CHIPLEY - Orange Hill Missionary Baptist Church is holding a special service at 11 a.m. Sunday, February 18, to reflect on T.J. Roulhac High School, which was open from 1938 to 1968. Fifty years ago, the doors of the beloved school were closed, marking the end of an era of a unique education. With “hand me down books” and second-rate materials, the students of old T.J. Roulhac High still managed to receive a first rate education.
While commemorating the anniversary of the school's closing, it is key to understand how it came to open.
In 1930, Washington County was confronted with a problem.
Annie and Maude Roulhac, youngest daughters of Thomas Joseph and Patience Roulhac, wanted to continue their education but were not permitted to enroll in Chipley High School because they were black. Instead, Washington County School Board assisted financially in their attending high school in Tallahassee, at what is now Florida Agricultural Mechanical College (FL A&M).
Mr. Roulhac was concerned about the education of the community's black boys and girls and made a vow to not stop working until a high school for black students was established in Washington County. Roulhac, one of the ten children of Peter Warren and Katie Roulhac in the Orange Hill Community, worked hard toward that goal, traveling both day and night across Washington County seeking to achieve his dream.
In 1938, his dream was realized when a high school for black students was established, and he became the principal of Chipley’s first school for black children.
The school was initially housed in the old Colored Methodist Episcopal Church on Church Street. Sometime afterward, other churches in the city - Grant Tabernacle AME Church, Mt. Ararat First Missionary Baptist Church, and Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church - housed the school. The school, initially known as Chipley Colored School, then Washington County Colored School before being named T.J. Roulhac High School following Mr. Roulhac’s death in 1941, served black students from Washington, Holmes, and Jackson counties. Later, when segregation was declared illegal, Roulhac High School then became an integrated middle school.
All the basic subjects were taught at RHS, namely: English, Mathematics, Social Studies, Home Economics, Science, and Physical Education. There were approximately seventy students and a full-time teacher for each subject, including Patience Roulhac, Pearl Young, Rosanne Wood-White, Bernice Roulhac and Helen Jenkins. Some of the elementary teachers also taught part-time in their specialties.
In 1950, Washington County School Board purchased a site for Roulhac High School from D.L. Cox for $9,000. The school was then built by Ralph E. Neel for $44,150. With six classrooms a homemaking room, boiler room and central heating plant, the building was completed in 1952. Seabreeze Builders added a $131,264.40 addition to the T.J. Roulhac High School. In 1962-63, contractor Claude M. Reese built a gymnasium at Roulhac High for $63,148, In 1965, Holt Armstrong built a vocational agriculture building for $22,680.
T.J. Roulhac High School was later accredited by the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges as a mark of excellence and progress. The smallest graduating class had six members, and the largest approximately sixty. There were 11 principals: Mr. Thomas Joseph Roulhac (1938-41); Mr. C. Preston (1941-42); Mr. R.D. Blossom (1942-43); Mr. Arthur Jones (1943-45); Mr. W.L. Hartsfield (1945-46; Mr. James R. Wiggins (1946-48; Mr. W.F. Oney (1948-51); Mr. William Jackson (1951-57); Mr. James McNeil (1957-58); Mr. Thomas McDougald (1958-65) and Mr. Ralph Jones (1965-68). Each did their share in building character, leaders, and developing good citizens in a democratic world.
Graduates of T.J. Roulhac High School are found in practically all fields of endeavor: ministry, education, theater, medicine, business, law enforcement, arm forces, engineering, production, mechanics, professional athletes, social welfare and many more. The Class of 1968, the last graduating class, had 24 graduates: Robert L. Blount, Jr., James Edward Cobb, Earmon Nelson Davis, Kenneth Charles Davis, Morris Jerome Davis, Benjamin George Dirden, Auvella Gaskins, William Granger, Victoria E. Henderson, Linda R. Jackson, Lee Dell Kennedy, Royce Jean Lewis, Alphonso Maldon, Jr., Lesly Bural McClain, Harold Edward Pierce, Jeanetta Pierce, William Henery Russ, Allie Laverne Taylor, Hilton Agusta Turner, Jr., Lonnie Washington, Ronnie Washington, Shirley V. Williams, Price Hugh Wilson, Carylon J. Works. Ira Harmon was the class advisor, Ralph A Jones, Principal, and C.V. Williams, Superintendent. The Baccalaureate was held in the school’s cafetorium on June 2 with the speaker being Rev. S. M. Chapman, pastor of the Grant Tabernacle A.M.E. Church and St. Joseph A.M.E Church. The Commencement exercises was on June 4. Benjamin Dirden delivered the valedictory address and Hilton Turner, Jr. the salutatory address. Class President Price Hugh Wilson spoke and William H. Russ presented a school gift from the departing class.
In a June 18, 1968 meeting, the school board voted to close out T.J. Roulhac High School from grades nine through 12, sending approximately 125 students to Chipley and Vernon High Schools.
Under the pastorate of the Rev. Malcolm O. Nelson, Orange Hill Missionary Baptist Church will host their Annual Black History Service at 11 a.m., Sunday, Feb. 18. The church will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the school's closing, recognizing and paying tribute to the Class of 1968 (last graduating class), as well as all the former students and teachers. The speaker will be Minister William Cecil Roche (Class of 1968) from Ocala, Florida, and special tribute to T.J. Roulhac will be present by his great granddaughter, Karen Koonce Edwards.
Orange Hill Missionary Baptist Church is located at 816 Sunday Road in Chipley.