The new schools Terrell County did not welcome

When the Minimum Foundation Program was ratified in 1951, most Georgia school systems were thrilled.

State-provided money to bring local schools to modern condition. Many systems immediately pursued the funds, eagerly conducting surveys to determine the needs and problems of their schools.

In Monroe County, the opportunity to improve black education was welcomed:

“The plans are to erect these buildings on land already owned by the Board of Education and with funds to be secured through the Minimum Foundation [P]rogram. It is believed that since all needs for the white schools have been supplied, sufficient funds from the state can be secured to finance the improvements for the Negroes,” said The Monroe Advertiser in 1952.

In Terrell County, while the local school system desired the funds, using them to improve white and black education was a bit more complicated.

Terrell did dedicate at least two new black schools in early 1934. Helen Gurr was located at Parrott and Martin was located in Bronwood. In the years after, there were occasional upgrades to Terrell’s black schools.

In 1946, an old army barracks were acquired to house Carver Elementary students. This was in line with what the rest of the state was doing for white and black schools. Carver High was accredited in 1949, a year after some 300 books were added to the library and $200 worth of laboratory equipment was acquired.

Soon, though, Terrell’s generosity turned into hostility for African-American students.

With the Minimum Foundation Program being adopted in 1951, it seemed that relieving the overcrowding and upgrading facilities in Terrell was soon on the horizon.

Carl Rountree, editor and publisher of The Dawson News, pointed out in May 1951 that the promise of state money was not as clear-cut as it seemed.

There were taxes, Rountree said in a May 24 article that carried his byline. Plus, not all of the money would be going to white schools.

“However, according to authorities, such funds must be apportioned on the basis of white and negro teachers. This would divert at least 70 per cent to negro schools, since there are 74 negro teachers, and approximately 30 per cent to white schools with 36 teachers in the county system,” he said.

Rountree said if his math was correct, that with the distribution of funds along racial lines and with taxes, Terrell’s white schools would get only $86,000 over 20 years. Black schools would be getting $286,000.

In 1952, the list of projects sent in by Terrell County and Superintendent Robert Pinkston was as follows in terms of priority:

  1. White elementary school at Dawson.
  2. Central heating and lighting at Bronwood (white) elementary.
  3. Central heating and lighting at Graves (white) elementary.
  4. Central heating and lighting at Parrott (white elementary.
  5. Central heating and lighting at Sasser (white) elementary.
  6. Black high school at Dawson.
  7. Black elementary on the north side of Dawson.
  8. Black elementary at Sasser.
  9. Black elementary at Parrott.
  10. Black elementary at Bronwood.
  11. Additions to present Carver High at Dawson (black). Carver High would be converted to an elementary.
  12. Black elementary at Graves.

New black schools were ranked behind heating and lighting units at white elementaries.

Former Carver High and Carver Elementary (Dawson)
Carver High was turned into Carver Elementary in 1957 upon the completion of Terrell County’s school building program. When building began, Carver was the only black school in the county not located in a frame building.

This is despite Terrell’s five white schools, composed of one cement, eight brick and five frame buildings being valued at $347,000 in 1952, according to the Eightieth and Eighty-First Annual Reports of the Department of Education.

Terrell’s 19 black schools were in 24 buildings, all but one a frame building. Those 24 buildings were cumulatively valued at $43,000.

Little was done to advance the building program and in 1955, the Dawson Parent-Teacher Association was demanding answers from Pinkston. He was ultimately replaced with a new superintendent, Frank Christie, before the building program was finished.

Seven buildings were built by the State School Building Authority. A new Carver High and elementary schools at Dawson (Lillie Cooper, on the north side of town), Dunbar (Sasser), Helen Gurr (Parrott) and Martin (Bronwood) were the elementaries. A new elementary at Dawson and a vocational agriculture building for Terrell High were built for white students.

In the fall of 1957, Terrell’s building program was complete.

But while the county had no problem with opening the two new white school buildings, Christie expressed doubts the new black schools would be in operation.

The black schools could only be operated if Terrell incurred big financial losses, he said. Christie thought the county would lose $35,000-$40,000. There was no indication of what time period that would be, but it was presumably annually.

Christie did not think Terrell could borrow that much money. There was some consideration of raising the millage rate. He bemoaned the local funding situation. Christie said 97 percent of monies going to Terrell’s schools were paid by white citizens, three percent by black citizens.

Instead of focusing on how much better the new schools would be for black students, he exclusively focused on what was going on at Terrell’s white schools.

There were termites at Graves and Terrell High, Christie said. There were fewer teachers than grades at Parrott, Bronwood and Sasser. Graves had limited playground space.

Christie’s lashing at Terrell’s African-American schools completely ignored how unequal the situation was before the new black schools were built. And that the schools were still unequal afterwards.

The 1956 Report on Georgia Schools listed Terrell as having six white and 19 black schools. In 1958, Terrell had six white and schools and five black schools.

The African-American schools of 1956 had three janitors and no lunchroom workers. There were 22 non-instructional employees in the white schools. Fourteen worked in lunchrooms and there were seven janitors.

In 1958, Terrell was listed as having nine lunchroom managers and seven janitors and a total of 23 non-instructional employees. Black schools increased their non-instructional numbers to five. Three were in lunchrooms. One was listed as “other.” What the fifth did was not mentioned (numbers added to four, but were listed as five).

In late July, Christie allowed the new Carver High to open. He said the other new buildings, “will not be occupied until additional funds are available.”

“Any school which can be opened without extra money will be operated,” he said.

Carver elementary and high buildings housed approximately 40 percent of the county’s African-American students.

By early September, the state of Georgia stepped in to say it was paying nearly all of Terrell’s expenses.

“Over $600,000 has been set up to operate Terrell County schools this term, Dr. Claude Purcell, assistant state superintendent of schools and fiscal officer for the State Department of Education has announced,” said The Dawson News.

“In a letter to County School Superintendent Frank Christie, which he said will be “the most important letter you will receive about your schools this year,” Dr. Purcell noted that of the exact total of $601,812, the state will pay $558,788 and the county $43,024.”

Terrell did not make any immediate announcements regarding its new black schools.

In the September 12 edition of The Dawson News, Christie finally decided to relent on the new black schools, but refused to open them immediately. The start date was set for September 30.

There was not a program ready yet for transportation and Christie did not anticipate one until November 1. Until then, students would have to provide their own way to school.

Even after that, Christie told The Dawson News there would be a budget for transportation for black students. He said they had to “live within it.”

Martin (Bronwood)
Martin Elementary, located in Bronwood, was one of the new school buildings affected by Superintendent Frank Christie’s edict during the summer of 1957. Martin closed in 1970 and has long been abandoned.

Terrell still had more white buses (12) than black (10) in 1958. Two years prior it had four black school buses (and the same number of white). In both reports, buses were said to be a private operation and not run by the county board. Christie claimed at least 10 new buses would be needed to serve black students. He evidently found a way to operate with less.

The state’s announcement regarding its funding of Terrell’s schools broke down that it was paying $41,183 towards transportation. Based on figures Terrell sent into the State Department of Education, Georgia’s contribution to the transportation of the county indicated that figures would have been about the same.

In 1956, Terrell reported it spent $36,648.58 on white transportation and $8,436 on black transportation. In 1958, black transportation costs jumped significantly with the closure of so many rural schools. That year, Terrell spent $40,874.78 transporting African-American students. The costs of running white buses was $42,853.83. To its credit, Terrell spent more in 1958 transporting black students than the majority of school systems in Georgia.

Not surprisingly, overall African-American school attendance was said to be 300-400 less a week after the schools finally opened in 1957. Carver High and the new black elementary on the north side of town, Lillie Cooper, were both overcrowded, but it was much more sparse in the county.

Months later, Christie faced a new slew of problems related to African-American schools. Christie and the Board of Education had removed furniture slated for black schools. Some was redistributed to white buildings, other pieces apparently to Christie’s office.

The Board explained to The Dawson News in June 1958.

“Some of the schools,” the board said, “had an insufficient amount of furniture and equipment. Others had an over-supply. Therefore, the board deemed it best to relocate some of the furniture and equipment for the benefit of the entire system.”

“Further, this furniture and equipment was removed from some of the colored schools to other colored schools as well as from some white schools to other white schools. In some cases, furniture and equipment of white schools were relocated in negro schools and visa versa.”

Southern School News reported in July, “State School Building Authority files showed equipment removed included refrigerators in cafeterias, furnishings in teachers’ lounges, desks in offices and some student desks in classrooms. The equipment was taken from the Lillie Cooper Elementary School (Negro) and the Terrell Negro High School, both located at Dawson, the county seat, and is now being used in white schools and in Christie’s office, according to Authority records.”

And that was illegal.

The State School Building Authority threatened to withhold $32,316.78 in unspent funds that had been allocated for Terrell.

Christie laid the blame on the NAACP, which he said was “stirring up unrest.”

(The NAACP comment might have its roots in the James Brazier case, which was also on the minds of Terrell Countians at this time in 1958. See Postscript.)

Christie also claimed he moved the furniture in May 1957. The State School Building Authority, being the actual owner of the buildings (like all other school systems, Terrell was renting the buildings under a 20-year lease), said to Christie not to move furniture in September 1957. He claimed that in January 1958, the state told him it was OK with approval.

Christie then bragged about the progress made in the black schools, that $4,000 had been spent on new library books in the last school term.

The 1958 Report on Georgia Schools valued library and instructional books in Terrell’s black schools at $3,067. Two years earlier, the county reported that value at $3,971.

(Though an expansion of library books would normally seem to come with new schools, Christie’s use of “last school term” might indeed be 1955-56 instead of 1956-57. But that’s supposing Terrell did buy $4,000 of library books for black schools, when it had already valued their holdings at $3,995 in 1952. It likely would not have tossed all its holdings upon buying new books, which should mean that the collection, even with depreciation of used books, should still be significantly higher than $3,067 in 1958. Or should have topped $4,000 in 1956.)

Southern School News said Christie had twice promised to return the equipment but had not done so. The Dawson News said Christie and the Board of Education again refused to return equipment in July 1958.

State Auditor B.E. Thrasher told Terrell County the removal was a violation of the contract between county and state.

“Where it was moved or why, makes no difference,” said Thrasher.

The Macon Telegraph, which originally ran a story on the equipment removal, The Atlanta Constitution and at this point even The Dawson News were telling Christie to return the equipment.

The Dawson News’ publisher and editor Rountree ended an editorial July 3 with:

We simply cannot afford and let the people of Georgia and the nation question our integrity and misunderstand our motives. We cannot live by ourselves. We must maintain at all costs the respect of our friends, to say nothing of our own self-respect.

It seems to us there’s only one course open – to do the right thing.

“Put it back.”

Or, at least, try to get permission to let it stay where it is.

It is unknown if Christie and the Board of Education ever did. Christie survived the issues and stayed on as superintendent, listed through the 1962-63 school year.

Terrell faced even more scrutiny nationally during the summer of 1958. Five African-Americans attempted to register to vote. All were denied. Four were teachers, all with four-year college degrees and one with a master’s degree. They were denied on the grounds of not being able to read correctly.

One of the teachers, Edna Lowe (who held the master’s degree), did not have her contract renewed for the 1958-59 school year. Lowe taught math at Carver High.

Postscript: Terrell County’s school issues were a part of larger civil rights issues within the county:

Sources: The Monroe Advertiser – July 3, 1952; Macon Telegraph – Jan. 7, 1934, Feb. 9, 1934; The Dawson News – Sept. 29, 1949, May 24, 1951, Nov. 6, 1952, Mar. 31, 1955, June 27, 1957, July 25, 1957, Sept. 5, 1957, Sept. 12, 1957, Oct. 10, 1957, June 26, 1958, July 3, 1958, July 17, 1958; Southern School News – July 1958; Daily News-Telegraph (Sulphur Springs, Texas) – Nov. 9, 1958; Chicago Tribune – Sept. 13, 1958; Eightieth and Eighty-First Annual Reports of the Department of Education of the General Assembly to the State of Georgia; Eighty-Second and Eighty-Third Annual Reports of the Department of Education of the General Assembly to the State of Georgia; Report on Georgia Schools – 1956, 1958.

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