EL CENTROÂ â€”To culminate the celebration of Black History Month, Imperial Valley residents will be treated to a special visit Tuesday (Feb. 23) from Dr. Payton C. Cook, 94, a former El Centro student and high school teacher who is considered a living legend and Valley treasure.
The public is invited to attend an event honoring Dr. Cook at noon at the Old Post Office Pavilion at 230 S. 5th Street in El Centro. Dr. Cook will also be speaking to students at an assembly at Washington Elementary School where he attended as well as taught, and attend the Board of Supervisorsâ€™ meeting Tuesday morning.
In 1927, Dr. Cook migrated with his family from Arkansas to El Centro in search of a better life and employment. Locating on the east side of El Centro, the family settled into a segregated community divided by the railroad tracks.
He later attended and was graduated from Douglass High School, an all-Black secondary school on the east side of El Centro that was founded in 1929 during a time of racial segregation when Black students were denied enrollment into the regular high school system. It was one of the first Black high schools in the Southern California area.
Now considered a historical landmark, the Douglass school was closed in 1954 following the Supreme Courtâ€™s Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision.
Following his high school graduation in 1939, Dr. Cook attended Southern University in Baton Rouge, and then later returned to give back to his community by teaching at both Washington Elementary and Douglass High from 1948 to 1951. From 1951 to 1982, he was a principal for the San Diego Unified School District.
Dr. Cook holds a doctorate in secondary education and administration. He is retired and now lives in Las Vegas.