For 54 years he taught English and campaigned for black students. Now his name is in a library. | education


On the West Bank of Jefferson Parish, Stanley Crosby is a household name. A popular English teacher, he spent more than half a century teaching generations of high school students.

“I taught students’ mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers,” said Crosby, now 88 and retired.

But his legacy goes far beyond Shakespearean and grammar lessons. In times of state-sponsored segregation, Crosby, a black man, repeatedly risked his job to fight for his students’ right to an equal education.

In 1965, after nearly 1,500 students at Marrero’s all-black Lincoln High School walked out of class to protest their segregated and unequal education, Crosby railed at Jefferson’s all-white school board. None of Lincoln’s classrooms had heat, and almost all of his textbooks were outdated, run-down copies of the white schools.

“The thing is, you know better,” Crosby recalled as he told the board members. “It would be different if you were ignorant. But you know what you’re doing. And you are hurting the lives of these children.”

Almost six decades later, in July, Crosby appeared again before the Jefferson School Board. Board members this time praised him for his contributions. The next month, they voted to rename the Lincoln Elementary School for the Arts library in his honor.

Board member Ricky Johnson, who had Crosby as a teacher at West Jefferson High School, called him a “beacon in the community.”

“We were determined”

Crosby was born in Gretna in 1934 and grew up in a household that valued education. His parents, neither of whom graduated from high school, were determined their children would get a better education than they did.

The disparities between black and white public schools were stark. On his way to Gretna Colored Elementary School, later renamed Frederick Douglass, Crosby passed several whites-only schools. he wasn’t allowed to walk on the sidewalk.

“What the whites didn’t use, they sent to us,” Crosby recalled. “It was difficult for us and it was very, very difficult, but we were determined.”

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While white students rode school buses, black students were relegated to the back of a pickup truck, with a tarpaulin in case it rained.

The schools are completely inferior “in every way – except the teachers,” Crosby said. “Without the dedicated teachers we had, we would have been lost.”

A trip to the library

After graduating from Grambling State University near Ruston, Crosby returned to Jefferson Parish and began teaching at Lincoln High in 1956.

“Back then, teaching blacks was the best thing to do because everything else was closed to blacks,” Crosby said.

The next year Crosby was drafted into the army and sent to Germany to work as a radio teletypewriter. When he returned, the school board refused to reinstate him; it only changed course after Crosby threatened to involve the military.

“I was kind of argumentative,” Crosby said.

At the time, Lincoln was the only high school for black students on Jefferson’s West Bank. His library was full of ragged offshoots from white schools.

“The school board did everything in their power to keep us down,” Crosby said. “It was so hard to understand how people could be so cruel to other people.”

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Unhappy with the book selection, Crosby at one point rented a school bus to take his students to the New Orleans Public Library. As they crossed the Mississippi, he warned his students not to reveal that they were students at Jefferson Parish. But one made a mistake and the library kicked her out.

Tulane University, where Crosby was working on a master’s degree, agreed to let its students use its library. Still, the fiasco embarrassed the Jefferson school board.

“I think it really embarrassed them because they changed after that,” Crosby said.

“I spoke my mind at the time”

Lincoln High closed abruptly in 1969 as Jefferson moved toward integration, and Crosby was assigned to Livaudais Middle School in Terrytown.

At first, white parents tried to pull their students out of his class. And during one of his early assignments, a principal asked him if he would “voluntarily” stay after school to teach the white teachers the honors curriculum he learned in Tulane.

“They didn’t volunteer to give me anything, so why would I volunteer?” Crosby remembers telling the principal.

“I spoke my mind at the time.”

Some of the same white parents later brought their children back to his class.

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Crosby taught one year at Livaudais Middle, four years at what was then All-Girls Higgins High School in Marrero, and 34 years at West Jefferson High in Harvey.

During his tenure, he sponsored various activities, including the Black History Club, which was necessary because “the contributions of blacks were not included in textbooks.”

“We had to fill out that information,” Crosby said.

“He took care of us”

Crosby’s students say what set him apart as a teacher was his commitment to developing students as individuals.

“He nurtured us inside and outside of the classroom,” said Sharon Jones Pipkins, president of the Lincoln High School Alumni Association.

Former Louisiana State Assemblyman Kyle Green Sr. said that until he met Crosby in Lincoln, he went by his middle name, Mark, because other kids teased him by calling him “cow.”

“Mr. Crosby said, ‘There’s nothing wrong with your name. Accept your name,'” Green recalled. “He instilled a certain confidence in his students.”

Simeon Dickerson, the Jefferson School Board member who sponsored the decision to rename Lincoln Elementary’s library Crosby, said his “impact and impact is just astronomical.”

Lavern Gaines, another Lincoln student, called Crosby a “stick of dynamite” and said you could fill the Caesars Superdome with people he touched.

“He’s taking kids’ lives and really reinventing them,” said Valeria Robertson, whose son had Crosby as a teacher.

In August, after Crosby turned 88, a group of Lincoln High alumni picked him up in a limousine and took him to a meal at the Saltgrass Steak House. Carolyn Covington, a former student who helped organize the lunch, said Crosby “made everyone feel special.”

Crosby retired in 2011 after 54 years of service, but continued to teach part-time for a number of years after that.

His dedication to his students never ended with graduation. Several students recalled turning to Crosby in college for advice on essays. And some still turn to him today for editing help.

“We can still count on Mr. Crosby,” Covington said. “He was born a teacher.”

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