For nearly all of us out there in America, a high school diploma requires graduation from 12th grade.
Twelve grades seems like an arbitrary number.
Into the 1940s, all it took were 11 grades of hassle to earn the tassel. Then Georgia decided to transition.
Embarrassingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, Georgia Superintendent of Schools M.D. Collins said the Peach State was the last one of the then 48 to go to 12 grades.
In the opening statement from the Eighty-Second and Eighty-Third Annual Reports of the Department of Education of the General Assembly to the State of Georgia (published in 1954), Collins mentioned:
“Georgia has within the past five years moved from an 11-year school program to a 12-year program. All students complete the 12th grade before graduation. Incidently, Georgia was the last state in the nation to adopt a 12-year school program.”
The addition of 12th grade did not come easy in some places.
Soon after Gilmer County announced it was adding a new grade, it opened the floor to citizens. A meeting was announced February 23, 1948, at the school auditorium for “a discussion concerning the subjects that should be stressed in the schools of this county under the new twelve-grade system.”
To fund a new grade in Waycross, the school system turned to the voters, who in November 1946 approved increasing the millage rate from 10 to 15 mills. The additional money was also going to be used for additional courses.
Cook County schools went ahead and built an addition to Cook High in 1950, knowing it would need it soon for the new program. The addition consisted of new laboratories, a study hall and library, releasing the old rooms containing them for regular classrooms.
Jones County was getting an additional teacher from the state – likely for black Gray High and white Jones County High – when the new grade officially appeared.
Even the Georgia High School Association had to adapt for athletics.
Many questions went to the office about the eligibility of eighth grade athletes if the system was transitioning to 12th grade. In the 1949-50 handbook, the league answered if the athlete still has four years of school to go, the eighth grade athlete was not eligible. (Currently, the Georgia Independent School Association allows eighth graders to play varsity sports.)
On the flip side, Clinch County, who graduated a 12th grade in 1952, was bemoaning it in 1950. In a report on the condition of the school at Homerville, the Clinch County News said:
“Numbers of pupils in classrooms run as high as 50 each, making efficient classroom work most difficult, so it is reported. To aggravate the problem, the school is adding a 12th grade which retains that many more pupils in school for another year. Also, school experts say that schools will continue to increase enrollment for at least another two years on account of increased birth rate during and since the war.”
Switching to 12 grades was not that easy, as we’ve seen, nor did it magically appear statewide. Believe it or not, not all school systems implemented 12 grades at the same time.
The Seventy-Eighth and Seventy-Ninth Annual Reports of the Department of Education published in 1950 had a chart showing the status of each system, and in its white and black schools. For the most part, systems implemented 12 grades at the same time for all races. Others did not.
Seven white school systems had already graduated a 12th grade class in 1947 or earlier: Atlanta city, Bibb, Chatham, Glynn, Griffin city, Polk (Rockmart only) and Thomasville city. Black schools in Atlanta city, Chatham and Glynn had also added the extra grade in 1947 or earlier.
Waycross had voted for 12th grade for Waycross High all the way back in 1946 and was slated to be added for the 1947-48 school term. However, Waycross High did not graduate its first 12th grade until 1952.
Of course, the transitions were divided along racial lines.
A single white system – Columbia – had not started its 12th grade transition yet.
Black systems in Athens city, Bulloch, Coffee, Columbia, Douglas city, Jackson, Lincoln, Schley and Wilkes had not started their program, either.
In 28 others who were currently transitioning, black schools went to 12th grade after white schools.
For Baldwin County, Carver High was set to get 12th grade a full three years after Georgia Military College did. Baldwin’s three white high schools all got 12th grade in different years and Carver was still going to trail all of them.
Ben Hill County did not have a white high school, only black Queensland High. Without any pressure, it seems, the county system was very late in establishing 12th grade there. Queensland was set to graduate its first 12th grade class in 1955, though it was still earlier than Carver High in Baldwin’s first 12th grade, which was to have been 1956.
Similarly, Howard Warner High in Newnan graduated its first 12th graders a full five years after Newnan High. Coweta County had been slower to change – high schools were at Grantville, Western Newnan and East Coweta – but it seems like the school boards of city and county were in unison on black education. Newnan city graduated 12th grade in 1950, the county in 1953. Grantville Training and Howard Warner had to wait until 1955.
Rockmart High, Thomasville High and Griffin High, three of the early adopters, graduated 12th grade in or before 1947. Not the case for Elm Street High, also located in Polk County, Fairmont in Griffin city and Douglass in Thomasville city. They were not graduating 12th grade until 1954.
Only in two counties did a black high school transition before white: Clarke and Washington. T.J. Elder High school in Sandersville was to finish its first 12th grade year in 1952, one year before white high schools in the system. There was a black county high school in Clarke (and Athens city is also listed is having one and it is unknown for which Athens High and Industrial counted) and it graduated a 12th grade in 1951, before either University Demonstration or Winterville.
The switch to 12 grades at Lakeland High and Elementary in Lanier came at a dizzying rate. Lakeland H&E (generally referred to in print then as Lakeland Colored) was to graduate a 12th grade in 1953. Only four years earlier had it even added the 11th grade.
At that time, the Lanier County News said Superintendent J.W. Threatte was pushing for the 11th grade, “making it a complete 11 grade high school. The school presently has only 10 grades and students who wish to complete high school must go to Valdosta to do so.”
Such nearly complete black schools existed in a handful of places. Some, such as Social Circle Training and Good Hope, both of Walton County, even played basketball. Both went to 10th grade.
Johntown, located in Commerce in Jackson County, never made the transition to 12 grades. It had 11 grades in its final year of 1956-57, whereas Bryan High in Jefferson had 12. It seems to have been considered a complete high school through the middle of the decade. Banks County sent its black high school students there until 1954, when it switched to Cornelia, which operated a high school for several north Georgia counties.
Cornelia’s paper the Northeast Georgian, though incorrectly calling Commerce Banks County in a 1954 article, appears to indicate that Johntown high school students were to go to Bryan. In 1950, Jackson County had not begun to transition Bryan to 12 grades, so it is unknown when 12th was added there, but apparently Johntown students had to go Bryan, starting in 1954 (or shortly after) to finish up high school. Johntown had 11 grades in 1956-57, according to the Georgia Educational Directory of that year.
(Johntown was replaced by J.L. Williams in 1957, an elementary school with grades 1-7.)
The full list, sorted by year of first 12-grade graduation:
1947 or before: Bibb, Chatham, Glynn, Polk (Rockmart); Atlanta city, Griffin city, Thomasville city
1948-49: Houston (Perry); LaGrange city, West Point city
1949-50: Muscogee (all but Baker), Upson; Dublin city, Newnan city, Thomaston city
1950-51: Clinch, Floyd (Model), Fulton, Pierce; Cartersville city, Douglas city, Marietta city, Rome city
1951-52: Appling, Bacon, Baker, Banks, Brantley, Bulloch, Burke, Butts, Camden, Candler, Carroll, Charlton, Chattahoochee, Chattooga, Clarke (University Demonstration), Clay, Clayton, Coffee, Crawford, Crisp, DeKalb, Dooly, Douglas, Echols, Emanuel, Evans, Fayette, Floyd (all but Model), Forsyth, Franklin, Gilmer, Grady, Greene, Hall, Haralson, Heard, Henry, Houston (Warner Robins), Jasper, Jeff Davis, Jefferson, Jenkins, Johnson, Jones, Laurens, Lee, Macon, Marion, McDuffie, Meriwether, Monroe, Montgomery, Muscogee (Baker), Newton, Oconee, Oglethorpe, Paulding, Peach, Pike, Putnam, Quitman, Rabun, Rockdale, Schley, Screven, Stewart, Sumter, Taliaferro, Taylor, Telfair, Terrell, Thomas, Tift, Toombs, Treutlen, Turner, Twiggs, Union, Walker, Walton, Warren, Wayne, Webster, Wheeler, Wilcox, Wilkes (Washington); Albany city, Americus city, Athens city, Bremen city, Calhoun city, Chickamauga city, Cochran city, Cordele city, Elberton city, Fitzgerald city, Gainesville city, Hawkinsville city, Monroe city, Statesboro city, Tallapoosa city, Tallulah Falls city, Tifton city, Toccoa city, Trion city, Waycross city
1952-53: Atkinson, Baldwin (Georgia Military College), Barrow, Bartow, Berrien, Brooks, Bryan, Calhoun, Catoosa, Cherokee, Clarke (Winterville), Colquitt, Cook, Coweta, Dade, Dawson, Decatur, Dodge, Early, Effingham, Elbert, Fannin, Glascock, Gordon, Gwinnett, Habersham, Hancock, Harris, Irwin, Lanier, Liberty, Lincoln, Long, Lowndes, Lumpkin, Madison, McIntosh, Mitchell, Morgan, Pickens, Randolph, Richmond, Seminole, Spalding, Stephens, Talbot, Tattnall, Towns, Troup, Ware, Washington, White, Whitfield, Wilkes (Tignall), Wilkinson, Worth; Barnesville city, Buford city, Canton city, Carrollton city, Cedartown city, Commerce city, Dalton city, Decatur city, Hartwell city, Hogansville city, Moultrie city, Pelham city, Quitman city, Valdosta city, Vienna city, Winder city
1953-54: Baldwin (Peabody), Cobb, Jackson, Lamar, Murray
1954:55: Baldwin (Midway Vocational)
1947 or before: Chatham, Glynn; Atlanta city
1949-50: Muscogee; LaGrange city, West Point city
1950-51: Bibb, Clarke, Fulton, Houston, Pierce; Cartersville city, Marietta city, Rome city
1951-52: Appling, Bacon, Brantley, Burke, Camden, Candler, Carroll, Chattahoochee, Chattooga, Crawford, Crisp, DeKalb, Douglas, Emanuel, Evans, Franklin, Grady, Greene, Hall, Haralson, Heard, Henry, Jeff Davis, Jenkins, Johnson, Jones, Laurens, Lee, Macon, Marion, Meriwether, Monroe, Montgomery, Newton, Oglethorpe, Paulding, Peach, Rockdale, Screven, Stewart, Taylor, Thomas, Toombs, Treutlen, Turner, Twiggs, Walker, Washington, Wayne, Webster, Wheeler, Wilcox; Americus city, Calhoun city, Cochran city, Cordele city, Elberton city, Gainesville city, Hawkinsville city, Thomaston city, Tifton city, Toccoa city, Waycross city
1952-53: Atkinson, Baker, Berrien, Brooks, Bryan, Calhoun, Charlton, Cherokee, Cook, Decatur, Dodge, Early, Echols, Effingham, Gwinnett, Habersham, Irwin, Jefferson, Lanier, Liberty, Long, Lowndes, Madison, McIntosh, Mitchell, Morgan, Pickens, Pike, Putnam, Randolph, Richmond, Seminole, Talbot, Tattnall, Telfair, Terrell, Troup, Whitfield, Wilkinson, Worth; Albany city, Barnesville city, Buford city, Canton city, Carrollton city, Cedartown city, Decatur city, Hartwell city, Hogansville city, Monroe city, Moultrie city, Quitman city, Valdosta city, Vienna city, Winder city
1953-54: Butts, Elbert, Hancock, Jasper, McDuffie, Polk; Griffin city, Thomasville city
1954-55: Ben Hill, Coweta, Fayette; Newnan city
1955-56: Baldwin; Pelham city
(Information was not provided for Fitzgerald city black schools, or those from Dalton city, Dublin city, Glascock, Oconee, Quitman, Statesboro city, Taliaferro, Tallapoosa city or Warren)
Sources: Times-Courier – Feb. 19, 1948; Waycross Journal-Herald – Nov. 16, 1946; Lanier County News – Aug. 11, 1949; The Jones County News – May 26, 1950; The Adel News – Mar. 9, 1950; Clinch County News – Mar. 3, 1950; Northeast Georgian – Sept. 2, 1954; Georgia Educational Directory – 1956-57, 1957-58; Seventy-Eighth and Seventy-Ninth 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; Georgia High School Association Constitution and By-Laws[,] District and State Meets – 1949-1950.