Before beginning elementary school, Mary Lee Taylor attended Mrs. Booker’s kindergarten, which she recalls was “one room, about the size of a garage.” When the children would act up, Mrs. Booker “would get her switch and she would call it ‘Brother Rabbit’.” Today, when Mrs. Taylor disciplines her own grandkids, she says, “I’m going to get my ‘Brother Rabbit’.”
Vivian Seals fondly remembers her days at Mrs. Booker’s kindergarten. Mrs. Seals recalls nearly all of the neighborhood children attending the school, which was located in a building directly behind its founder’s home. The founder, Susie Horton Booker, who many children affectionately called “Aunt Sue,” earned her teaching certificate from Prairie View College before moving to Independence Heights in 1910.
Mrs. Booker’s commitment to the children was evident in her generosity. She never refused children because of their parents’ financial status. The school’s success was demonstrated by the excellent preparation for elementary school that the students received. Mrs. Booker’s kindergarten, now called Williams Academy, still serves the Independence Heights community.
By the time a dozen or so families had moved into Independence Heights, the need for an elementary school had become evident. In 1911, with the help of Harris County, local leaders worked to create a school at the 600 block of E. 39th street, and a two-room building from the Sunset Heights community was moved onto the site. The first teacher in the new Independence Heights School was O.L. Hubbard, a graduate of Prairie View College.
As the population increased, the student body outgrew its small schoolhouse and classes had to be temporarily held in both the New Hope Baptist Church building and in the General Mercantile Store, By 1928, a new building for the school was constructed on 33rd street, and P.H. Holden had become the first principal. When it opened, the school was renamed in honor of James D. Burrus, a former slave who became a successful black educator.
For high school classes, students attended Colored High, which was established in 1892 and rebuilt (on the same site) in 1927 to accommodate the growing numbers of students (for more than 25 years it was Houston’s only high school for African Americans). In 1928 it was renamed Booker T. Washington. According to Mrs. Seals, the elementary school that she attended in the First Ward, outside of Independence Heights, was first named Booker T. Washington, but its name was changed to Brock Elementary when the high school took the elementary school’s former name.
Burrus Elementary is like the rock of Gibraltar and has been around for a long time. Dating back to 1911, Burrus has produced students who go on to achieve many great accomplishments.