Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing & Visual Arts Celebrates its Centennial

The exemplary Dallas ISD magnet school celebrates its history and legacy

“JLD is a part of the fabric of Booker T. Washington.” 

Sharon Cornell, Booker T. Washington

In 2022, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing & Visual Arts commemorated the opening of its historic building 100 years ago. Booker T. Washington is one of the Junior League of Dallas’s oldest agency partners with volunteers supporting the staff and students for over 30 years. 

The history of Booker T. Washington is a “tale of two schools.” 

The school opened as the first African American high school in Dallas and was named after the legendary education pioneer. Before integration, the school was the first to have a football game broadcast live on the radio and the first on television, and the first to play football under Friday night lights. As fate would have it, the Booker T. Bulldogs were the last Dallas team to take the State football championship until South Oak Cliff won the title in 2022. 

Now, the school is one of the top eight arts magnet schools in the country offering five areas of concentration, called conservatories, in academics, dance, music, theatre, and visual arts. The school attracts approximately 950 students in grades 9 – 12 from across the metropolitan area.

The high school opened 100 years ago to the day Sunday, October 30, 2022 and marked the occasion with a celebration. As part of the celebration, 100-year-old alumna and member of the 1939 graduating class, Ruth Price-Sanders joined the iconic singer-songwriter and notable alumna Erykah Badu in burying a time capsule to be opened another 100 years from now. The school’s name was also entered into the Library of Congress.

“The Congressional Record is the highest achievement that the school can receive,” said Sharon Cornell, Public Relations Specialist for Booker T. Washington and alumna. “This school has a really long history,” said Cornell. “My grandfather started his teaching career here in the social studies department, and he became a principal in the district, serving Dallas ISD for 40 years.”

Cornell’s great uncle, L.V. Williams, also attended the school when it was still the only African American high school in Dallas. He graduated and was the first student to graduate from the school and return as principal in 1936. Sharon attended the Dance Department, now called the Dance Conservatory. Sharon’s three children and two step-children also graduated from the school. 

Junior League of Dallas began our relationship with Booker T. Washington in the early ‘80s with a grant that started the Senior Showcase, now called the College Showcase, where seniors perform or present their portfolio to college representatives traveling to Dallas. 

“The College Showcase would not be possible without the help of Junior League of Dallas and that help changes lives,” says Cornell. “A lot of our students can’t go to two and three and four universities or conservatories to visit, so bringing the college reps to the school helps to level the playing field for students.” 

Today, League members support the College Showcase by staffing the box office, helping students backstage, or supervising classrooms while teachers step away to assist seniors performing in the showcase. 

“It’s always been set up that way because League members are the smartest women ever, and they make sure everything runs smoothly,” says Cornell, “We just love them! There would not be a College Showcase without the Junior League of Dallas.”

“Current students and their parents are not allowed to do the things that a Junior League of Dallas volunteer can do because our volunteers are impartial,” says Kelly Tornow, Junior League of Dallas Project Chair for Booker T. Washington, who mentioned parents and students can’t perform essential tasks like handling money because of their affiliation with the school. “Without our volunteers, the teachers would have to do those tasks.” 

Tornow also says that staff at the school appreciate the support and organizational skills of League volunteers. Our volunteers create and maintain spreadsheets with all the information for students going through auditions. At its peak in 2017, colleges awarded over $67 million in scholarships to graduates through College Showcase, so the time and effort of our volunteers have a demonstrable impact.

“Every year, a placement with Booker T. Washington is one of the most competitive in the League,” says Tornow, “Many of our volunteers come back year after year because they love to work with Booker T. Washington.” 

“Junior League of Dallas adds so much to the school, “ says Cornell. “You are part of the fabric of the school.” 

Katelyn Morris
Member at Large
Brand Strategy Committee
2022 – 2023