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A look at the rich history of Fort Worth's first school for Black students

Opal Lee, the "Grandmother of Juneteenth," graduated from I.M. Terrell in 1943.

FORT WORTH, Texas — Today, I.M. Terrell for STEM and Visual Performing Arts is a school that attracts students from all over Tarrant County.

"We have students representing all the middle schools in Fort Worth ISD," Principal Ricky Brown said. "We have students from Keller, Aledo, Burleson and all over come to I.M. Terrell because our focus is really giving students an opportunity to tap into their passion.”

But in 1882, when the school originally opened, the focus was offering educational excellence despite racism, segregation and inequality. Then, it was called East Ninth Street Colored School, and it was the only option for Black students in the Fort Worth area. 

“You had the best of the best who were coming to I.M. Terrell to get a great education, but we were also  fortunate in that we had some of the best educators that were here in Fort Worth, and a lot of them came out of I.M. Terrell," Brown said. 

In 1921, the school was renamed I.M. Terrell High School, after the school's principal. 

Among the graduates of the historic school are artists, musicians, record-breaking coaches, educators and changemakers. 

"That legacy is now pushed out across the city of Fort Worth, across the state of Texas and, even now, across the nation," Brown said. 

Opal Lee graduated from I.M. Terrell in 1943.

“Her impact never really left this space," Brown said. "She brings such grace. Her determination…her drive…the fact that at 90 plus, she’s still doing what she’s doing. I feel like that’s an inspiration.”

Lee was an educator in Fort Worth ISD for decades, but Brown said her life as a student is woven into the rich history at I.M. Terrell. 

“For me, it’s just an honor to get to be in that space and have the opportunity to represent what she stood for when she was a student at I.M. Terrell," Brown said. 

In 1973, I.M. Terrell closed as schools in Fort Worth started integrating. 

In 1998, it opened as an elementary school, but it closed in 2016. 

After a relentless fight from a passionate alumni network, the school reopened as a high school in 2018. Brown was brought in as principal as the school opened and led the charge to recruit and carry on the legacy. 

“We’re just really focusing on carrying on that legacy that came before us so in another 50 years…a hundred years…we’re still talking about I.M. Terrell in the same breadth that we’re talking about it now and even then," Brown said. 

This spring, the "new" I.M. Terrell celebrated its first graduating class. Opal Lee spoke to the students just days before the ceremony. 

"For me, it’s just an honor to get to be in that space and have the opportunity to represent what she stood for when she was a student at I.M. Terrell," Brown said. 

Lee is one of many success stories that include I.M. Terrell. 

Today, the halls are lined with photos, memorabilia and even a room dedicated to celebrating successful alumni and mapping out all the ways they've impacted the world. 

The hope is for students of this generation to be inspired to do the same. 

“They get to see the history. They get to see the legacy, and they get to understand what it is that they’re walking into," Brown said. 

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