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Historian remembers first Black students at Great Falls High School

Ken Robison
Posted at 9:44 AM, Feb 26, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-26 11:44:01-05

GREAT FALLS — Great Falls is home to many famous black people like Reggie Watts and Alma Smith Jacobs, but there were many black students who attended Great Falls High School whose achievements were nearly lost to time.

Local historian Ken Robison gave a talk titled, “Achieving Fame in the Face of Adversity”, where he localized Black History Month not only to Great Falls, but Great Falls High School.

“I've identified three African-American students from Great Falls High School that went on to do some surprising things nationally,” said Robison.

The talk featured Dr. Wilford Robinson, a doctor who also served in World War 1; Jess Lee Brooks, a stage and film actor; and Wade Parker, an activist who changed lives working with the inner city Chicago Youth Programs.

“I mean, their achievements were not known and are not known today,” Robison said, “Which is why I think it's really cool to find the stories and bring them out and share them with people.”

Robison has been focused on discovering and preserving black history in Montana for nearly 20 years. He first saw the inequality while serving in the Navy, and once he returned to Montana, he wanted to do what he could to right the wrong. At the Great Falls Public Library, he talked about a few pioneers who beat the odds and status quo.

“The first 14, 15 years, the Great Falls High School, I don't believe there were any black students, and yet there were several hundred African-Americans in the community here,” Robison said, “So, number one, not many went to high school. And even then, of those students, 148 started in that class of 19 seven. Only 44 graduated…and those were all white.”

Robison believes Dr. Robinson and Mr. Brooks are believed to be the first two black students to attend Great Falls High School. However, they did not graduate with their class in 1907, instead leaving for college after their junior year.

Ken Robison’s full talk will be posted on the library's YouTube channel.