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Coleman College at Gibsland, Louisiana

Updated: Aug 19, 2023

Photoraph of brick main building at Coleman College
Gibsland, Bienville Parish, Louisiana, is internationally known as the town where notorious gangsters Bonnie & Clyde were killed in 1934 (technically, they were killed at Lebanon). But that's just a small piece of the town's VIH (very important history).

In 1887, O.L. Coleman opened Coleman College, a school for African American children in Gibsland, Louisiana. At first, it educated young students to eighth grade, but quickly grew into a much larger institution that offered classes outside of the regular school day to older students, whose tuition "was sometimes paid with produce from the family farm" (African American High Schools in Louisiana before 1970, blog).

In 1903, Shreveport-born William Hicks became the Dean of the Theological Department of Coleman College. As a graduate of Leland University (New Orleans) with a doctor of divinity, he had been instrumental in developing the Thirteenth District Academy of Shreveport and then, continuing to build Coleman College into the largest institution of higher education for African Americans in northern Louisiana. By 1917, the college sat on about 100 acres and featured "four large brick buildings, 14 teachers, and a roll call of 400 pupils" (Shreveport Times).

In the 1930s, the college moved to Shreveport, but the Great Depression forced its closure. Coleman College's buildings at Gibsland became the Gibsland Colored High School, which is now known as the Gibsland-Coleman High School. None of the original school buildings remain.

These photographs come from the book, "History of Louisiana Negro Baptists from 1804 to 1914" by William Hicks (1869-1954). The book is available on Hathitrust (thank you, Hathitrust and Internet Archive!) and contains the history of the Baptists in Louisiana: one of the first Baptist preachers was Joseph Willis, who came to the Baton Rouge area in 1804 as an enslaved man and preached "at the peril of his life" in the evenings. When Louisiana joined the United States as a slave state in 1812, African American people were banned from meeting in groups, and arrests at sermons were frequent. After freedom, black Baptists rejected belonging to the "Southern Baptists" with its pro-slavery roots, and became "Mission Baptists" instead. The churches and schools associated with the Mission Baptists graduated male and female teachers, preachers, physicians, and social workers.

Two story wooden building.
The theological department was still in the construction phase when this photo was taken.

Photograph of three story brick building.
Coleman College's boys' dormitory was a substantial three story brick building.

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