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

A consolidated Camden County High had formed in Woodbine in 1945. A year later, the experiment was over.

Thanks to an increased presence on the Camden board of education by members from Kingsland and St. Marys and some unsigned board minutes and an unlikely quorum, Camden was split. Kingsland and St. Marys split off into their own consolidated high school, South Camden, while Woodbine retained the Camden County name.

And then everyone lived peacefully … for 2.5 years.

At the April 19, 1949 meeting of the board of education, the old fires were rekindled.

The Southeast Georgian, a Kingsland-based newspaper described the happenings at the meeting:

“Last Tuesday’s meeting attended by all members of the county board and several interested persons resulted in a motion being made and duly seconded that a Central High School be reestablished at Woodbine for white students and that a county wide bond issue for school purposes in the approximate amount of $290,000 be floated.”

The biggest chunk of the proposed bond money – $100,000 – would go in the direction of St. Marys. The city had lost its white school to fire in 1943 and federal government money fell through in 1945 with the ending of World War II. Five years later, St. Marys’ elementary was still scraping by without a new building.

St. Marys’ black school, Camden County Training, was also set to get money for repairs.

White and black schools (the latter named Kingsland Union) in Kingsland were to get a combined $45,000. A lesser amount was for the white schools at White Oak and Waverly and the black school at Tarboro. Money in the amount of $20,000 was proposed to consolidate three other black schools in a new building.

These ideas were all to be disucssed at the next board meeting of May 2, but little came of it. The BOE decided to maintain both Camden County High and South Camden and to not have the bond issue vote.

The board of education, probably seeing that consolidation of high schools was a touchy subject, held back from discussing it again. In July, they did go forward with the idea of the $285,000 bond issue vote.

In this proposal, St. Marys would have a shot at its desperately needed white school and a few other changes were happening that affected black schools. White schools in north Camden were to consolidate at Camden County High. That left buildings abandoned at Waverly and White Oak. The board opted to consolidate three black elementary schools, Spring Bluff, Waverly and Honey Creek, at Waverly. At White Oak, the building was set to become a black high school. Previously, the only black high school in the county was at Camden County Training in St. Marys.

Camden
1899 Central of Georgia Railroad map of Camden County, showing Kingsland, St. Marys and Woodbine. (Map from the Historical Atlas of Georgia Counties.)

There was also a proposal to build a consolidate white school at Colesburg, which years earlier had been suggested as the site of a consolidated Camden County High.

The bond vote was held in February 1950 and passed, 1,456-873. Kingsland’s district voted against the measure, 562-98, but it had very strong support in St. Marys (473-92) and Woodbine (590-75).

On March 7, 1950, in perhaps a surprising move, the Camden County Board of Education went a step further and voted to re-consolidate the white high schools of the county. Of the approved bond issue, $50,000 was going to Woodbine. Enough, said, the board, to enlarge the classroom space to handle all high school students.

Naturally, South Camden citizens were not happy with the decision.

In early June, 70 Kingsland citizens petitioned the board to keep both high schools. The Southeast Georgian printed the petition, which included the following points:

  1. Woodbine’s school had no lunchroom on campus. Students had to walk several blocks, across Highway 17 and railroad tracks to reach it. Kingsland school, in contrast, had a lunchroom on school grounds. Highway 17, it should be noted, was the most direct route from Savannah to Florida in 1950 and quite busy.
  2. Kingsland’s classrooms were bigger. Woodbine’s, in their opinion, just would not do because of how small they were.
  3. Kingsland has fire protection at school, Woodbine does not.
  4. To reach Woodbine, many Kingsland students would have to be on a school bus for an extended time. And they would have to ride on Highway 17, which had a nasty reputation for accidents.
  5. Woodbine lacked a gymnasium, where Kingsland did not. (Both high schools had basketball teams.)
  6. Woodbine’s school was too small in general.
  7. Camden County and South Camden could both support high school athletics. Perhaps a shocking argument for 1950, but shows that even then, athletics were considered of utmost importance.
  8. Kingsland is closer to the county’s center of population.
  9. The petition argued Kingsland was more progressive for having passed school bonds for its district all the way back in 1922.
  10. The petition closed by saying that when total high school consolidation first happened, Kingsland had been proposed as the high school site. No newspaper evidence found has suggested this. Colesburg was considered an ideal site for the school, but the Camden board of education quickly settled on Woodbine as money was tight.

Two weeks after the petition was brought to the board, the BOE rejected it on June 20. Consolidation was again affirmed August 29.

With few options left when school time rolled around with registration on September 1, Kingslandians decided upon a new tactic.

They held out.

Fifty of the Kingsland students who were set to go to Camden County High stayed home on registration day and on September 5 when school started. Only four brave souls from the city traveled to Woodbine for the start of the school year.

In a move later seen with other consolidation attempts around the state, the Kingsland parents seemingly decided their problem was not consolidation; it was consolidation with Camden County High. A source told the Camden County Tribune (based in St. Marys) these parents would send their children out-of-county or even to schools in Florida before they would send them to Woodbine.

Most of the strikers cracked 13 days later. On September 18, 37 of the 50 missing Kingsland students dutifully boarded school buses headed to Woodbine. Initially four students had attended from Kingsland, but the number had increased to 14 a week earlier.

“It was felt,” said the Tribune on September 22, “that the young people evidently decided that they were missing too much time and so decided to start school this week.”

In contrast to Kingsland’s unhappiness, the Brunswick News reported in June 1950 that St. Marys patrons “are generally in favor of the consolidation measure.”

Three months after the Kingsland crisis, black residents in the northern half of Camden County began to see their hopes come to life. Plans were announced for a new school near Woodbine. A site was determined in late February 1951 and the new school, soon named Ralph Bunche, was opened in November. In between the site announcement and the start of the 1951-52 school year, five black Camden residents sued because of school conditions. The group asked for the suit to be dismissed in June, with Judge Frank Scarlett doing so June 13.

The 1950 re-consolidation of Camden County High stuck and has continued to stick despite major demographic changes.

In mid-1950, the population of Camden County was listed at 7,339, according to the Brunswick News (and 7,322 in the United States Census). Kickstarted by the building of Kings Bay naval submarine base, the population has steadily grown and was estimated by the U.S. Census in 2016 to be 50,513.

Total integration sent the students of Ralph Bunche High to CCHS in 1970. At that time, it was still located in Woodbine, but in c. 1972, a new high school opened in St. Marys. In c. 1994, Camden County High moved to Kingsland, where it is housed today.

The population growth naturally affected the high school. The Georgia High School Association gave its average daily attendance as 649 in 1978-79. When the school relocated to Kingsland, it was 986 (at that time, the GHSA based ADA on three grades). In the 2016-17 handbook, the GHSA gave Camden’s ADA as 2,489.

Sources: The Southeast Georgian – March 29, 1945, June 7, 1945, April 21, 1949, May 5, 1949, July 7, 1949, Feb. 16, 1950, March 9, 1950, June 8, 1950, June 22, 1950, Sept. 7, 1950; Camden County Tribune – Sept. 8, 1950, Sept. 22, 1950, Dec. 29, 1950, March 2, 1951, June 15, 1951, Nov. 30, 1951; Brunswick News – June 17, 1950, June 19, 1950; Directory ’73 – Georgia Educational Directory; 1995 Georgia Public Education Directory; Georgia High School Association Constitution and By-Laws, Region and State Meets 1978-79; Georgia High School Association Constitution and By-Laws, Region and State Meets 1994-95; Georgia High School Association Constitution and By-Laws 2016-17

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