Memories of Coleman College recalled during dedication of marker

By Mary K. Hamner
Journal Correcpondent

A large crowd turned out at the Gibsland-Coleman High School on February 7, 2014 for the unveiling of a very impressive Historical Marker commemorating the establishment and history of the first black institution of higher learning in North Louisiana. The program held in the school gymnasium hosted numerous dignitaries, including Mayor John Marks, III, Great Grandson of O. L. Coleman, the Founder and President of Coleman College.

Research of the former college furnished by Ms Freddie Blow of Gibsland, Louisiana, leads through a panorama of ages and circumstances. According to one unknown writer, The educational plight of Negroes, in Louisiana as well as other states- before and after the Civil War, was more pronounced than that of whites. Educational opportunities for Negroes were largely the result of the efforts of northern church organized missionary societies and other benevolent societies.

Devoted Negro leaders, after struggling to obtain an education, gave their time and dedicated their efforts to the cause of education for Negroes. Often with little more than faith in God, Negro leaders set out to establish schools to help uplift their fellow man. One such leader was the founder of Coleman College.

Oliver Louis Coleman, the founder of Coleman College, was born in Canton, Mississippi; the son of slaves. The approximate year of his birth was 1857. He came to Gibsland, Louisiana in 1887, when the town of Gibsland and Palestine Baptist Church were in their infancy. Coleman was a recent graduate of Alcorn A&M College in Lorman, Mississippi. The Palestine Baptist Church Congregation readily accepted him, and he organized what he called an "Evergreen" Sunday school in the church. He was allowed to hold daily classes. At first, the school offered courses for the 1st 8th grades. Eight students were enrolled. Out of his original efforts Coleman College was born.

In 1889 the school was moved to the site where Gibsland-Cloleman High School now stands. Coleman College was the first institution of higher learning open to Blacks in North Louisiana. The school\'c6s beginnings were humble.

The first classes, with students ranging from 30's to 40's, were held in one lone frame building. Students sometimes paid tuition with produce from the farms. Palestine offered such assistance as it could afford to the struggling young school, as did many other churches across North Louisiana. Eventually, the churches formed an organization, the Springville Missionary and Educational Association to support the College.

Unexpectedly, a Rockford, Illinois man, the late C.R. Moore, who owned property around Gibsland, including the 10-acre site of the college's frame building, donated the site to the school. This benevolent act, however did not end the school's financial worries. O.L. Coleman had always believed in prayer. His initial dream was to provide training for Black preachers and teachers. Legend has it that at this point he prayed so fervently under a certain tree that this tree bowed its head in an attitude of prayer. At any rate, shortly after this intense prayer period, the American Baptist Home Mission Society in Boston, Mass. decided to provide Coleman College with an annual grant.

In 1908, the first brick buildings, manufactured from the hill's store of red clay were constructed, with a Mansfield, Louisiana brick maker in charge, assisted by the students, and the people of Gibsland.

By the 1920s there were several brick buildings on the campus, and the school prospered greatly. At the height of its existence, Coleman College owned some 100 acres. There were eight building which included classrooms, auditoriums, dormitories, and an administration building. The studies included courses in algebra, geometry, Latin, English, music, chemistry, and bible study. Extra curricular activities included the Coleman College Choir, a glee club and intercollegiate athletics.

In 1927, O.L. Coleman was fatally injured in an automobile accident near Delta Point, Mississippi and his son M.M.Coleman succeeded him as president from 1927-1934. Rev. Roy Mayfield served as the third president from 1934-1937 During this time period Coleman College moved to Shreveport and operated there for about 10 years as a bible college.

A few years after the closing of the college in Gibsland, the site was acquired by the Bienville Parish School System and now is home to Gibsland-Coleman High School.

The Unveiling Ceremony for the Coleman College Historical marker was organized by the Gibsland-Coleman Alumni Association and funded by contributions of numerous supporters.

Marking the memory of years past, this large stone
monument was unveiled at site of Coleman College
during a special event in February.
Buildings as they exixted during the life of athe college, 1887 through 1937