A vacant concrete building in south Monroe is a reminder of a school that gave Black students a rare chance to learn the skills necessary to prosper in business.
Robinson Business College, located at 604 Jack McEnery Avenue, served as a vocational school for Black students in Ouachita Parish and surrounding areas. The school produced a significant number of Black professionals in the secretarial and business professions between 1946 and 1988.
The college represented a breakthrough in professional educational opportunities for Black professionals in Ouachita Parish. Prior to the school’s opening, Black students in northern Louisiana seeking educational opportunities beyond high school were limited to Grambling State University and Southern University in Shreveport.
The school started in the home of B.D. and Emily Robinson during the spring of 1944 with four students. Enrollment increased, which led to the construction in 1946 of the building on McEnery Avenue. In September 1946, 12 “regular” students enrolled as well as 46 veterans as a result of the G.I. Bill.
Initially, the school employed two teachers. The school had one and two-year programs in programs such as executive secretarial, accounting and bookkeeping, typing, stenography and business administration. By the time the school closed in 1988, the faculty had grown to seven.
One aspect of the curriculum – emphasized by graduates during interviews conducted for the building’s nomination to the National Register – was a course on proper deportment and diction, which included pointers on how to interview well. The course was described in a 1980s catalog as “personality development.” According to records published by the National Register, graduates referred to the room where the course was taught as the “charm room.”
The one-story, 4,300-square-foot rectangular building is constructed of concrete blocks with brick veneer accents on the façade and one side elevation. The building has a low pyramidal roof and is devoid of ornamentation. There is a small shed roof projection at the rear corner which appears on a 1950 Sanborn map. The metal windows on the side elevations and most of the rear elevation are original. Grouped in twos, each window has four horizontal panes.
The interior of the building was described as simple and functional. The floor plan allowed for various classrooms, a small registrar’s office and a long, narrow administrative office. The registrar’s office retained its curving counter and two interior windows. Changes to the interior included the placement of glass doors in the wide opening between the two large classrooms at the western end.
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The building was later converted into a beauty salon but now remains vacant. It has been owned by Midwest Management since June 12, 2017, according to Ouachita Parish Tax Assessor records.
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This article originally appeared on Monroe News-Star: Former Monroe trade school for Black students on National Register