We want to get married
But we’re so young
Can’t marry no one
– The Beach Boys, I’m So Young (1965)
High school marriage is not often a topic of discussion these days. As Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston announced their upcoming marriage in 2008, the New York Times cited census records for 10 years earlier, that a mere one percent 15- to 17-year-old boys and girls had ever been married.
Outside of MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” television series, the idea of marriage at such an age seems bizarre. In 2015, the average age for first marriage was 27 for women and 29 for men, ages that have been on the rise for several years.
A few generations ago, marriage at a young age was much more common. In 1950, the average man married for the first time at 22, the average woman at 20. The numbers were the same in 1960, with slight fluctuation. The U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, in a 1973 study, said 7.2 percent of females aged 15-17 were wed.
With kids marrying so young and much more often, it is natural that it was a concern for school systems. Students were staying in school longer and Georgia systems were adding 12th grade, hopefully keeping their charges at their desks until they were 18.
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Dr. B.D. Perry school opened in 1958 in Laurens County, six years after Laurens County’s school building program began. It opened two years after black students in eastern Laurens County were denied use of Brewton School.
Brewton School had been a white school building, but Laurens officials with state approval planned on remodeling it and enlarging it for use by black students. Brewton’s white students were going to be abandoning the building for the new East Laurens High, an all-grades building that opened in April 1956.
Despite Brewton’s updates being 90 percent complete, builders were forced to stop. Part of one wing was being built on private property. Local Brewtonians, who admitted they did not want black students in that school, now had their wish.
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.
The Minimum Foundation Program and the State School Building Authority are frequently referenced in this blog.
The combination of the two programs were among the biggest influences in education, along with, but not limited to, free textbooks, the Quality Basic Education Act and the train of technology in its various forms.
Georgia’s plans in the 1950s to streamline its education, to get the most bang for its bucks, changed the fabric of schools, especially at the high school level.
In the 1950s, schools consolidated at a rapid pace, into existing buildings that had enough room; into existing buildings with additions; or into completely new buildings because of a much larger student load and/or the inadequacy of the already existing buildings.
The Brewton School saga involved the third of these types of building projects. The State Board of Education and the Laurens County Board of Education decided to consolidate Brewton’s students into the new East Laurens school building.
But Brewton had a decent school building and no one wanted to see it go to waste. Officials planned on solving more consolidation with it, namely the consolidation of a section of Laurens County’s black students.
In preparing for updates for the Minimum Foundation Program in the 1950s, nearly all Georgia school systems prepared a survey of school needs. These alerted the systems, citizens and state as to the deficiencies within the schools.
The surveys were a massive undertaking and it took more than a decade for all the associated building projects to be completed.
These were not the first surveys ever to be done. Nearly 40 years earlier, a series of them were done by Mell L. Duggan, Georgia’s Rural School Agent.
Starting with Rabun County in 1914, for the next 10 years, Duggan was essentially a one-man crusade visiting schools and making suggestions as to how rural counties could improve the education of their children.
The SGAA waited to rule on the 1929 Valdosta-Albany football game until after head coach Mike Herndon and Valdosta returned home. After playing Albany, the team went to Athens to watch the Georgia-Georgia Tech game, which was played in the brand new Sanford Stadium.
One of the points of Valdosta contention was the name of an official. The Wildcats expected one of the men to be Lake Russell, Mercer’s head coach (coaches as officials was extremely common). Valdosta claims the man on the field was even introduced as Lake Russell, but Russell assured Valdostans via telegram that he was not in Albany. There was an official surnamed Russell on the field that day, it being Glasgow Russell.
Valdosta was feeling quite confident heading into the 1929 football game with Albany.
Even before Moultrie was played, Valdosta’s local CRYING Out Loud column said it was in the bag.
“Albany will be disposed of next week,” said DeWitt Roberts’s column printed November 26, “unless some surprising upset occurs. That will leave the Cats the undisputed champion out of the conference, perhaps out of the entire South Georgia area.”
The column even said that Valdosta folks were looking into a game with Athens for what it called a state championship. The two had already had a so-called title game in 1920, which was won by the Wildcats.
Moultrie was duly conquered, 27-0, on Thanksgiving Day. It was on to Albany.
For as long as there have been sports, there have been controversies over plays. From kids arguing over fouls in backyard games, to the 2017 Georgia High School Association state championships, there have been disputes.
Every team has one they can point out.
The “Holy Roller” and “Immaculate Conception” are two from National Football League history. Georgia and Florida argue over the number of wins in their football series. Peach County feels they were robbed of the Class AAA football title last year.
One of the biggest controversies on the high school gridiron during the first half of the 20th century occurred in 1929 when Valdosta High disputed an Albany High touchdown and walked off the field.
Valdosta’s 1929 season was more than a single play. It was a season of incidents that affected multiple games. Many of the individuals from both season and game ended as big names in their communities and the state.
Many, many Georgia schools have been named for geography. The announcement that the soon-to-open Denmark High in Forsyth County was to be named for a person was a bit of a surprise. Few persons see their names on high school buildings here.
In the days of segregation, many schools were named for geography: Gray High, Tift County Industrial, Houston County Training, etc.
But there were many that weren’t, especially with new buildings opening in the 1950s.
George Washington Carver was a popular name for schools.
“It looks to me that if there was ever a school system ripe for consolidation, it’s yours.”
– David Rice, State Board of Education, to Wilcox County officials, March 1963
In 2016, Wilcox County, Georgia, was estimated to have a grand total of 8,761 citizens. The number was a bit smaller just over 50 years ago. Census records show Wilcox with 7,905 citizens in 1960.
The Wilcox County Patriots currently compete in Class A athletics, the smallest in the Georgia High School Association. There are only two years that Wilcox has ever been above Class A. After GHSA restructuring in 1978, in which Class B was eliminated, the school jumped to AA. It was A again in 1980 and Class A is where it has been since.
All Wilcox County public high school students attend Wilcox County High. There are no private schools within Wilcox’s borders and probably no more than a handful or two attend private schools elsewhere.
With all of Wilcox in Class A, it would seem natural that it was an early consolidation because of its lack of students. Fellow Class A school Lanier County did not entertain another white high school beyond the early 1920s. Irwin County finished consolidating its white high schools in 1952. Turner County was complete in 1957. It had only two white high schools to consolidate at that time.