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Sunday, May 1, 2016

More than a coach

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Editor's Note: This is the last of a three-part series leading up to the presentation of a plaque to Fort Scott High School commemorating the achievements of Professor Ernest Jocquito Hawkins, who was recently posthumously inducted into the Kansas State High School Activities Association Hall of Fame.

Longtime Whirlwinds basketball coach and principal E.J. Hawkins joins the latest class of inductees into the Kansas State High School Activities Association, but to historians and those who knew him, Hawkins was an educator first and a coach second.

To fully understand the impact that Hawkins had on the African-American educational community of Fort Scott, one must first consider a little post-Civil War era history of Fort Scott schools.

For almost a century, from 1865 to 1956, four black schools were located on or near the present-day Fort Scott National Historic Site. Hawkins has been called the "heart and soul" of these schools.

The Freedman's School (later named the Adams School), was a one-room school house built by the Northwestern Freedman's Aid Commission of Chicago. The school was built in 1865 and operated until 1972, when the Fort Scott Colored School opened on the first floor of the Post Hospital at the Fort Scott National Historic Site. Hawkins attended the Fort Scott Colored School as a young boy. The school closed in 1884, when the First Plaza School for grades one to nine opened as part of a school construction program.

Hawkins spent his life in Fort Scott. He was born, educated and in turn educated others in Fort Scott. As a young man, Hawkins took and passed a special entrance exam for black students at Fort Scott High School and upon passing was granted admittance. Though the lower grades were not integrated, high-school age African-American students were admitted to FSHS by taking the exam.

Hawkins would later begin teaching at Plaza at the age of 16 and became principal at 21. The school was open until 1920. There was a three-year span from 1920-23, when Hawkins and other educators had to teach African-American youth in a temporary school inside Convention Hall. The Second Plaza School, where Hawkins would continue his career opened in 1923 and was later renamed The Hawkins School upon his passing in 1946, in honor of the longtime coach and principal. It is estimated that more than 1,000 people attended Hawkins' funeral. The Second Plaza School remained open until integration in 1956.

Other honors included being the first teacher of any race to be posthumously inducted into the Kansas Teacher's Hall of Fame in 2001.

Historians say that renaming the school was a constant reminder of how Hawkins' contributions to education inspired young African-American students to reach higher standards.

"His motto of 'Look Sharp, Be Sharp, Be Somebody,' gave untold positive encouragement to students," Betty Boyko, of the FSNHS said in her nomination letter to the KSHSAA. "... Obviously gifted, Hawkins chose to remain in Fort Scott and served as a teacher, coach and principal."

Former student Robert Nelson, now a Fort Scott Community College trustee, holds Hawkins' memory in high esteem.

"He was a man to be admired for his selflessness, his dedication and his commitment to education and athletics," Nelson told the KSHSAA. "We called him Professor Hawkins. His stature in school and the community demanded that title. As an educator, he wanted his students to excel to their highest potential."

Historian Arnold Schofield said Hawkins was a black educator and coach during a difficult time in history with many obstacles to hurdle.

"His remarkable achievements and high standards, especially during the time of segregation, are truly to be commended," Schofield wrote. "He was proven to be not only a great educator, coach and leader, but also a great visionary with high standards of achievement which was accomplished with pride and dignity."

He added that Hawkins not only to other black educators, but to his students and players as well.

One of those students influenced by Hawkins was his own daughter, Anita Barnes Hawkins, who taught at Hawkins School for five years. Barnes now lives in Los Angeles, but as a young woman broke the color barrier in the band at Fort Scott High School.

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