A look back at the state’s largest high schools

Reclassification is months away in the Georgia High School Association, but guesses about which schools are the biggest in the state are probably fairly easy ones.

The largest will come from Gwinnett County, some just slightly smaller from Cobb County. Lowndes may push into the state’s top 10.

Collins Hill dropped jaws and raised eyebrows when it topped 4,000 students almost 15 years ago. A high school larger than the populations of some small towns, including county seats.

It may not have been the first high school in Georgia to reach that mark.

Georgia’s average daily attendance figures for schools are difficult to find prior to the late 1970s.

I have stumbled on a partial list from 1951 and have a full list from The Atlanta Constitution from 1965. I lack access to ProQuest’s Constitution archives to see if more exist.

There are three lists that popped up – 1961-62, 1967-68 and 1969-70 – labeled Public High School Data in the Georgia Government Publications archives. The box of Georgia Interscholastic Association archives housed by the Georgia High School Association has a handful of region lists with ADA numbers.

Finally, some school systems would give attendance reports at the beginning of school years. Most of those that have surfaced are from smaller systems.

Mega-sized schools were few and far between in the olden days, at least by current standards.

The Atlanta Daily World in 1936 did claim that Atlanta’s Washington High was housing nearly 4,000 students. What grades Washington taught was not mentioned. Washington was the city’s sole public black high school.

Few others would have held as many as 1,500.

A few numbers that have surfaced from before the 1960s are eye-catching.

Augusta’s Richmond Academy had 989 students at the start of the 1940-41 school year while all-girls high school Tubman enrolled 1,118. In 1952-53, The Augusta Chronicle reported that at the start of the fall term Richmond Academy (and the associated junior college) had 1,500 students. Tubman had 1,262.

Lucy Laney had 904 students in high school in October 1952. At the time, it was Augusta’s only public black high school.

Lanier was a 2,000-man school for 1952-54 reclassification, according to numbers published in The Daily Tifton Gazette. It and A.L. Miller, boys and girls high schools, respectively, were probably similarly-sized. At that time, they were the only public white high schools in Bibb County.

Soon, more cumulative lists were published. These were the largest high schools in each, with a few historical notes:

1959-60 (GIA archives)

  1. Washington, Atlanta (1,534)
  2. Howard, Atlanta (1,188)
  3. Spencer (1,164)
  4. Ballard-Hudson (1,104)
  5. Beach (1,082)

Desegregation began in 1961 and Atlanta kept opening majority black high schools in the city, but Washington consistently grew through the decade. Howard grew slightly, but by 1969-70 was falling, with an average daily attendance recorded at 858 that year. In 1976, the Atlanta school system closed Howard High. Washington lost numbers in the 1970s, but never dropped below Class AA.

1961-62 (Public High School Data, includes white and black schools)

  1. Savannah (2,008)
  2. Washington, Atlanta (1,777)
  3. Albany (1,697)
  4. Baker (1,605)
  5. Columbus (1,581)

Albany High was not at its largest in 1961-62 – it was listed at 1,824 students in 1967-68’s Public High School Data – but the school was arguably at its most powerful. Albany was the sole white high school in the city (Monroe was the only black high school) and with no big private schools to eat at its population.

In 1963, the Dougherty school district opened Dougherty High on the east side of town. As the city’s population shifted, Westover opened in 1968 on the northwest side. With Deerfield Academy opening, then Riverview Academy opening and white flight taking hold, Albany’s significance began to dwindle. Albany’s ADA was 830 in 1969-70. While stable, it ultimately wound up on the chopping block in 2017. Dougherty’s oldest high school is no more.

1966-68 (Atlanta Constitution list for GHSA reclassification from Nov. 18, 1965)

  1. Lanier (3,126)
  2. A.L. Miller (2,994)
  3. Arnold (2,761)*
  4. Jordan (2,512)
  5. Baker (2,445)

Lanier and Miller would both lose significant numbers with the creation of Mark Smith and Lasseter high schools. All three Macon girls’ high schools were GHSA members, but oddly only Miller was listed in reclassification. A.L. Miller, Lasseter and McEvoy, the latter being the other Macon girls’ high school, were only associate members of the GHSA.

While the classifications list was released in November 1965, Baker’s and Jordan’s attendance figures might have been estimated (or simply incorrect as they vary tremendously from the state-published Public High School Data figures from 1961-62). The Constitution does list the region’s newest school, Hardaway, as having 1,448 students. Baker remained one of the state’s largest high schools as of the 1967-68 Public High School Data, but its number had dropped by 600 students. Jordan was even harder hit, losing around 800 in average daily attendance.

Long associated with Columbus’ military community, Baker’s decline was steep. The GHSA’s average daily attendance was 934 when it began publishing average daily attendance data in its handbooks for 1978-79 region listings.  In 1980, the number was 607 before falling all the way to 363 in 1986-87. It recovered to 600 in 1990-91, but by then it was too late; Baker closed in 1991.

* Arnold is almost assuredly an incorrectly labeled Savannah in the reclassification region list. Though the new Windsor Forest possibly pulled from its attendance area, Public High School Data of 1967-68 lists Arnold’s average daily attendance figure as 397, with Windsor Forest at 605.

Savannah is not listed in region list (the listing is technically “Savannah Arnold” in The Constitution) and at that time, Savannah’s numbers were huge. The GHSA region list of 1966-67 has both schools in the same conference.

1966-68 (GIA archives)

  1. Ballard-Hudson (1,862)
  2. Spencer (1,353)
  3. Monroe, Albany (1,138)
  4. Carver, Columbus (1,098)
  5. Tompkins (1,066)

Note: Likely constructed during the summer of 1966, after several teams jumped to the GHSA, the ADA list did not include schools such as Washington of Atlanta, which would have been around 2,000 students. It does, however, include several Savannah schools that jumped that year.

1967-68 (Public High School Data)

  1. Washington, Atlanta (2,039)
  2. Savannah (2,017)
  3. Albany (1,824)
  4. Baker (1,811)
  5. Price (1,716)

Albany peaks in (known) attendance. Price had 500 students fewer in the 1969-70 Public High School Data. Savannah began to slide, too, in 1969-70.

1968-70 (GIA archives)

  1. Ballard-Hudson (1,559)
  2. Monroe (1,142)
  3. Central, Newnan (763)
  4. T.J. Elder (711)
  5. Fairmont (692)

The exodus had begun, in both terms of larger schools to the GHSA and integration, and by the time district play actually commenced in 1968, Ballard-Hudson was gone to the GHSA as well. When fully integrated, Washington County – with whom Elder combined – would never be higher than a Class AAA school. Fairmont’s enrollment, however, would push Griffin to being one of the state’s largest high schools.

1969-70 (Public High School Data)

  1. Washington, Atlanta (1,919)
  2. Baker (1,918)
  3. Warner Robins (1,815)
  4. Savannah (1,797)
  5. Jordan (1,762)

Warner Robins’ ascent was rapid. After opening in 1944 – high school students were sent to Bonaire when the base first opened – its growth was enough to warrant a second high school (Northside) in 1963. In 1961-62, Warner Robins High had 1,286 students. In 1969-70, the Warner Robins and Northside accounted for nearly 3,200 students.

To be continued in part II, where we jump ahead to the end of the 1970s and see the rise of much larger metro Atlanta schools.

Sources: Atlanta Daily World – Sept. 15, 1936; The Daily Tifton Gazette – Oct. 24, 1951; The Augusta Chronicle – Sept. 8, 1940, Oct. 8, 1952; The Atlanta Constitution – Nov. 18, 1965.

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School stories: Burgess Landrum

Burgess Landrum

The entrance to Jenkins County Elementary in 2011, modified since use as Burgess Landrum High School.

Formerly segregated schools still being used for school purposes are increasingly an endangered species.

Most systems attempted to get use out of their black schools after integration, but as their buildings became extras, their locations not ideal and the wear and tear of time, many have been shuttered.

In Jenkins County, a once-segregated building is thriving.

Burgess Landrum, a grades 1-12 building from 1956-70, was transformed into a primary and elementary school in 1970. It remains one today.

Burgess Landrum technically opened as Jenkins County Training March 30, 1956. The Board of Education decided on April 3rd to rename it for Landrum, the retiring superintendent of schools.

The Millen News said, “Mr. Landrum has been associated with the Jenkins County School system for twenty eight years and will retire at the end of this present term on December 31, 1956.”

Landrum worked “untiringly” on the building program for Jenkins County, funded via the Minimum Foundation Program, according to The News.

Burgess Landrum was not the only African-American school in Georgia to be named for a white educator; soon after the death of Greene County superintendent Floyd T. Corry, Greene County High was given his name.

Jenkins had always intended build a new black school plant in Millen. It was one of only four projects the county requested, along with a lunchroom and workshop at Jenkins County High, addition to the African-American Aaron Industrial and an African-American school for Birdsville-Herndon. The program was approved in 1953.

Any hope of getting the buildings finished early were shot down in December 1954, when The Millen News because the architect designed a building that was too fancy, some $14,000 more than Georgia’s cut-off. That was resolved quickly and bids were up in January 1955. Construction began in March 1955.

Before the first mound of dirt could be moved, though, tragedy struck.

Jenkins County Training burned to the ground on March 8, 1955. The only buildings saved at the school were the vocational and home economics building, as well as the library.

“Among the furnishings that were lost,” said The News, “were new Choir Robes and a new piano just purchased by the school. All other equipment was also destroyed.”

Little insurance was carried on the building.

JCTS students were housed in churches and other nearby buildings while construction was ongoing.

Burgess Landrum 2

The back of the former Burgess Landrum building.

Burgess Landrum was a Class A school in the Georgia Interscholastic Association for most of its existence and its overall size was perhaps deceptive for a black school in northeastern Georgia.

The 1961-62 Public High School Data recorded an average daily attendance of 203 in the high school and just under 1,000 for all grades. In 1969-70, as systems were to be desegregating, Public High School Data reported an increase in Burgess Landrum’s student body: a high school ADA of 258 and entire student body population of 1,300.

Some of the increase can be credited to Jenkins County eliminating its rural black elementaries. School directories report the elimination of Cousins Elementary in 1962 and of Aaron Industrial and Birdsville-Herndon in 1967. The former had 10 teachers in 1967, but the latter had dropped to just three after having seven in 1956-57.

Burgess Landrum was a 1-12 school through 1970, unlike other systems, not dropping any entire grades as desegregation progressed. In 1970 came the name change to Jenkins County Primary and Elementary and the housing of grades 1-6.

Primary and elementary grades were split for several years and the Landrum building held grades 3-5. By the end of the 1990s, primary and elementary were back in the same building.

In athletics, the Burgess Landrum boys are known to have played in the 1966 GIA Class A tournament, where they took fourth place.

Landrum defeated Fairburn and Ethel Kight during the tourney, but couldn’t get past ultimate state champ T.C. Calhoun in a game played at Hancock Central (and 88-74 or 88-67 loss, depending on source), then dropped a consolation game to Liberty County, 81-69.

Burgess Landrum’s Bombers also tried their hand at football late in the life of the GIA.

They were scheduled to play Evans County in 1963, but no result has surfaced. The Bombers did play in 1967-69, but did not have much success on the gridiron. Currently, the only known win for Burgess Landrum was in 1969 over Statesboro-based William James High and coming by a 6-0 score.

Opponents were mainly from eastern Georgia, but the Bombers did travel to as far as Dublin to play Dr. B.D. Perry High.

Frank Bell coached the squad in 1969, with an L. Callair listed in 1967.

Sources: The Millen News – Sept. 17, 1953, Dec. 2, 1954, Jan. 6, 1955, March 10, 1955, March 24, 1955, Oct. 6, 1955, April 5, 1956; 1961-62 and 1969-70 Public High School Data; multiple editions of the Georgia Educational Directory.

A two-city doubleheader and a mystery reference

Tift County Industrial opened its 1950-51 basketball season rather late – January 19 – but the Tigers didn’t hesitate in making up for lost time.

They played a doubleheader on the opening day (and night).

“[T]hey open the 1951 basketball season on the road against Hahira this afternoon and Dasher High, of Valdosta, tonight,” according to the January 19, 1951 Daily Tifton Gazette.

Hahira’s African-American high school closed in 1959 with the opening of Westside. At the time of its closing, it was known as Webb-Miller, but it is unknown if that name was in use in 1951. Dasher ceased being a high school in 1956 when Valdosta city built Pinevale.

Though doubleheaders seem quite rare, even in segregated basketball, this one would have been relatively easy to pull off. An afternoon game at Hahira almost certainly meant that the school lacked a gymnasium. Many segregated high schools played outdoors for that reason.

Dasher, being the nicer city high school, had a gymnasium. If not on their campus, somewhere in the community that allowed it to call home. The ride from Hahira to south Valdosta would have taken less than 30 minutes.

(Tift County’s black community was seeking a gymnasium a few years later, seemingly indicating that Industrial, too, lacked an indoor court.)

There is a bit of mystery from the 1951 Gazette article:

“Both teams will be seeking to improve their last season’s record which ended with the girls taking third place in the state tournament and the boys fourth.”

Neither placed in the Georgia Interscholastic Association’s Class B 1950 state tournament. Industrial played football in Class B, though that did not necessarily mean the high school was; Class C never had enough member schools for its own state tournament.

Being the only black high school in Tift County, Industrial was likely a B school, especially as they made the 1949 state hoops tournament in B. However, no information currently exists about the 1950 Class C boys tournament. The girls did not place in the other half of Class C, though, where the third and fourth place teams were Ellaville and Union Normal (Bainbridge).

Class B girls’ third and fourth squads were Liberty County and a Cordele school (or Carroll County Training – results differ). The boys’ third and fourth were Savannah Street (Newnan) and Lemon Street (Marietta).

Nor did Tift County Industrial place in 1949. The boys were knocked out in the first round in 1949 by Union Baptist of Athens. The girls likely weren’t in the tournament.

It could be that the unknown black correspondent to the Gazette confused district and state. Basketball game results for Industrial are nearly nil, especially during that era.

School stories: Wilson (Ringgold)

Wilson (Ringgold)

A rear view of Ringgold’s Wilson High in 2013.

This was an all-grades school.

No, not the giant two-story building in the background. The one with the chimney. The one that resembles a small office.

This was Wilson High School, one of the smallest black high schools in Georgia.

Wilson opened in the building in September 1955. The history of black education in the preceding years was not well-publicized in the Catoosa County News.

From 1949-52, it was a two-teacher school. Teacher counts were not included again until 1956-57, when it had expanded up to three.

Wilson was not only quite small, it was the only school for African-Americans in the county. If any others had existed, they closed prior to the 1949-50 school year.

What sufficed as a school building prior to Wilson’s construction was not described in Catoosa County’s state survey, which was published in the newspaper January 3, 1952. It can be assumed that it was a frame building. A new building was in the works as soon as Catoosa revealed its improvement plans in 1953.

The Georgia Department of Education’s first attempt as a reasonably thorough list of black schools did not come until the 1956-57 school year. In that edition, Wilson was a 10-grade school. It was also listed as Ringgold Colored.

When exactly the Wilson name was applied to the school was unknown.

The Georgia Department of Education did not pick up the name in its directory until the 1959-60 school year and the first reference found in the Catoosa County News as Wilson was in October 1956.

The Educational Directory upgraded Wilson to 12 grades in 1957-58. It was listed as having four teachers in 1965-66, which may have been its final year as a school; Wilson is not in the 1966-67 directory.

Georgia Interscholastic Association records (housed by the Georgia High School Association) list Wilson’s average daily attendance at the high school level as 17 in 1959-60. If it still existed in 1966-67, Wilson’s ADA had increased to 22.

(Oddly, the Georgia Department of Education does not list Catoosa County as having a black high school in its 1961-62 publication, Public High School Data.)

Wilson’s existence as a high school was perhaps an odd one. Its ADA was one of the smallest of any public high school on either GIA region list.

It was not uncommon for counties with minuscule black populations in Georgia to bus school children to a neighboring district. Nearby Murray County was sending its high schoolers to Emery Street in Dalton – a county that also abutted Catoosa.

Eventually, Ringgold High grew around old Wilson. That school is the one in the background of the top photo. Perhaps surprisingly in the era of segregation, they were virtually neighbors after new schools opened in 1955.

Luckily, RHS had a use for the building.

Wilson is now the JROTC headquarters for Ringgold High. It’s a bit frightening that one department of a school is located in what was an entire grades 1-12 school.

Though a tornado came through in 2011 that damaged both Ringgold High and neighbor Ringgold Middle, Wilson still stands.

DSC02412 - Copy

Wilson is now a JROTC building. A careful examination of its walls show where windows were bricked over.

School Stories is a series of current-to fairly current photos of school buildings. Some are long abandoned, some are still in use. Most will be rural or small town schools. Information is provided by newspaper archives and editions of the Georgia Educational Directory.

Anniversary of GHSA admitting black schools

May 24 marked the anniversary of an important milestone in Georgia High School Association history.

It was on that day in 1966 that the organization voted to admit all-black schools.

A May 26, 1966 Associated Press article from the Palm Beach Post (Fla.) and one the same date from the Rome News-Tribune provided details of the change.

Ten Atlanta schools and four from Savannah had applied for membership in the GHSA when the league held its annual meeting in Thomaston.

The 14 had been members of the Georgia Interscholastic Association. The schools admitted to the GHSA in 1966 were Savannah’s Beach, Johnson, St. Pius X and Tompkins. From the Atlanta area were Archer, Carver, Drexel, Hamilton, Harper, Howard, Price, South Fulton, Turner and Washington. Drexel and St. Pius X were both private Catholic schools (Drexel, oddly enough, was swallowed up by DeKalb County’s St. Pius X in 1967).

These were the first all-black schools in the GHSA, but some integration had taken place earlier. Barely a year after Atlanta’s high schools opened their doors to African-American students, January 1963’s Southern School News had a report on the integration of sports teams.

Whether by agreement or a GHSA ruling, no athletes were playing varsity level sports during the 1962-63 school year. Southern School News said that two athletes, John Henry Carter and Grady Davis were playing B-team basketball at Grady. Clemsey Wood was playing B-team hoops at Brown.

Integration was met with mixed results.

Decatur High, it said, cancelled a B-team game against Grady rather than face black athletes. Druid Hills and St. Pius X (DeKalb) had no issues and played on, as did Smith and West Fulton.

Wood told Southern School News that he believed his teammates had accepted him.

Bert Johnston, who coached Brown’s B-team admitted there was hostility during games.

“[A]s far as I can determine the boys on the team have accepted him. Of course, there has been some reaction from the spectators at other schools, but that’s to be expected.”

An African-American athlete also initially joined the Marist swim team, but found the travel to early morning practice too trying, according to athletic director Rev. William Seli.

Several other schools were gradually integrating and some systems with a small black population, such as Murray County, had completely integrated by the time of the applications.

Though powerful on a local level, the admittance of the 14 in May 1966 was a much bigger step. Now schools were playing not just one or two athletes that had changed schools, but entire teams rooted in identities.

In 1966, GHSA leader Sam Burke was apparently puzzled by what to do with the schools. Reclassification had taken place the previous fall. Regions were settled, schedules were settled.

Burke proposed a new region, 7-AAA, entirely filled with the applicants.

Though brutal for travel, it was not that much of a stretch for the 14 schools. Even at its largest, the GIA had only a single region for its largest schools, though it was subdivided.

The GHSA executive committee overruled Burke’s decision about a single region. The choice was left up to the schools.

All 14 schools were placed in a region for the 1966-67 season.

Region 2-AAA became the home of Beach, Johnson and Tompkins.

Region 3-AAA took on Archer, Harper, Howard, Price, South Fulton, Turner and Washington.

Carver went to Region 3-AA, while St. Pius X went to 2-A and Hamilton went to 4-A. For its one year in the GHSA, Drexel was in Region 8-C.

The ex-GIA members ultimately played a lot of each other in 1966 as figuring out a solution to region standings was not an easy fix. Basketball proved much better, with both Carver and Beach taking state boys titles. Beach walloped South Fulton in the AAA championship game and South Fulton and Turner also made the state tournament field.

A year later, the list grew even more.

Josey and Lucy Laney joined the league at the beginning of the school year. Carver (Columbus) and Spencer came over that December, after the GIA football season ended. The GHSA was even getting smaller public schools, such as Blakeney of Waynesboro.

Others filtered in in 1968. Had total integration not been pushed for 1970 by the Supreme Court, some deep southern Georgia smaller schools were also considering the jump.

Excelsior, based in Rochelle, had gotten the OK from Burke to join in 1970, according to principal Eddie Daniels.

Wilcox County High received all of Excelsior’s students in 1970. Had Excelsior continued, the November 6, 1969 Wilcox County Chronicle said they had at least temporarily been placed in Region 1-C, with Unadilla, Wheeler County, Vienna, Randolph County, Terrell County and Albany private school Deerfield.

The mass of schools leaving had a detrimental effect on the GIA.

Thirty-one high schools jumped to the GHSA or closed between 1966 and 1968, based on differences in the GIA region lists archived at the GHSA office.

At its peak, the GIA had four basketball classifications – AA, A, B and C. In its final year of operation, it was down to AA and A.

On November 12, 1969, The Atlanta Constitution reported that the league would disband in 1970. Burke said the GHSA was receiving applications, which would have included Excelsior’s.

The Constitution said the GIA was encouraging its schools to go to the GHSA if they thought they would have athletics in 1970-71.