Inequalities in the schools: Transportation

It would take encyclopedia volumes to even provide a summary of the inequalities facing black schools before the Minimum Foundation Program transformed the state of Georgia.

Let’s explore some of the issues.

Transportation

In the Seventy-Sixth and Seventy-Seventh Annual Reports of the Department of Education to the General Assembly of the State of Georgia (printed in 1948), the state admitted some of this was their fault.

“The State Board of Education makes the same allowances for both white and Negro pupils to be transported,” it said. “[H]owever, the state appropriation for transportation has not increased in recent years and this factor has limited the expansion of Negro school transportation.”

In 1948, 98 counties supplied 147 buses for black pupils carrying 10,509 pupils. There were 2,724 white school buses carrying 189,670 pupils.

The Annual Reports did not bother hiding the prejudice of the situation.

“Approximately 75% of the cost of transportation of students in Georgia at the present time must be borne by local funds,” said the Annual Reports from 1948, “and local school officials have been more reluctant to spend local funds on the transportation of Negro students than of white students.”

By June 1950, the situation was some better, according to the Seventy-Eighth and Seventy-Ninth Annual Reports.

There were now 406 buses for black students (to 2,897 white buses). More counties were using the service.

In none, though, were there more black buses than white buses, even in those where the African-American population was higher than that of the white population.

Of the 159 county school systems, 155 had at least one black school.

Of the 155 county school systems with at least one black school, 41 still did not provide a single bus as of June 1950; 25 more provided a single bus. Only one system, Chatham, provided more than 10 (18).

Burke County, which led the state with 60 black schools, had six school buses for black students.

Of the systems that provided no buses for black students, Sumter and Wilkes counties each had 36 African-American schools. Buses were not broken down into county and city systems in the Reports. Including two city schools for Americus, Sumter County provided no buses for black children attending 38 schools.

Morgan County had 32 black schools. Elbert, Mitchell, Oglethorpe and Stewart counties each had 31 schools. Elbert’s number is 32 including Blackwell Memorial in the Elberton system.

Only four of the systems not providing a bus for African-American students were mountainous counties with small populations requiring just one black school. On the flip side, Echols County also had just one black school and provided three buses for its students and Murray County, also in the mountains, provided two buses for its lone black school at Chatsworth.

The Annual Reports from 1950 listed Worth County as having two buses for black students. That was not the case, according to a petition from citizens living in that county, who claimed that one bus and four cars were transporting just 46 African-American students to school.

And not all buses were exactly modern for those counties using them.

Heard bus - Look at Our Schools 1949

Heard County school bus used for black students until 1949. (Image from Look At Our Schools! 1949 … As they are today.)

Look At Our Schools! 1949 … As they are today, a publication issued by the Georgia Department of Education, included photographs from various parts of the state, showing school improvements.

The bus to the right was in use in Heard County in 1949. Look At Our Schools printed a picture underneath it of a brand new bus (or at least newer) bus in use in the county.

Heard was likely not an outlier.

(Similar type buses with wooden bodies were being used for white school children as well, but Look At Our Schools said, “Only a few buses of this type are now in use.”)

Some counties were beginning to remedy the situation.

Greene County, which had one black bus as of June 1950, had increased the fleet to eight by October. Taking place at the same time in Greene was a hurried consolidation from 25 schools to nine to appease black citizens who had filed a petition a year earlier. Greene citizens were happy at the moment, but were awaiting more permanent measures that were being suggested under the announced but not yet funded Minimum Foundation Program.

Houston County, another one of the systems with no black school buses in 1950 (for 23 schools), finally added four for the 1951-52 school year.

The four buses were only there to bring seventh grade and older students to Perry Training School.

Some systems waited even longer, however.

It was not until 1956 that Schley County provided a bus for black students. Much smaller and much more primitive means had previously existed.

“Two new buses brought bus transportation to Negro students for the first time and delivery was promised on a third bus before the end of the week,” said The Ellaville Sun.

“These buses, providing transportation for approximately 150 students, replace six station wagons and pickup formerly used to carry pupils to elementary schools in some areas and others to high school in Ellaville.”

Sources: The Atlanta Constitution – Oct. 19, 1950; The Sylvester Local – Jan. 5, 1950; The Houston Home Journal – Aug. 2, 1951; The Ellaville Sun – Sept. 9, 1956; Look At Our Schools! 1949 … As they are today; Seventy-Sixth and Seventy-Seventh Annual Reports of the Department of Education to the General Assembly of the State of Georgia; Seventy-Eighth and Seventy-Ninth Annual Reports of the Department of Education to the General Assembly of the State of Georgia.

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How the Minimum Foundation Program transformed the state, Part III

The Minimum Foundation Program is here for you.

Now how do you improve your schools?

Continue reading

An education in cotton picking

White schools had once upon a time adjusted their schedules according to farming interests – rural schools in Murray and Gordon counties were rarities in that they were scheduling education around crops into the 1950s – but it was a practice that likely did not completely end across the state for black schools until total integration.

Counties handled the farming requirements in different ways. Some added the non-traditional Saturday to the calendars while others essentially went to a year-round schedule.

While black residents were rarely vocal in print about any misgivings they had about any part of the inequalities going on in their school systems, a letter in Waynesboro proved that not everyone was happy about the sacrifices the schools had to make.

In 1952, an article announcing the black school calendar caused an unnamed black reader to write editor Roy Chalker of The True Citizen. The writer was upset that the schools operated to serve farmers, who frequently employed black citizens … and their children to harvest the crops. Printed August 21, the letter said:

“Dear Mr. Chalker:

The article in a recent issue concerning the opening of Burke County schools is written every year around this time.

After reading the article, I regretted to think those who make school laws could be so hard as to demand that Negro teachers work on Saturdays, so as to make up time because they are not allowed to open on time. It seems a denial of human rights and liberties.

The reason, of course, is it serves the larger farm interests, in that crops are gathered by school children. It is a deplorable situation, which can be helped only when the hearts of the people who make these laws become clean. Until that time, the Negro children of Burke County, as well as the teachers, will suffer.

Another factor which deserves consideration is that teachers, in all probability, will be there on Saturdays disgusted and disheartened at the thought of being robbed of their weekend’s rest, which they most certainly deserve.

These teachers will have no spirit to do good jobs, thereby crippling the school children and retarding progressive education.

Very truly yours,
A Negro Reader”

A week later, Chalker responded in an editorial of his own. His tone did not seem overly sympathetic.

“It is perhaps unfortunate that “cotton picking” time does come in conflict with the first few days of school,” he said, “but we believe that the best possible arrangement has been to accommodate all concerned by the school officials. Teachers and students make up the time by attending on Saturdays for eleven out of the 36 Saturdays of the term.”

Those involved in picking cotton should consider themselves lucky, even.

Chalker said, “The contention of the Negro teacher that the arrangement is designed to “serve the large farm interests” is without foundation. Especially is this so when the farmers are paying $2. to $3. per hundred for cotton picking, and a good picker makes from $5 to $10 a day.”

Further, he said, the teachers should not whine. It would be nice for them to have weekends, but the schools do not exist for them; they exist for the students.

The year before the letter to Chalker, Burke had had to postpone the black school openings three weeks to September 24 because of a large cotton crop. Saturday classes again made up the time.

The practice was not limited to Burke County.

The Sparta Ishmaelite, in announcing that black schools were taking a two-week break September 12, 1963, said the local board of education figured it best. It was either that or heavy absenteeism.

In Johnson County, even two weeks were too short.

The break in 1955 ended after that period, but superintendent Bessie B. Martin said that while city school Dock Kemp was only missing 80 of its regular enrollment, that as many as 800-1,000 were still out across the county.

During a visit to Spring Hill School in 1950 as part of a survey of The Bulloch Herald, the paper noted that only 12 of 32 enrolled were present. Teacher Lula Lockwood said they were probably helping with cotton. Spring Hill was a typical African-American school of its era in that it was one room, but it lacked a proper schoolhouse, being held in the church by that name. Instead of desks, children sat in church pews. No buses served the school, meaning that a few children were walking as much as eight miles per day to attend.

During the same edition of The Herald, the response of “chopping cotton” was also given in reply to a high absentee rate at St. Paul School. One of its students walked six miles each way to attend school.

Dooly County had a slightly different solution in regards to its farming black students.

The September 20, 1956 edition of The Vienna News reported that like many systems, Dooly had delayed school openings for its rural black schools; the city-based Vienna High and Industrial opened September 3, but the others began September 17. Additionally, the News said, “the schedule has been set from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. so that cotton pickers can help on the farm.” This was expected to last several weeks.

Other counties pushed the start of school forwards instead of back.

Elbert County in 1951 opened its county schools – Elberton was a separate system at the time – on July 30. The term would last six weeks or two months. After the cotton was harvested, the winter term would begin. This system was said to be in place for years. Walton County also reported split terms in 1953, as did Madison County in 1954 (The Madisonian on July 15, 1954, reported the session was to start July 19 and to last two months). Oglethorpe County split sessions as well in the 1950s.

Pike County’s schools recessed September 6, 1955 for what The Pike County Journal described as “cotton picking vacation.” Their delay lasted even longer than usual as the county was finishing its building program under the Minimum Foundation Program and State School Building Authority. The buildings were finished, but equipment was not in yet, delaying the schools’ reopening to November 7. If the equipment was still not in, students would briefly have to return to their old schools.

Some of the split sessions and delays seemed to die out with the consolidation of rural schools during the Minimum Foundation Program, but a few systems were still altering their black schools’ calendar well in the 1960s.

Hancock County was still using delays into the mid-1960s. Decatur County, which was battling its rural white schools in an attempt at a county-wide high school during the decade, faced more problems in 1964.

The African-American Faceville Elementary burned March 28, 1964. Bainbridge’s Post-Searchlight on April 9 said that the students were “being transported to other schools in the vicinity which have the same calendar months. The calendar year for the colored schools in that section of the county is set up so that these students are released two weeks prior to those in other areas in the county.”

Faceville’s students were split amongst Fowlstown, Attapulgus Elementary and Attapulgus-Mount Moriah High. The school would not be rebuilt.

Sources: The True Citizen – Sept. 20, 1951, Aug. 21, 1952, Aug. 28, 1952; The Sparta Ishmaelite – Sept. 12, 1963; The Wrightsville Headlight – Oct. 13, 1955; The Bulloch Herald – May 25, 1950; The Vienna News – Sept. 20, 1956; The Elberton Star – July 27, 1951; The Madisonian – July 15, 1954; The Pike County Journal – Oct. 27, 1955; Post-Searchlight – April 9, 1964.