A Biographical Sketch of Thomas Joseph Roulhac
By Maude Roulhac Jackson
The Roulhac Quarterly, Fall 1992, Vol. 1 Issue 8
Thomas Joseph Roulhac was born December 24, 1872, in the Orange Hill Community of Washington County, Florida. He was the son of Peter Warren Roulhac and Kate Roulhac.
Papa, as his children called him, was a very devout Christian. He served as a steward and Sunday School Superintendent in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, St. Joseph by name, and later St Joseph AME Church, which still stands. Many of his descendants are still members of this church.
Papa was a family man and believed in the full support of his family. He was married to Patience Goode. This marriage they were blessed with ten children, nine girls and one boy. It is interesting to note that all of the children became teachers. This, I believe, was influenced by the lives of their parents.
Papa was a self-educated man. A very brilliant man, he was sometimes asked where he obtained an education. His reply was “from Swamp University.” He was eager to learn and for that reason, he grasped every opportunity to upgrade his education as evidenced by the fact that after his children were grown he entered Florida A&M University (FAMC then) and received his high school diploma. It was amazing how he could solve difficult problems in algebra geometry, and even calculus better than most of the children who had degrees in mathematics.
Papa’s thirst for knowledge came at an early age. Actually, at the age of six, Papa broke his leg. Since his Aunt Stella had learned her ABC’s she would take him on her back to the field where she picked cotton. She would sit him under the shade while she worked.
One day she found an old catalog and gave it to Papa to look at the pictures. Instead of looking at the pictures, he got a glimpse of the words on the same page. Papa began to wonder what they were. When he asked Aunt Stella, she was able to teach him. After learning the alphabet with the use of phonetics or sounds, he and Aunt Stella learned to read. By counting the number of rows, Aunt Stella hoed with his fingers Papa learned to add and subtract. Later in life he became a mathematician. He took the State Examination ( a license to teach) and earned a First Grade Certificate which was valid for life at that time.
In July 1913, Papa was contracted to supervise the Negro Schools of Washington County under the direction of W.T. Horne. He earned $40.00 per month from the Anna T. Jeans Funds managed by Dr. J.H. Dillard of New Orleans and $20.00 from the Board of Public instruction, Washington County, Florida.
Papa taught school in several small schools in Northwest Florida. His last years were spent in the black high school of which he was instrumental in founding. It happened like this. When Papa’s two youngest daughters, Anne and Maude, finished the eighth grade, they were not permitted to enroll in Chipley High School because they were black. Even though the county assisted financially in their attending high school in Tallahassee Papa was concerned about all black boys and girls education. Therefore, he vowed that he would not stop working until a black high school was erected in Washington County for black boys and girls. Papa worked hard traveling both day and night across Washington County seeking to realize his dream.
In 1928, his dream was realized and he became principle of the school housed in the old AME Church. The school was subsequently named Roulhac High School . . . Later, when segregation was declared illegal, the Roulhac High School merged with Chipley High School. The middle school still carries the name Roulhac Middle School.
Papa was a good man – a perfect gentleman. Although he died on November 11, 1941, he still lives in the lives of his descendants as well as in the lives of legions that he touched through his teachings.
[Editor’s note: See TRQ, Fall1991, Vol 1, Issue. 4 for 1870 an 1880 census information for Thomas Joseph, his siblings and parents, Warren and Kate Roulhac.]
The former Roulhac High School is located on Pecan Street in Chipley (Washington County). The school was named to honor Thomas Joseph Roulhac who in 1930 was instrumental in convincing the County to open Chipley Colored School, a high school for black children who had been excluded from white schools. The school now serves as the T.J. Roulhac Enrichment and Cultural Center, a non-profit community service organization working to meet the health and human service needs of men, women, and children of all ethnicities. The Roulhac name is further perpetuated in Chipley at the Roulhac Middle School on Brickyard Road.
T.J. Roulhac Enrichment and Cultural Center website: http://tjroulhacenrichmentandactivitycenter.com/
Roulhac Middle School Website: http://rms.paec.org/