An education in cotton picking

White schools had once upon a time adjusted their schedules according to farming interests – rural schools in Murray and Gordon counties were rarities in that they were scheduling education around crops into the 1950s – but it was a practice that likely did not completely end across the state for black schools until total integration.

Counties handled the farming requirements in different ways. Some added the non-traditional Saturday to the calendars while others essentially went to a year-round schedule.

While black residents were rarely vocal in print about any misgivings they had about any part of the inequalities going on in their school systems, a letter in Waynesboro proved that not everyone was happy about the sacrifices the schools had to make.

In 1952, an article announcing the black school calendar caused an unnamed black reader to write editor Roy Chalker of The True Citizen. The writer was upset that the schools operated to serve farmers, who frequently employed black citizens … and their children to harvest the crops. Printed August 21, the letter said:

“Dear Mr. Chalker:

The article in a recent issue concerning the opening of Burke County schools is written every year around this time.

After reading the article, I regretted to think those who make school laws could be so hard as to demand that Negro teachers work on Saturdays, so as to make up time because they are not allowed to open on time. It seems a denial of human rights and liberties.

The reason, of course, is it serves the larger farm interests, in that crops are gathered by school children. It is a deplorable situation, which can be helped only when the hearts of the people who make these laws become clean. Until that time, the Negro children of Burke County, as well as the teachers, will suffer.

Another factor which deserves consideration is that teachers, in all probability, will be there on Saturdays disgusted and disheartened at the thought of being robbed of their weekend’s rest, which they most certainly deserve.

These teachers will have no spirit to do good jobs, thereby crippling the school children and retarding progressive education.

Very truly yours,
A Negro Reader”

A week later, Chalker responded in an editorial of his own. His tone did not seem overly sympathetic.

“It is perhaps unfortunate that “cotton picking” time does come in conflict with the first few days of school,” he said, “but we believe that the best possible arrangement has been to accommodate all concerned by the school officials. Teachers and students make up the time by attending on Saturdays for eleven out of the 36 Saturdays of the term.”

Those involved in picking cotton should consider themselves lucky, even.

Chalker said, “The contention of the Negro teacher that the arrangement is designed to “serve the large farm interests” is without foundation. Especially is this so when the farmers are paying $2. to $3. per hundred for cotton picking, and a good picker makes from $5 to $10 a day.”

Further, he said, the teachers should not whine. It would be nice for them to have weekends, but the schools do not exist for them; they exist for the students.

The year before the letter to Chalker, Burke had had to postpone the black school openings three weeks to September 24 because of a large cotton crop. Saturday classes again made up the time.

The practice was not limited to Burke County.

The Sparta Ishmaelite, in announcing that black schools were taking a two-week break September 12, 1963, said the local board of education figured it best. It was either that or heavy absenteeism.

In Johnson County, even two weeks were too short.

The break in 1955 ended after that period, but superintendent Bessie B. Martin said that while city school Dock Kemp was only missing 80 of its regular enrollment, that as many as 800-1,000 were still out across the county.

During a visit to Spring Hill School in 1950 as part of a survey of The Bulloch Herald, the paper noted that only 12 of 32 enrolled were present. Teacher Lula Lockwood said they were probably helping with cotton. Spring Hill was a typical African-American school of its era in that it was one room, but it lacked a proper schoolhouse, being held in the church by that name. Instead of desks, children sat in church pews. No buses served the school, meaning that a few children were walking as much as eight miles per day to attend.

During the same edition of The Herald, the response of “chopping cotton” was also given in reply to a high absentee rate at St. Paul School. One of its students walked six miles each way to attend school.

Dooly County had a slightly different solution in regards to its farming black students.

The September 20, 1956 edition of The Vienna News reported that like many systems, Dooly had delayed school openings for its rural black schools; the city-based Vienna High and Industrial opened September 3, but the others began September 17. Additionally, the News said, “the schedule has been set from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. so that cotton pickers can help on the farm.” This was expected to last several weeks.

Other counties pushed the start of school forwards instead of back.

Elbert County in 1951 opened its county schools – Elberton was a separate system at the time – on July 30. The term would last six weeks or two months. After the cotton was harvested, the winter term would begin. This system was said to be in place for years. Walton County also reported split terms in 1953, as did Madison County in 1954 (The Madisonian on July 15, 1954, reported the session was to start July 19 and to last two months). Oglethorpe County split sessions as well in the 1950s.

Pike County’s schools recessed September 6, 1955 for what The Pike County Journal described as “cotton picking vacation.” Their delay lasted even longer than usual as the county was finishing its building program under the Minimum Foundation Program and State School Building Authority. The buildings were finished, but equipment was not in yet, delaying the schools’ reopening to November 7. If the equipment was still not in, students would briefly have to return to their old schools.

Some of the split sessions and delays seemed to die out with the consolidation of rural schools during the Minimum Foundation Program, but a few systems were still altering their black schools’ calendar well in the 1960s.

Hancock County was still using delays into the mid-1960s. Decatur County, which was battling its rural white schools in an attempt at a county-wide high school during the decade, faced more problems in 1964.

The African-American Faceville Elementary burned March 28, 1964. Bainbridge’s Post-Searchlight on April 9 said that the students were “being transported to other schools in the vicinity which have the same calendar months. The calendar year for the colored schools in that section of the county is set up so that these students are released two weeks prior to those in other areas in the county.”

Faceville’s students were split amongst Fowlstown, Attapulgus Elementary and Attapulgus-Mount Moriah High. The school would not be rebuilt.

Sources:┬áThe True Citizen – Sept. 20, 1951, Aug. 21, 1952, Aug. 28, 1952; The Sparta Ishmaelite – Sept. 12, 1963; The Wrightsville Headlight – Oct. 13, 1955; The Bulloch Herald – May 25, 1950; The Vienna News – Sept. 20, 1956; The Elberton Star – July 27, 1951; The Madisonian – July 15, 1954; The Pike County Journal – Oct. 27, 1955; Post-Searchlight – April 9, 1964.

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Random box score: 1978 Dougherty-Valdosta

From the February 4, 1978 Albany Herald

Valdosta at Dougherty, played February 3.

This random box score was an eventful one for Dougherty as Martha Howard scored 54 points to lead the Trojanettes. The game went to overtime and Howard fouled out with 1:42 remaining.

Howard made many shots, but The Herald noted that it was two misses – from the free throw line – with six seconds to go helped send the game to the extra session.

1978-02-03 Albany Herald (Valdosta-Dougherty)

A two-city doubleheader and a mystery reference

Tift County Industrial opened its 1950-51 basketball season rather late – January 19 – but the Tigers didn’t hesitate in making up for lost time.

They played a doubleheader on the opening day (and night).

“[T]hey open the 1951 basketball season on the road against Hahira this afternoon and Dasher High, of Valdosta, tonight,” according to the January 19, 1951 Daily Tifton Gazette.

Hahira’s African-American high school closed in 1959 with the opening of Westside. At the time of its closing, it was known as Webb-Miller, but it is unknown if that name was in use in 1951. Dasher ceased being a high school in 1956 when Valdosta city built Pinevale.

Though doubleheaders seem quite rare, even in segregated basketball, this one would have been relatively easy to pull off. An afternoon game at Hahira almost certainly meant that the school lacked a gymnasium. Many segregated high schools played outdoors for that reason.

Dasher, being the nicer city high school, had a gymnasium. If not on their campus, somewhere in the community that allowed it to call home. The ride from Hahira to south Valdosta would have taken less than 30 minutes.

(Tift County’s black community was seeking a gymnasium a few years later, seemingly indicating that Industrial, too, lacked an indoor court.)

There is a bit of mystery from the 1951 Gazette article:

“Both teams will be seeking to improve their last season’s record which ended with the girls taking third place in the state tournament and the boys fourth.”

Neither placed in the Georgia Interscholastic Association’s Class B 1950 state tournament. Industrial played football in Class B, though that did not necessarily mean the high school was; Class C never had enough member schools for its own state tournament.

Being the only black high school in Tift County, Industrial was likely a B school, especially as they made the 1949 state hoops tournament in B. However, no information currently exists about the 1950 Class C boys tournament. The girls did not place in the other half of Class C, though, where the third and fourth place teams were Ellaville and Union Normal (Bainbridge).

Class B girls’ third and fourth squads were Liberty County and a Cordele school (or Carroll County Training – results differ). The boys’ third and fourth were Savannah Street (Newnan) and Lemon Street (Marietta).

Nor did Tift County Industrial place in 1949. The boys were knocked out in the first round in 1949 by Union Baptist of Athens. The girls likely weren’t in the tournament.

It could be that the unknown black correspondent to the Gazette confused district and state. Basketball game results for Industrial are nearly nil, especially during that era.

1949: Clay County High created

Clay County became one of the earlier Georgia school systems to consolidate down to one high school in 1949, when a ruling from the state made it the only solution.

The Clay County board decided May 17, 1949 to join Bluffton and Fort Gaines high schools together.

“The section was taken with some apparent hesitation by the board after public hearings at the courthouse Tuesday morning had revealed the step as one to be taken only because of curtailed allotments from the state,” said Fort Gaines’ News Record on May 19.

The state, said The News Record, had cut their allotment of teachers by four. Bluffton elementary was entitled to three, the elementary at Fort Gaines to six and the consolidated high school earned four.

Elementaries were kept in both cities. The new high school was  housed in that building in Fort Gaines.

Clay’s board said it reserved the right to break up the monopoly on high school education if the situation ever bettered. It never seemed to do so, though conditions did not get worse.

When requesting money from the State School Building Authority in 1952, all Clay County High wanted was a vocational building, which at most cost $68,500.

Little changed at Clay until total integration in 1970, with students from A. Speight coming in. Clay County High combined with Randolph County in 1980 and as Randolph-Clay survives as the last of Georgia’s five post-total integration multi-county high school educational attempts.

Sources: The News Record – May 19, 1949, Aug. 21, 1952, Nov. 26, 1953

School stories: Hiram Rosenwald

Not every story of a closed school ends badly, with ruins, weeds and caved-in roofs.

Some not only thrive, but have something to teach us.

Hiram Rosenwald is one of these stories.

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Hiram Rosenwald, 2013

Rosenwald schools got their name from Julius Rosenwald, a supplier who eventually became president and chairman of Sears, Roebuck and Company. Rosenwald took an interest in African-American education, especially in the south, where schools were lacking and conditions were deplorable.

Through a partnership with Booker T. Washington, he became a board member at Tuskegee and set up the Rosenwald Fund in 1917. One of the major programs of the Fund built black schools – nearly 5,000 of them across 15 states. The New Georgia Encyclopedia gives Georgia’s share of this total as 242, built in 103 counties.

Many of the schools were small – one- and two-teacher – and were aided by community support. That was the case in Hiram, where the fund contributed $750 towards the $3,010 total cost for a local school. African-Americans, presumably Paulding County/area citizens, contributed $1,400.

Hiram Rosenwald was budgeted in 1929-30 and built as a two-teacher school. Notes from Fisk University’s Rosenwald Database said it included an elementary library valued at $120.

For the next 25 years, Hiram Rosenwald faithfully served. For part of its history, it contained high school grades, but by the 1946-47 term, it was limited to seven grades, older students going to Matthews in Dallas.

In 1952, Paulding County became one of the first systems in Georgia approved for Minimum Foundation Program school building funds, with further support coming from a local bond issue passed later that year.

Plans called for the building or improvement of nine schools in the county. Plans also called for the consolidation of all black schools into one: Matthews.

Grading began on school sites in the spring of 1954, but not all of the schools were open by the time the 1955-56 year was to begin.

“The Board regrets that all the new buildings are not ready for the opening of school,” said The New Era on August 18, 1955.

Matthews was one of the schools that had yet to open and the Paulding County Board of Education opted to send all of Hiram’s students back to the old Rosenwald school at the beginning of the term. The new Matthews was finally dedicated October 30 that year, with Dr. Lynette S. Bickers of Atlanta University delivering a special speech.

R.L. Cousins, perhaps the leading African-American involved with education in Georgia (and honoree in the naming of two high schools), was also present.

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Historical marker at Hiram.

After Matthews opened in its new building, Hiram Rosenwald was transferred to Sweet Home Baptist Church, which had purchased the property in July 1955 for $500. Sweet Home continued to keep up the building in the decades after. In 2001, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Hiram continues to keep the building’s spirit alive. There is now a museum dedicated to its history as a school and it remains active for community events, with updates on Facebook.

Sources: The Dallas New Era – June 19, 1952, Aug. 28, 1952, March 4, 1954, Aug. 18, 1955, Nov. 24, 1955; National Register of Historic Places; Fisk University Rosenwald Database; New Georgia Encyclopedia.

Hard times in Toombs

The immediate years before the Minimum Foundation Program’s introduction were pretty dire in Georgia, for both white and especially for black schools.

Few school systems had funds to keep up with growing school enrollments, which were combined with the rapidly deteriorating conditions of the buildings the students occupied. Statewide, the problem was so bad that The Atlanta Journal had a series of articles from around the state highlighting the conditions of some of the worst school buildings in the state.

Individual system reports show up now and again in their local newspapers and though most focus on white schools alone, what they reveal are interesting.

Toombs County described its woes in February 1950 in The Lyons Progress.

Ernest Taylor, one of the trustees for the Lyons district, described Lyons as a “fire hazard.”

“Parts are now rotting away,” he said. The student-teacher ratio was not terrible at 1/33, but the restroom ratio was considerably worse: Three restrooms and 16 commodes for 815 students.

Taylor also served Johnson Corner.

“We need everything in the book, including a lunch room, deep well and the building repaired,” he said.

Wells had gone dry at Center and Normantown.

It is not known if any relief came immediately for the more easily fixable issues, but Lyons was not expecting anything to be quickly accomplished for its overcrowding issues in 1951.

Sources: The Lyons Progress – Feb. 25, 1950, March 15, 1951.