How the Minimum Foundation Program transformed the state, Part IV

“A few years ago we had a dream that one day Brooks County would have the best school system in the state of Georgia. You boys and girls are witnessing an epoch-making event this morning.”

– Brooks County Schools Superintendent, Burney Humphreys, opening the new Brooks County High at an assembly in 1959.

In 1950, Brooks County had eight white schools and 37 black schools and two separate school systems: Brooks County and Quitman city. When Humphreys made his speech to open the 1959-60 school year, the school systems had been combined. It had four white schools and five black schools.

Brooks County’s school building program built four of the black schools through the state -Brooks County Training, Morven, Washington Street Elementary and Washington Street High – and another through local funds, Empress. Brooks County High, a building that consolidated four high schools at Quitman, Barwick, Dixie and Morven, was also built by the State School Building Authority.

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Pages from the 1958 Tiger, the yearbook of Ashburn’s Eureka High School. It calls the 1957-58 school year “the Best Year of Our Lives.” With one full page dedicated to photographs of both the old and new Eureka school buildings, no doubt that students considered the completion of Turner County’s building program to be a major milestone for themselves.

The initial wave of school buildings were finished by mid-1960 after the Minimum Foundation Program was begun in 1951. (The MFP continued beyond then, but the vast majority of large system-wide projects were finished by the end of 1960.)

So what changed?

Let’s look at some statistics, courtesy of reports published every two years by the State Department of Education.

In 1949-50, before the Minimum Foundation Program was initiated, there were 1,596 total white schools in Georgia. Of these, 482 were four-year high schools.

Considering that Hancock County’s building program finished in early 1960, we will flash forward to the 1961-62 Report on Georgia Schools, which was the same type of publication, but under a simpler name.

In 1961-62, there were 1,380 total white schools in Georgia. Of these, 336 were high schools.

The most striking differences were in African-American schools.

In 1949-50, there were 2,310 total black schools in Georgia. Of these, 289 were four-year high schools.

In 1961-62, there were 549 total black schools in Georgia. Of these, 178 were high schools.

More than 76 percent of black schools closed between 1950 and 1961.

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Oglethorpe County Consolidated (still open in 2017 as Oglethorpe County Primary) must have seemed a luxury to African-American students when it opened in 1955. In 1954, Oglethorpe County had 22 black schools, 13 of them one-teacher. At the same time, Oglethorpe only reported 19 frame school buildings to state authorities. All 19 buildings were valued at $8,250 or $434 each. Three years after it opened, the insurance value of Oglethorpe County Consolidated was $494,573.

In 1950, Georgia had 136 one-teacher white schools and 1,254 one-teacher African-American schools.

In 1962, there were seven one-teacher white schools and five one-teacher black schools.

Four one-teacher black schools were in mountainous counties with minute black populations. The fifth was in Habersham County, which maintained a one-teacher black school at Clarkesville in addition to a bigger facility at Cornelia Regional, an all-grades school that housed high school grades for several different counties.

The 1962 Report on Georgia Schools gave data on when buildings were constructed.

In 1961-62, there were 4,131 public buildings on school campuses, 3,233 at white schools and 898 at black schools.

Of these buildings, 1,936 had been constructed since 1951. Sixty-two percent (554) of all buildings at black schools had been built since 1951.

Only 122 buildings at black schools were of frame construction in 1962. In 1950, that number was 2,440.

In 1950, 89 percent of all black school buildings were frame. In 1962, that figure was 14 percent.

The change in structures had a tremendous increase in what Georgia’s school buildings were worth.

In 1950, the total value of school buildings at white schools was $108,565,874.38 for 3,632 buildings. That was good for an average of $29,891.49 per building. In 1961-62, the total value of school buildings was $390,991,625 for 3,233 buildings. That was good for an average of $120,937.71.

The average value of a white school building in Georgia increased $91,046.22 in 12 years.

At black schools, the total value of school buildings in 1950 was $18,231,511.38 for 2,743 buildings. That was good for an average of $6,646.56 per building. In 1961-62, the total value of school buildings was $130,177,135 for 898 buildings. That was good for an average of  $144,963.40.

The average value of a black school building in Georgia increased $138,316.84 in 12 years.

Sources: The Quitman Free Press – Sept. 3, 1959; Seventy-Eighth and Seventy-Ninth Annual Reports of the Department of Education to the General Assembly of the State of Georgia; Eighty-Second and Eighty-Third Annual Reports of the Department of Education to the General Assembly of the State of Georgia; Report on Georgia Schools (1958); Report on Georgia Schools (1962).

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