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:┬áThe 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.

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1950s high school consolidation plans that almost made it

The 1950s were a momentous time in Georgia. Thanks to the Minimum Foundation

Elberton

Elberton High School, year unknown. Its burning brought about a union of school systems and changed building plans.

Program and the offers of state money to build desperately needed schools in Georgia, school systems were changing.

The state, wanting to upgrade white and black education, was trying to rid the small, rural high schools scattered throughout its borders and go with something more streamlined and cost effective.

Early days of this program were wild ones. The state had its beliefs about what should happen with the schools. School systems had others. Sometimes plans didn’t quite work out.

GORDON CENTRAL … 30 YEARS EARLIER

A pair of ideas were floated around Gordon County in the early 1950s. One was a total consolidation of Calhoun and the mostly small county high schools of Gordon into one building. The county and city both gave a stamp of approval to the idea in 1950.

However, in December 1951, Calhoun rejected the idea of straight consolidation. To do so would be for the city and county to merge school systems and Calhoun did not want to give up its independence. A contract, though, to bring the smallest of the schools to Calhoun, that was something they could get behind.

Calhoun city specifically mentioned Resaca, Sugar Valley, Oostanaula, Liberty, Belwood and Plainville. Yes, all of those were high schools in 1950s Gordon County. The county also boasted white high schools at Red Bud, Fairmount and Sonoraville. Those three were large enough to stand on their own. The state was OK with that plan, though the Minimum Foundation Program really would have liked to see the school boards merge.

In April 1952, though, the county voted to build a consolidated high school for Resaca, Sugar Valley, Oostanaula, Liberty, Belwood and Plainville. Fairmount, Red Bud and Sonoraville were still left alone. That plan might have come to fruition, if disaster had not struck in December of that year.

On December 15, 1952, Sonoraville’s school burned down. Suddenly, the county needed the money that might have gone to a county high school for a total school plant at Sonoraville. After that, the central high school dream began to fall apart.

Just as the 1952-53 school year was ending, Plainville asked to consolidate its high school with Calhoun. In July, Liberty practically begged to do the same. Despite space being scarce, Calhoun agreed to take on both.

When Calhoun’s needed space came through in 1956 via a new school, the remainder of the small county schools followed: Resaca, Sugar Valley, Oostanaula, Belwood and Sonoraville.

A real Gordon Central finally opened in 1985 for the county students. Red Bud and Fairmount lost their own high schools in 1991. Sonoraville, the school whose building loss perhaps ended the county high attempt of the 1950s, returned as a high school in 2005.

(The Gordon County News – Aug. 3, 1950; Oct. 9, 1950; Dec. 13, 1951; Apr. 22, 1952; Dec. 16, 1952; June 2, 1953; July 14, 1953; Nov. 22, 1956)

NORTH GWINNETT IN BUFORD, DACULA PART OF CENTRAL GWINNETT

There were three situations that would seem impossible now that came out of Gwinnett County’s school building and high school consolidation plans. Two didn’t happen. One did, albeit briefly.

West Gwinnett, a school that existed under that name from 1957-62 initially combined Norcross and Duluth. For a single school year, the two were together, until Duluth talked its way out of the situation. Norcross hung on to the West Gwinnett name for a few years more.

The other two major consolidations officially considered were: (1) Dacula to close its high school and join up with the bustling Central Gwinnett composed of Bethesda (by then a non-high school), Lilburn and Lawrenceville. And (2), North Gwinnett to be located at Buford, composed of Buford, Sugar Hill and Suwanee.

In December 1954, Gwinnett still had not chosen a site for North Gwinnett. Seven months later, it was announced that a contract that had been agreed upon between the county and Buford’s city system was null and void. The original plans were to alter and add on to Buford High.

No explanation was given by Lawrenceville’s News-Herald, but Buford balking on giving up its independence likely figured in, if it wasn’t the main reason.

Likewise, an exact explanation on when and how Dacula and Lilburn were dropped from Central Gwinnett has not yet been found. Both cities (and Duluth) were objecting to consolidation in 1952.

Lilburn lasted until 1966, when its students became part of Berkmar. Dacula remained small before booming into a very large school of its own.

(The News-Herald – Dec. 18, 1952; Dec. 17, 1954; July 7, 1955)

BARROW COUNTY HIGH

The state thought it was best for the county of Barrow to have a single white high school but with separate city and county boards of education, an agreement had to be made between them. The state heavily requested that these agreements be for 20 years. Full high schools existed at Statham (county) and Winder (city), with several ninth grade-level schools dotting the county.

At an impasse with the city in 1952 because of the length of the agreement, Barrow County made its own plans to maintain a high school. As late as August, the Barrow board decided to consolidate its county students into two sites.

Statham would get Holsenbeck students. Auburn would receive Bethlehem, County Line, Matthews and Victron. A full high school would exist at both sites, but under the single name of Barrow County High School.

The dual-town school would only be temporary, until Barrow County received state funds to build a new high school.

Registration was set for Aug. 28 with school to start Sept. 1. One the very eve of registration, the city and county came to a 20-year agreement. All county high school students (but not elementary) were welcome to attend Winder tuition-free, even those at Statham.

Statham maintained its high school and the county schools stayed the same.

The city and county eventually received funds at different times from the State School Building Authority. Anticipating full high school consolidation, Winder became Winder-Barrow in 1955. Statham closed as a high school in 1957.

(The Winder News – Aug. 21, 1952; Aug. 28, 1952)

BROOKS COUNTY HIGH AND QUITMAN HIGH AS SEPARATE ENTITIES

Brooks County and Quitman city, like many others, existed as separate school districts in the 1950s. Quitman had its own white elementary and high school, Brooks County had three white high schools at Morven, Dixie and Barwick.

Brooks County planned for a consolidated high school, buying land in January 1954 to house the building just outside Quitman on the Morven highway (GA 76). Initial reports indicated that the city was willing to join in and perhaps find some land near the present Quitman High for a new high school building.

By March 1954, the plans stalled, apparently at least partially over school location. The city wanted the school in another location because of traffic concerns. Between this and the next major squabble in late 1956, the city had built the African-American Washington Street High to replace Brooks High.

Some hope towards board consolidation took place before the November 1956 struggle over board representation. Quitman thought that having just two reps from the city were too few. Any deals were now off.

The county went ahead with plans for a consolidated high school for Barwick, Morven and Dixie, calling for bids in January 1958. A year later, the new high school was finished, but was not to be occupied until the 1959-60 school year.

Another attempt was made to combine boards through a Quitman city referendum. It was defeated soundly, 385-144. Not so fast, though. The vote wasn’t what Quitman wanted. The referendum called for a merger of the systems.

A straw vote taken the next week, which came out 288-135 in favor, provided for a temporary merger until a constitutional amendment made it permanent. The merger was made official in March 1959. Quitman would be going to the new Brooks County High. School started in the new building Aug. 31.

The merger did not just affect the white schools. Brooks County had planned for its own black high school, coincidentally located right next to the Washington Street plant. The new building also in 1959. It and the 1955 Washington building served as an elementary and high school, though rural elementaries continued to exist in Brooks.

(Quitman Free Press – Feb. 11, 1954; March 18, 1954; Nov. 29, 1956; Jan. 16, 1958; Jan. 8, 1959; Jan. 15, 1959; Jan. 22, 1959; March 19, 1959. Thomasville Times-Enterprise – Jan. 22, 1954)

CONSOLIDATION OF CARROLLTON, TEMPLE AND MOUNT ZION

When Carroll County and Carrollton city asked for a survey of their school systems in 1951, the results would set off seven years of fireworks.

The survey recommended three high schools: Villa Rica, which would include students from Temple; Bowdon and a consolidated high school of Carrollton, Whitesburg, Roopville and Mount Zion.

The protests against such a plan started immediately. Meanwhile, Carrollton started on its Minimum Foundation Foundation plans to expand Carrollton High.

In March 1953, the county board unanimously agreed to go along with beliefs of the people, that all of its rural high schools be maintained. There was some bending and flexing at a school board meeting three months later. Board representatives from Whitesburg and Mount Zion both said they understood consolidation if it meant their schools were not accredited. Georgia had recently introduced a plan that in the future, any schools with an average daily attendance under 100 would lose accreditation. Temple, Whitesburg, Roopville and Mount Zion were all under that number.

Despite the seeming progress, the county school board presented a plan to the State Board of Education in August 1953 to allow them to keep all the rural high schools. The state rejected it.

Soon, it seemed that the county was resigned to an agreement to make the three high schools plan work. Sites were examined for a new school site. But State Representative C.C. Perkins got involved with the school situation and began pushing the county to resist consolidation.

The situation grew dramatically worse in March 1955.

At a meeting with the State Board of Education in Atlanta, Perkins got into a fistfight with Dorsey Duffey, a Carroll County resident who supported consolidation.

Perkins began focusing on saving Mount Zion and building up the school. He was even able to get funds to start a football program in late 1955.

The county continued to fight against consolidation, resolving to keep all high schools in March 1957. Then in July 1957, Temple’s school burned.

How exactly the county came around to support the dissolution of the Roopville and Whitesburg schools is unknown at this time. Temple had gotten a bit of industry in the town, helping push its attendance. The football efforts at Mount Zion possibly saved it.

Central High School was finished in the fall of 1958, but with equipment not scheduled to arrive until the end of the calendar year, the county decided to wait until the 1959-60 school year to move in.

(Carroll County Georgian – March 22, 1951; Sept. 6, 1951; May 8, 1952; March 5, 1953; June 18, 1953; Aug. 20, 1953; Nov. 5, 1953; Feb. 11, 1954; March 17, 1955; Dec. 15, 1955; March 7, 1957. Carroll Times-Free Press – July 30, 1957; Sept. 16, 1958)

ELBERT COUNTY AND ELBERTON

Separate county and city school boards were not uncommon in the early 1950s. Many that did have separate boards also had rural towns with their own high schools. When trying to modernize education in the state and cut some waste, Georgia asked many of these separate systems to combine.

Some were fine with this idea, realizing that it really was for the best. Some were stubborn, hating that they would have to give up their independence. Some were Elberton and Elbert County.

Georgia wanted Elberton and Elbert to become one with their schools, but neither side was willing to agree.

In October 1952, the county announced plans for county-wide white and black high schools. Sites had already been purchased. Unlike in the cases of most other systems, Georgia refused to listen to the Elbert County requests until Elberton submitted theirs. The problem was, the city had no immediate needs and had no plans to file anytime soon.

Elbert County started negotiating with the city for a merger. After a year of talks, it seemed like they had hammered out their differences on picking board members and a superintendent. Elberton also apparently found some needs and submitted plans to the state. More than $1 million was approved for both systems. High schools were still separate.

No work had started on either system in 1954 when there was perhaps an omen of things to come.

Elberton High, formal name Central High, was severely damaged in a fire Oct. 2. Because of airtight doors, classrooms held, but repairs were extensive: plaster on all three floors had to be replaced, a new stairwell had to be constructed, there was damage to the roof, all windows (save for one) and doorways had to be replaced and the building needed to be rewired. Work was completed in a week.

Would the fire convince the systems to combine? It was a put to a vote in the general election a month later. City voters favored consolidation, but the county did not. Approval by both was needed, though the overall tally favored consolidation.

In October 1955, construction was on the immediate horizon, with bids for projects up. Then on November 7, Elberton High burned again, this time completely.

A high school had not been planned by the Elberton city system. Now one was desperately needed as students were being taught in several churches. On January 4, 1956, city citizens voted to abolish Elberton’s city school system. Elbert County and Elberton became one in July 1956.

The county high school was now a reality, but not as originally planned. Instead of being built in the county, a new school would go up on the site of the old Elberton High. Both systems had preferred that location. Similarly, the black high school site was moved to the city in June 1956, near Blackwell Memorial.

Bids were soon taken for construction and Elbert County High opened in 1957.

(The Elberton Star – Oct. 14, 1952; Nov. 14, 1952; Oct. 30, 1953; Dec. 22, 1953; Oct. 5, 1954; Oct. 29, 1954; Nov. 5, 1954; Nov. 10, 1955; Jan. 6, 1956; June 19, 1956)

The Georgia High School Basketball Project blog is a companion to the Georgia High School Basketball Project.