The Progression of Negro Education in Gary, Indiana


Theodore Roosevelt High School has served as a valued educational center and a cultural inspiration for generations.  It began with a few students in a one room frame structure erected in 1908 at 12th Avenue and Massachusetts Street the same year that the city's school board made a decision to segregate it's public schools. There were several locations on the east and west side of Gary that were known as Primary or Secondary Negro school buildings. The 15th Avenue and Virginia school, referred to as "Virginia Street School", enrolled Negroes, Primary and Secondary students. It was overcrowded with substandard facilities. There was another school for Negroes at fourteenth and Connecticut Street. The Gary School Board having practiced segregation since 1908, moved the two school groups to "Friedrich Frobel School" at 15th and Madison Street. Mr. Everett D. Simpson was the first teacher hired to work at the school.  To meet the demands of a growing Negro population; another primary school was opened in 1915 at 21st Avenue and Adams Street, where Mrs. Elizabeth Lytle and a group of children were transferred from Froebel to the Adams Street location with three additional teachers.


Gary's population continued to grow. In 1921 Some Negro students were transferred along with portable classrooms to 21st Avenue and Adams Street. At the same time there was another group of portable classrooms located on what is now the front of Roosevelt at 25th avenue. Those portables were called Roosevelt Annex. Mr. Z.D. Lenoir was appointed principal of what was known as Roosevelt Annex.  Both schools had been named for Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States. The schools were housed in a group of portable structures and in 1923 Mr. Lenoir resigned. Mr. James Stanley was appointed principal of both schools in February of 1925. Mr. Everett D. Simpson became assistant principal.  During the administration of Mr. Stanley, the first year of high school was added with an enrollment of nineteen students. The all brick East building was built in 1923 and the West building was built in 1926. 


In September 1927 as an integration initiative, the then Superintendent, William A. Wirt allowed a specifically selected group of 18 ninth grade Negro students from the Virginia Street School, to be enrolled into Emerson High School. Emerson had one token "light-skinned," Negro student already enrolled. Those students were Academic Achievers with accommodating personalities. The white students, parents, and teachers rejected the presence of the Negro students. There was massive unrest, boycotting, teacher refusals to teach the "colored" students, and multiple threats and actions to harm those students in an effort to intimidate them to leave Emerson School. The Emerson School unrest was heatedly discussed in the Gary City Council. This led to the principal's expulsion of those 18 students without any educational alternative at the 1927 Thanksgiving Break. Mr. Mac Farland had served Roosevelt as assistant Principal and in 1929 was appointed the head Principal.  In 1929 Roosevelt Annex, now officially named "Roosevelt High School," became a commissioned high school. It granted its first High School Diploma in 1930 to Its only graduate, Evelyn Baptiste.  After graduating from college Baptiste returned to Roosevelt and taught until she retired.  In 1931 Roosevelt was accredited by North Central Association. It's first graduating class as a commissioned school was in 1931. 


Mr. Mac Farland resigned in June of 1933.  In August of 1933, the high school section of East Pulaski School was united with Roosevelt.  Mr. Harbart Theodore Tatum, who was the principal of East Pulaski was chosen to be principal of the combined unit, now as  Roosevelt High School.  Under the leadership of Mr. Tatum, a structure and culture were set in place to be followed and perpetuated for years to come. The construction of the red brick building was completed in 1930.  Under the tenure of H. Theo Tatum additions were added to the 21 acre school grounds.  This included designs similar to the original ones drawn up by Architect William Butts Ittner of St. Louis Missouri.  The landscape showed playground equipment, a track and a football field. The Historic Roosevelt's most prominent outside features are the Colonial Revival-Style of the high school facing 25th Avenue, the Doric Pilasters and columns made of limestone and the building's tall Cupola. In 1946 the Indiana State of Education said that Roosevelt High School was pristine and valued at 1.5 million dollars.

1946 - 1961

Mr. Tatum insisted that the students respect themselves, one another, and the teachers. He was a "Strict Disciplinarian". The students knew what he wanted of them. He wanted them to be ladies or gentlemen at all times. They had a dress code. They went to school like they were going to learn, not play.  Tatum commanded respect yet never raised his voice. He exposed the community to the faculty and important Black people from all over the country. This included such notables as: Mordecai Johnson, the president of Howard University, Poet, James Weldon Johnson, Sculptor Augusta Savage, and Flight Pilot, Bessie Coleman.

1961 -2912

The late Robert Jones, a former principal once commented on how Roosevelt High School maintains the rich tradition and prides itself on teaching generations of families. He stated it's "An Inner-City school with a long tradition not often found in Urban Schools." Mr. Tatum retired in 1961 and was succeeded as Principal by the following Principals.   Mr. Warren M. Anderson, who served from 1961 until 1970. He was followed by Mr. Robert Jones, who served from 1970 until 1989. Mr. David Williams served from 1989 to 1992 as head Principal. Mr. William Reese Jr., served as head Principal from 1992 until the fall of 1997.  Mr. Edward Lumpkin served from 1997 to 1999. Dr. Marion Williams succeeded Mr. Lumpkin and served until 2005.  Mrs. Charlotte Wright was the last principal from 2006 to 2012 before the school's name was changed. 

1930 - 2020 Summary

In 1988 Roosevelt High School had a total of 1,884 students and a Teaching staff of 80 percent Black. The Gary Post Tribune interviewed Dr. Haron I. Battle, long time Gary Educator, and former Assistant Superintendent of the Gary Public Schools, Battle at that time was the Executive Director of the Gary Education Foundation and talked about how easy it was to attract highly qualified teachers to Roosevelt. He said: " It was the 1930's, there was a depression and a year's salary was $880.88." Battle talked about having 56 students in his math class and teaching 300 students a day. He said many of the Black families lived in a section of the city called the "Patch" which is now referred to as "Midtown". Roosevelt was built in the heart of that neighborhood.  " What bringing many of the Blacks together in one school did was instill a lot of pride in the people and the school."  It turned out to be a model school for our country. Battle stated: "Tatum was a man of unusual power". Dr. Haron Battle holds the distinction of serving 18 years as Assistant Superintendent of the Gary Public Schools from 1955 - 1973. His career began long before his appointment. In 1934 he taught math at Roosevelt but left to serve in WWII. After the war Dr. Battle returned to Roosevelt and served as its first Guidance Counselor. He was the Co-Founder of the Gary Education Development Foundation, a foundation which continues to help improve the quality of life for graduates of the Gary Public School System to this day.

Effective at the beginning of 2012 the Indiana Department of Education, under the authority of public law 221 ( a law that allowed Gary's performance to be academically assessed at 145% rather than 100%) took away control of Roosevelt High School's education responsibility from the Gary School Corporation.  The state board of education contracted with Management Consultants, ( MGT ), a Florida A company. hired by Governor Mitch Daniels. MGT contracted out the academic responsibility of Roosevelt to a Tennessee based For-Profit Company, to operate the school for eight years. That company, Edison Learning, renamed the school "Theodore Roosevelt College & Career Academy." In 2019 due to poor maintenance of Roosevelt's heating system by the Gary Community School's state appointed Emergency Manager, MGT voted to close the school due to the cost to repair and upkeep would be too high.

The class of 2020 was the final graduation class of Theodore Roosevelt College & Career Academy with principal, Mr. Joshua Batchelor, Sr.  There were 36 graduates, several honor students and one standout graduate. Ms. Chole' Coleman  was one of six recipients in Lake County, Indiana  awarded the Eli Lily Endowment Community Scholarship.