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Peabody Magnet High School’s impact on the Black community

Published: Feb. 22, 2021 at 7:57 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 22, 2021 at 8:18 PM CST
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - Many people are familiar with Peabody Magnet High School’s band and the athletic program, but not everyone knows Peabody’s history.

In 1895, Mr. and Mrs. J.B. Lafargue helped establish the Peabody Industrial School with a grant they secured. The original location is near Third and Bogan Streets, where the Peabody Montessori School now stands.

“I finished in 1959,” Charles Fredrick Smith, a former Alexandria Councilman, said. “My diploma at the bottom it says a negro high school.”

For years, Peabody would be the only public school Black students in Alexandria could attend. In 1937, David Faxton Iles took over as the principal for J.B. Lafargue. Iles transformed Peabody from an industrial training school into a respected high school.

“Most of the people that I know that went on from Peabody really made a life for themselves,” Gwendolyn Iles Foster, Principal Iles’ daughter, said.

Some notable names that graduated from Peabody are Natalie Desselle-Reid, Israel “Bo” Curtis, Sherman Desselle and many more.

“Kids come in here and build up self-esteem that would carry them on to become great doctors, lawyers and even vice presidents of Fortune 500 companies,” Charles Smith, the head basketball coach and a math teacher at Peabody, said.

The school is known as a “game-changer” in the Black community, which is why the phrase “Warhorse Nation” carries so much pride.

“It’s like a household name,” Charles F. Smith said.

“It was the hub of activity,” Foster said.

“I would say this is an outstanding school,” Coach Smith said. “Because it gives the at-risk kids, [and] lower-income kids a chance to make it in society.”

Christopher Caffery, a Peabody alum and doctoral candidate, went deeper to learn more about Peabody’s history.

“I decided to write a thesis on Peabody,” Caffery said. “Because I wanted to find out a little bit more about the history surrounding this institution.”

Thanks to teachers and administrators, Peabody continues to stand after being founded 126 years ago.

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