Breaking up was hard to do in Camden (Part II)

In September 1945, the three high schools of Camden County – North Camden, St. Marys and Kingsland – came together as a single high school.

The idea of one high school sounded good to school officials because all three had been plagued with small attendance and in the case of St. Marys, no real building because of a 1943 fire. Better course offerings were seen at Camden County High, which was located at Woodbine in a building that had been housing elementary students.

Almost immediately, St. Marys and Kingsland began to believe they had made a terrible mistake.

St. Marys had been looking to build a new school after the 1943 fire. Potential federal aid had been dropped with the end of World War II in September and with that off the table a $40,000 bond issue for the building was dropped. In other bad news, the building St. Marys was using was declared a fire trap.

St. Marys was still OK with the idea of a single high school in October 1945, but felt the school at Woodbine was not the best solution.

In February 1946, the emotions behind the consolidation boiled over.

Kingsland and St. Marys citizens combined for a pair of meetings in March, one in each town. These were sponsored by the Kingsland Civic Club and St. Marys Chamber of Commerce.

The board of education set-up was a major subject of the first meeting. The sponsoring groups said that the south end of the county provided 68.9 percent of school taxes, but represented 40 percent of the board: two of five members. Like nearly all boards of education at that time, the selection of members was not the most democratic of processes. In Camden, names were taken from the pool of grand jurors, with their terms in office staggered. Members could be reappointed at the end of the term.

While adults were increasingly not satisfied with Camden County High School, the students were. A poll in the student newspaper, The Pine Cone (which was printed in The Southeast Georgian) showed that in March 1946 82 percent of CCHS students preferred a single high school.

“The actual count was 130-37,” said The Pine Cone of the poll. “This clearly shows that an overwhelming majority of the students prefer ONE GOOD HIGH SCHOOL.”

“Yes, we know having ONE high school brings many hardships, such as long bus rides, getting up early and getting home late in the afternoon. Some of our parents worry about the danger of riding a bus on the Coastal Highway*, sure there is danger, but according to statistics from the insurance companies, we are safer on the bus than while at home or while riding in the family car. The advantages of a real High School education, more than compensates for those hardships.”

* U.S. Highway 17, which was the most direct route from Savannah to Florida at that time and, also, the most direct route from St. Marys and Kingsland to Woodbine. I-95 was barely projected mileage 20 years later, not under construction in Camden until c. 1970 and not completed in the county until c. 1977.  

At the first meeting put on by civic groups in Kingsland and St. Marys, two attendees asked the sponsors if their aim was to break up the consolidation or to move the school from Woodbine. The leaders denied this.

But that turned out to be what they were doing.

In June, Woodbine Chamber of Commerce President Benjamin R. Martin Jr. was begging the Camden County board of education not to break up CCHS. Martin, who pledged support from Woodbine businesses, also brought forth a letter from Georgia assistant state school superintendent Dr. J.I. Allman.

“I regret to learn that a group of Camden County citizens favor the re-establishment of several small high schools rather than the continuation of one county-wide high school,” said Allman.

Allman said breaking up the high school back into smaller ones would hurt curriculum. None would be large enough to offer enough class units. It would also sent educational costs skyrocketing, perhaps even double what they were at consolidated CCHS.

Plus, he said, education at small high schools was not for all students. More and more were going to college and programs needed to be in place for those who did and those who did not. Vocational training opportunities were a must.

Allman included a list of courses offered at Camden County High in 1945-46 and compared it to those offered at Kingsland and North Camden in 1944-45. CCHS had economics, geometry, physical education, journalism and French, none of which were at Kingsland. North Camden had geometry but no typing courses. It, too, was unable to offer a foreign language or P.E.

Two weeks later, St. Marys struck back with its own stats in a paid advertisement, which said a single high school was more expensive than local ones.

The situation quieted, but a last-minute turn of events changed plans.

The Southeast Georgian, Kingsland’s newspaper, had an announcement in its September 5, 1946, edition:

“Kingsland and St. Marys high school students will not attend classes at Woodbine during the coming term, but will instead go to a consolidated Kingsland-St. Marys high school at Kingsland as the result of a last-minute surprise move at a school board meeting Tuesday night.”

It was a technicality that such a change happened.

Apparently at the May 21, 1946, board of education meeting, a motion was made to have two high schools for a one-year trial (1946-47). It carried by a 3-2 vote. However, the minutes of the meeting were not approved and the vote seemingly died there.

M.O. Warren, of Kingsland, brought Brunswick-based lawyer C.J. Cogdell in to have a look the situation with the minutes at the September 3 board meeting. Cogdell asked the minutes be approved.

Realizing the danger of the situation, board chairman R.L. Harrell said he needed to speak to his own attorney and declared the meeting over until September 10. Harrell and another board member, A.A. Buie, got up and left.

Three men were left in the room, one from St. Marys, two from Kingsland. Cogdell told the trio they were enough for a quorum. They decided to keep the meeting open. With Kingsland’s Dr. R.R. McCollum named acting chairman, they hashed out what needed to happen if the high schools were split.

And they approved the May 21 minutes.

That McCollum and the other Kingsland representative, S.C. Sheffield, were still on the board was possibly a bit of luck. In July, there was an attempt to remove both by a group simply described as “residents of Camden” in the Brunswick News. A large hint about the “residents”‘ affiliation was given by the News in a mention their attorney was from Woodbine. The opponents’ reasoning was that both were from the same militia district. McCollum’s and Sheffield’s lawyer argued it was legal under Georgia’s updated state constitution of 1945.

The ouster attempt obviously did not work as Sheffield and McCollum were on the board in September.

The Kingsland-St. Marys combination high school took on the name South Camden. Though down to to just one of the county’s three larger towns providing students, the school in Woodbine retained the name Camden County.

South Camden was now one up in the educational battle, but Woodbine was not yet ready to concede.


Sources – The Southeast Georgian – Oct. 4, 1945, Feb. 28, 1946, March 7, 1946, March 14, 1946, June 13, 1946, June 27, 1946, Sept. 5, 1946; The Brunswick News – July 24, 1946.


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