McKinney ISD

 

A Moment that Changed Everything: The Enduring Legacy of Leonard Evans Jr.

Article|
Shane Mauldin|
Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Leonard Evans Jr. spoke to McGowen Elementary students in 2017.

Leonard Evans Jr. spoke to McGowen Elementary students in 2017.

McKinney, Texas – It’s a rare thing to brush up against living history—to look into the eyes of a man who has helped shape the world in which we live.

Not just a “personal hero”—one of those people who help guide us along life’s journey—but the kind of person who profoundly changes an entire community.

Someone like Leonard Evans Jr.

Certainly, there are countless witnesses who could come forward to share the personal impact that Evans made on their lives over the course of his 50-plus years in and around education.

But, with his passing at the age of 93 last Tuesday, we lost a man whose courage and stalwart character established a legacy that would transform an entire city.

Evans in a group photo

Leonard Evans Jr. (center) in a faculty photo from Doty High School.

He grew up in tough times, facing a world full of hardship and racism, just one generation removed from ancestors who had endured the injustice of slavery. When he returned from the rigors of World War II seeking higher education, the doors to some universities were closed to him because of the color of his skin.

Some might have become mired in bitterness and anger on the road he walked. But, Evans kept moving forward. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Texas College in Tyler in 1952 and soon got a job as a teacher at Lincoln High School in Dallas.

In 1953, his journey led him back to McKinney—where he had grown up—and he became a bus driver, teacher and a coach at the segregated school from which he had graduated a little more than a decade before—E.S. Doty High School.

A year later, the Supreme Court would declare segregated schools such as Doty unequal and unconstitutional. Change would come. But, that kind of change requires the kind of man who will take a step forward.

Someone like Leonard Evans Jr.

In 1963, the McKinney ISD Board of Trustees voted unanimously to desegregate McKinney ISD schools, and Evans was transferred from Doty High School to what was then called South Ward School—now Fanny Finch Elementary. When he walked through those doors, he became the first black teacher to work at a white campus in McKinney ISD.

“South Ward…those of you who know about South Ward, it was in the south part of town. It was the cotton mill district,” he said in a 2014 documentary produced by McKinney High School students. “The average white person who lived out there lived in a two-bedroom shack…And, they weren’t very kind to blacks, and I knew this before I got there. But, I was kind of determined to go and see what it was like.

“When I got inside of the door at South Ward school, they had a table that was as long as from here to that hallway full food…tablecloth…everything. ‘Welcome Coach Evans’ at the end. Man, you talk about a surprise. I was glad to see that somebody had some sense. The person in charge of the teacher-parent group, they welcomed me with arms wide open,” Evans said.

Last February, Evans and Jesse McGowen spoke to students at McGowen Elementary about some of the experiences they faced during the era of segregation, and Evans briefly described that morning before he entered South Ward to find food and a welcome sign.

He pulled up in front of the building for the first time to find “150-200 men milling around.”

White men. And, they didn’t have welcome signs.

“I didn’t know what they were going to do,” he said. “I depended on the Lord. My wife drove me in and let me out, and I went inside and everything went well. [Those men] did some talking, but I didn’t say anything back.”

That walk from his car to the front doors of South Ward School would be the first steps toward desegregation in McKinney ISD—during a time when it could be very dangerous to try.

But, it was a road he had been walking his whole life.

And, it was a moment that would change everything.

———————————-

In 1965, Doty closed its doors, and McKinney ISD schools became fully integrated.

In 1984, Evans retired after a 31-year career in education with McKinney ISD.

In 1989, he became the district’s first black school board member, and he would serve on the board for the next 16 years.

In 2008, the district opened a new middle school. They named it Leonard Evans Jr. Middle School.

I had the opportunity to speak with Evans on more than one occasion. He was very kind, and it was incredibly humbling, and honestly, I wasn’t sure what to say to a man like Leonard Evans Jr.—a man who was a living, breathing history lesson, who took those first, courageous steps that made McKinney—and McKinney ISD—a far better place.

What I wish I had said was…

“Thank you.”

Need Help?

If you need additional assistance with the content on this page, please contact MISD Communications Department team member Shane Mauldin by phone at 469-302-4007 or by email here .

Press Contact