Two of DHS’s first black students return as teachers

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 19, 2000

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / February 19, 2000

DESTREHAN – The turbulent 1960s was an era of deep racial divisions and came to a head in south Louisiana with the desegregation of public schools. In1965, Destrehan High saw the arrival of a handful of African-American students from Bethune High School in Norco in a “freedom of choice” program.

Two of those new students, Glenda Smith and Ulysses Frontha, helped pave the way for many to follow as Destrehan High’s first black student-athletes.

And they continue to inspire a new generation as Destrehan High School teacher/coaches Glenda S. LeBoyd and Ulysses Frontha.”We had just moved out here from uptown New Orleans,” recalled Frontha, who attended ninth grade at Bethune High. However, he was a rising youngathlete and was heartbroken to find Bethune didn’t have a football program.

When the St. Charles School Board approached black parents with a freedomof choice form, his parents, Gloria and Sidney Scott of New Sarpy, let him make the decision whether to transfer to Destrehan.

“They’ve always supported my decisions to do things,” Frontha added. “Theylet me make the decision.”Frontha saw it as greater opportunities for his athletic dreams even though some of his friends weren’t initially supportive.

“It was no big deal to me,” he said of the fateful decision he made as a 15- year-old. “In New Orleans, white and black families lived in the same area.”On Dec. 1, 1965, a small group of black students met first with schooladministration, then were taken on a tour of the school.

“Everybody was just about breaking their necks, watching us go past,” Frontha said. “Nobody knew how people were going to react.”Back at the office, it seemed every student made a point to walk by to gawk at the strangers. “I felt like an animal in the zoo,” he said.Classes started on the following morning.

Glenda LeBoyd, wife of Henry LeBoyd, remembers the evening her family discussed the matter. A lifelong resident of St. Rose, she was enthusiasticabout the change offered to her by her parents, Adolph and Lucille Smith.

“I wanted to see what the rest of the world was like,” she said.

At the school, “everybody stared.” She remembered it was simply sprung onthe students without notice. “Kids didn’t have time to prepare.”It was a group of students with mixed emotions that arrived at Destrehan to start classes.

“We all were protective of each other,” LeBoyd recalled. “We had to bondtogether.”Frontha noted, “At first, many students didn’t interact with us. We tried tosit next to each other to support each other.”It was athletics, though, which helped break down the racial and social barriers.

Frontha had already made the varsity basketball team at Bethune in his freshman year and had no problem winning a spot on the Destrehan squad under Coach Jessie Roussel.

A lot of times his was the only black face in the gym or the bus.

“I always believed I was representing my parents, but I was also representing Destrehan High,” he said.

For LeBoyd, softball was her path to acceptance. The center fielder earned aplace on the squad and was soon accepted by her teammates.

“That first year was the toughest, but after that it was normal,” she said.

Probably the worst time for Frontha was during that first year in Denham Springs in the first round of the state basketball playoffs.

“We walked in the gym and the place was packed and I was the only black in there. They booed us from the time we walked to the time we left,” he said.He added, “My teammates later said they were afraid of what those people might do.”However, with support from Coach Roussel, Frontha stayed the course.

LeBoyd and Frontha both remember going on away-game trips and being refused service in restaurants.

One time in Hammond, despite the whole team being well-dressed in blazers, “they stopped me at the door and told me I had to go around to the side.

Coach Roussel told everybody to get back on the bus and we went to another restaurant. To this day, I respect him for that,” Frontha said.Glenda’s softball coach, Sue Bails, likewise supported her and the whole team through similar instances.

“I never was afraid,” Glenda remembered. “I just wanted to be treatedfairly.”After graduation, each went their own way.

Glenda married Henry LeBoyd and they now have two sons, ages 24 and 17.

After college, she taught in Baton Rouge briefly, then returned to Destrehan High as a teacher and coach in 1977, teaching science at first but soon moving to physical education. At various times she has been head coach involleyball and softball and assistant coach in basketball and track.

Frontha moved to Bossier City and taught until his old classmate, principal Chipper Simon, personally invited him to return in 1991. Since returning, he’scoached girls basketball and track.

“I tell kids today that athletics kept me on the straight and narrow,” Frontha said.

“It was amazing to come back and work at my old high school,” LeBoyd said.

“It was good to come back.”She doesn’t discuss her student days at Destrehan often, even during Black History Month. “I rarely talk about it or discuss it. It’s behind me,” she said.However, both teachers are aware of the history they were making back then.

“We were on the frontier of what was to come,” LeBoyd said.

Frontha added, “Sometimes you don’t realize the importance of what you do.

Destrehan has made some great strides since then.”*** In recognition of Black History Month, L’Observateur is introducing readers to African-Americans from each of the River Parishes who’ve quietly changed the lives of others. Next Saturday St. John the Baptist Parish will befeatured.

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