In 1875, Professor Alexander James Moore of Paul Quinn College, concerned at the lack of quality education for African American children in Waco, began teaching small groups of young children out of his home. Though Reconstruction Legislature of 1870 eliminated segregation in schools throughout Texas, these laws were appealed by 1873, and most cities like Waco were left without provisions for African American education. Over time, Moore’s classes grew larger and larger, and it became clear that the school, now called the First District Negro School, needed to find some sort of official facility. In 1881, the classes moved to a small four-room frame building which had originally been a hospital at the corner of Clay Avenue and River Street. These classes became known as the Second District Negro School. In addition to being the first teacher, A. J. Moore served as the school’s first principal from 1881 to 1905. The inaugural graduating class in 1886 contained only five students. In the school’s almost one-hundred years of serving Waco’s children, more than 4,000 students graduated, many continuing on to successful careers.
School officials chose a new location for the school after the main building burned down in 1921. They completed construction on a brick building at 600 South First Street in 1923. This schoolhouse contained 35 classrooms, allowing the school to expand its education of Waco youth. At this time the school obtained the name A. J. Moore High, becoming the only school in the Waco system named for a person. The Waco Tribune-Herald noted that the community chose the name intentionally to honor the selfless legacy of Professor A. J. Moore.
From 1923 to 1952, the school housed kindergarten students through the twelfth grade. From 1952 until the school’s closure in 1971, it provided education for students in the seventh through twelfth grades only. The A. J. Moore High School Handbook, published in 1951, exhorts its students to take responsibility for their own futures, as well as for that of their community. It declares the school’s hopes to offer students a well-rounded education, providing them not only with knowledge, but also the means for achieving success in all areas of life. The handbook calls students to remain loyal to the principles of democracy, encouraging respect for the rights of all citizens.
Space increasingly became an issue as the school continued to grow. Discussions concerning the school’s dilemma noted in particular the poor location of the school, considering the noise coming from the train which ran through the school yard. The overcrowded classrooms only added to the school’s plight. Ultimately, the school closed in 1971, as a result of desegregation and urban renewal projects in Waco.
In 1997, A. J. Moore Academy was reborn in Waco as a magnet school. Proponents of this school hoped to carry on the traditions begun by Professor Moore in the nineteenth century, encouraging students to remain united. The charter school emphasized areas such as business, engineering, entrepreneurship, and technology in order to help students succeed in secondary education and the workplace. In order to combat budget shortfalls, the school board elected to consolidate A. J. Moore Academy with University High in 2012.
A. J. Moore High School was the first and arguably most successful effort for the provision of systematic and quality education for children of all races in Waco. Until Moore took it upon himself to begin teaching young children, Waco did not have any schools dedicated to the education of African American children. Today, the school remains an important hallmark of the Waco community, providing quality education for students of all races.