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Parsons Elementary School: Take a deep dive into the history behind the name | Better stories

DECATUR, MAL. (WAND) Decatur Public Schools celebrated the 56th anniversary of Parsons Elementary School on Thursday.

However, not many know the man or the story behind the name.

“As I was petitioning Decatur, I noticed a lot of African Americans were telling me they didn’t know who he was. Or why the school was called Parsons,” said Bobbi Parsons, great-granddaughter of Judge James B. Parsons.

James Parsons is the man behind it all. He was born in Kansas City, Missouri and raised in Decatur, Illinois. Bobbi thinks back to the memories he shared with his great-uncle.

“When I was growing up, we stayed on Lincoln Street. It always came,” Bobbi said.

Parsons graduated from Stephen Decatur High in 1929. He was the only African American in his class. As a product of DPS, they continue to keep his name alive in the district.

“In honor of Judge Parsons. He was an upstanding citizen in our community. He came from Decatur Public Schools, Millikin University,” said Holly Kitson, principal of Parsons Elementary.

Parsons furthered his education with degrees from several universities. Including Millikin, University of Washington and University of Chicago. In Chicago, Parsons received his doctorate in 1949.

For some time, Parsons was an instructor at Lincoln University. There he taught music and political science. Parsons even volunteered in the US Navy during World War II. His successes continued, reaching an even greater goal.

“He was the first African-American district judge in the United States,” Bobbi said.

Parsons was appointed by President John F. Kennedy himself in 1961. He became the first African-American district judge in the United States.

“A legacy is the name on the school. Parsons school,” Bobbi said.

Parsons Elementary School now stands at 3591 North Macarthur Road, named in his honor for 56 years.

“We are celebrating the history of Judge Parsons and the history of the school. Many of our students don’t know much about who we are named after, so this event is part of that,” Kitson said.

If you are interested in learning more about Judge James B. Parsons, please visit here. You can also visit the Decatur Public Library for more information.

Copyright 2023. WANDTV. All rights reserved.

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