s, the Ouachita Parish School Board received a grant from the Jeanes Foundation for the training of teachers and establishment of schools in the Negro community.

The Jeans Supervisor

The school board selected Mrs. Ammons to undertake the task of establishing the first public schools for Negroes in the parish. Officially, her title was a “Jeanes” Supervisor, from the primary source of her pay. The Jeanes Fund, one of two major funds, was set aside exclusively for Negroes. Miss Anna Thomas Jeanes opened the way for Negro professionals through her philanthropy. She was among many philanthropists who supported Negro education including: The Rockerfellows, Peabody Family and the Julius Rosenwald Fund. The local program to underwrite a supervisor, build schools and train teachers was underwritten in part by the funds, some state funds and even contributions from Negro teachers and community groups.

Inservice Training Required

The work of the Jeanes Supervisor was primarily directed toward the professional growth and development of teachers. Inservice training was the key to the Jeanes philosophy. In 1922, she began the laborious task of locating teachers for a school system that did not exist. The pool of teachers she had to draw from was shallow, because only a handful of Negroes had college training in this area. She remembered a bright student she had while she was a teacher in Lake Providence, Anthony Facen. She convinced him to come to Ouachita Parish and to help her set up a school in the Mineral Springs Community.
With very few resources at her disposal she persuaded local Negroes to take advantage of donations that were available through the Rosenwald Foundation to help build schools for Negro children. The foundation gave school boards grants that were matched by funds raised by the Negro community to help build Negro schools.

Negroes Built Their Own Schools

It was a slow and painstaking process. Despite depression era hard times, Mrs. Ammons convinced Negroes of the need for a public school that would be operated by the parish once built, but could only be built if the community was willing to raise half the money necessary. She rode wagons through the backwoods of the parish and met with ministers and community leaders to convince them of the importance of raising money for the schools. In places where there were available buildings, she worked to secure them. In some places schools had to be built from the ground and the enormity of the task proved a heavy burden.

Between 1922 and her death on February 15, 1941, she worked to bring at least three schools into full operation: Mt. Nebo, which was built on the corner of Jackson and Thomas Street in Monroe by Mr. John Beckwith; the Britton Community School in Calhoun and in the Chambers Community, and the Mineral Springs School, which was headed by her former student, A.G. Facen. She also spent considerable time trying to upgrade the caliber of teachers in the area. To achieve this end she organized the first Negro teacher’s organization in the parish. Through the teacher’s organization she secured educators from various universities to sponsor workshops and many other activities for Negro teacher improvement. As a supervisor she often evaluated her teachers. She recorded her notes in her journal that clarified her view of teacher evaluations.

In one record she wrote: “Teaching, not teachers, is to be rated. Teaching is to be rated in terms of pupil activity. Pupil activity is to be judged in terms of what pupils do with reference to desirable things they might do. Ratings of all lessons and other activities observed will be combined for each school and used as a picture of the teaching in the school, and not as the rating of any individual teacher.”

At a time when opportunities for Blacks were limited, Mrs. Ammons stood tall as a giant in the field of Education in Ouachita Parish.