When East Laurens opened in April 1956, all school children from Brewton, plus all the high school students from Condor and Wilkes moved into the new building. Wilkes’ high school had combined with Brewton at the start of the 1955-56 school year, a consolidation known as Brewton-Wilkes High.
Laurens County was still in the middle of a building program and black schools were being erected at Dudley (Millville) and a few miles south of Dublin (Mary Fleming). With Brewton now vacated, work could also finish on the building there, which was being renovated and remodeled for a third all-grades black school.
The location of another white high school in the Rentz area had been debated some time, with one court case decided and its appeal hanging in the balance.
Rentz, however, was joined by a newer and bigger problem in Laurens County: Brewton.
On April 9, 1956, the same day that East Laurens opened, a group from Brewton went to the State Board of Education offices in Atlanta.
Apparently, work on the Brewton building had been ordered stopped in February, but was still going on. In April, the State Board said no more state funds would be used on the school and the county was barred from doing so as well. If Laurens did spend money on the building, the state would not fund it any teachers or supplies.
The problems began a year earlier, in 1955, with a survey of the property where the school lay.
Part of the addition to Brewton was not being built on county-owned lands, but the private property of Curtis Beall (in another article the owner was named as M.F. Beall Jr.). The survey was brought up in 1955, but no one followed up and construction started.
The State Board affirmed its decision in June to not spend any further money on the Brewton building and said it would keep paying for buildings currently being occupied by black students in the area.
Race played a part in Brewton. In 1956, Georgia was still five years away from having any public educational institute integrated. In November 1954, 65 percent of those going to the polls in Laurens (2,054-1,101) voted for Amendment 4, which would privatize public schools if integration was so much as attempted.
When the State Board affirmed the decision in June 1956 to stop at Brewton, Laurens representatives’ arguments included that the building was in the “center of a white neighborhood.”
Beall also seems to have alleged – according to Southern School News – that because of its location, there had been attempts to damage Brewton School.
Brewton citizens’ concerns annoyed Laurens Superintendent L.H. Cook, who reminded them they knew well in advance that black students would be moving in. Laurens had announced the plans in as late as 1952.
Everyone now was looking for a solution to the problem of what to do with these students. The stated had invested $232,000 in the Brewton building, which was said to be 90 percent complete when construction ceased.
Laurens, lacking the funds, asked the state to build a new school for black students elsewhere. Six hundred (or 700, depending on source) students from five schools were to have combined at Brewton.
Black parents were also speaking up during the summer, demanding the State Board of Education that something be done by the time school started in 1957. Parents of Buckeye Junior High students refused to allow children to return to the building. They refused money to fix up the buildings and rejected a plan to bus the students to Milledgeville, where several newer black schools were located, including several that opened that fall.
Black schools were not in good shape in Laurens County. At the end of the 1955-56 school year, there were 24 of them, 14 of which had two or fewer teachers. Nine schools had libraries. The buildings, books and equipment. were given a total value of $39,297.75 by the state. In contrast, Treutlen County, which had finished its school building program in 1955, had a single school building, valued at $234,162.40. When Laurens finally finished its building program, the value of the buildings and equipment shot up to $915,149.
In September 1956, even Governor Marvin Griffin was involved. He said he hoped the situation could “be worked out in a satisfactory manner.” However, Griffin did not want the state to foot the bill. He was against building a new school while Brewton lay dormant.
Griffin’s opinion was ignored.
By November 1956, the state of Georgia voted to build a $350,000 completely new black school in eastern Laurens County. It was to be located on US 319, on land owned by Herschel Lovett, a state senator from Laurens who also served on the State Board of Education.
Black citizens had input on the new school location and favored Lovett’s land. They also agreed to stay in the old buildings until the new school was finished. Initial plans were to call this school Mount Zion, but soon, the name was changed to Dr. B.D. Perry.
Perry had quite an impressive background. In an era where it would have been exceedingly difficult for a black man from rural Laurens County to get an education, Perry became a physician. He also had an impact on education in Laurens. His wife, Eliza, and his son, Daniel, were both educators. Perry died on October 8, 1957, while the school named in his honor was under construction.
Dr. B.D. Perry School had its first full school year in 1958-59, two years after the students were to have occupied Brewton. The school continued as B.D. Perry until 1970 when total integration saw it combine student loads with East Laurens. B.D. Perry was renamed East Laurens Elementary. By 1991, it had a slight name change to East Laurens Middle, then closed in the middle of the decade.
Between B.D. Perry and the schools built at Mary Fleming and Millville, Laurens County went from 24 black schools in the school year ending 1955-56 to five at the end of the 1958 school year.
Though Georgia spent an additional $350,000 to solve the problem of black students in inferior schools in Laurens County, there was still the issues of Rentz and the issue of Brewton School itself.
In early 1957, Laurens County believed that Brewton School would eventually see usage … for white students. Fingers were crossed that Dublin would get a Jet Naval Base and the school population would soon be soaring. East Laurens was already full of students.
In the event Brewton was needed for white students, Beall was ready to play ball. He offered to give Laurens County the section of his land that part of the school occupied.
Brewton’s ultimate fate will be discussed in Part III.
Sources: Dublin Courier Herald – April 10, 1956, June 19, 1956, Feb. 23, 1957, Oct. 8, 1957; Southern School News – July 1956, August 1956, November 1956; The Daily Tifton Gazette – Sept. 20, 1956; Augusta Chronicle – Aug. 31, 1956; 1940 United States Census; Multiple editions of the Georgia Educational Directory; Report on Georgia Schools – 1956, 1958.