Remembering Rev. Reuben Napoleon Chanay

Each week this month, we’re dedicating the blog to articles about Merrill School and notable faculty, staff, and students as we look forward to the Merrill All School Reunion that begins tomorrow. In this article, we examine the influence of Rev. Reuben Napoleon Chanay, the veteran educator who served as the high school’s principal in the 1940s and 1950s.

Is it an overstatement to say that Reuben Napoleon Chanay was one of the most interesting, educated, and debonair men that has ever walked this earth?


Merrill High School graduates don’t think so. They remember him as a monumental figure in Pine Bluff.


Rev. R.N. Chanay spent his career in education. He became principal of Merrill High School in 1941 after working as a teacher and serving as assistant principal in the school. All totaled, Rev. Chanay graced the classrooms, hallways, and administrative offices of Merrill High School for more than 35 years, striving at all times to perpetuate the lofty ideals and standards of conduct that are now a part of the philosophy and tradition of Merrill School.

From left to right: R.N. Chanay (principal of Pine Bluff's Merrill High School), Lawrence Davis, Sr. (president of Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical, and Normal College in Pine Bluff), Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune (president and founder of the National Organization of Negro Women). and Anna P. Strong (principal of Moton High School in Marianna).


Driven, focused, and disciplined, Rev. Chanay never lost sight of Merrill School’s long-range goals. He was relentless in his dedication to creating the infrastructure necessary to provide the highest quality education for his students. As a result, Merrill School accomplished many milestones during Rev. Chanay’s decade as principal. Grades one through six were separated from the high school. Merrill became a Junior/Senior High School with nine teachers transferred to Carver Elementary. Merrill School purchased property and lighting for an athletic field. The faculty was upgraded, with more than twenty teachers holding master’s degrees. During Rev. Chanay’s tenure, the school set up a well-equipped library and hired a librarian with a degree in library science to manage it. He oversaw the launch of a guidance program and a student testing program. He led Merrill to accreditation by the North Central Association of Schools. Rev. Chanay was responsible for bringing phenomenal cultural experiences to his faculty, staff, students, and his community including Mary McLeod Bethune, Freda DeKnight, an African Nigerian group, and many more. He was also one of the presidents of the Arkansas Teachers Association, actively supporting the Sue Cowan Williams Salary Equalization lawsuit against the Little Rock School Board.


Rev. Chanay cared about everyone in his orbit: students, faculty, staff, family, and the community at large. A man like him could have taken his smarts, his influence, and his talents anywhere. We’re glad he chose to bring them to Pine Bluff.


Sources: Ramona Chanay Hildreth, Laura Hildreth, Rosie Thomas Pettigrew

Image Credit: Ramona Chanay Hildreth, Laura Hildreth

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