School stories: Mount Olive (Twiggs)

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Mount Olive Elementary, Twiggs County, 2010

The red dirt of middle Georgia tends to stain.

It is difficult to wash out when dry and when wet, turns into an even thicker mud.

Twiggs County has never been populous.

Less than 10,000 people filled out 363 square miles in 2010 and in 2015, the population was estimated to have dropped from 9,023 to 8,390. Instead of a baby boom in Twiggs from 1940-60, the population fell during each census. There were 9,117 recorded in 1940, 8,308 in 1950 and 7,935 in 1960.

The small population of Twiggs was not a wealthy one.

Unlike in other school systems in the 1950s where school buildings were pushed behind a need to stymie overcrowding, Twiggs needed new schools for safety reasons.

When the State Board of Education approved $12 million worth of school building projects in April 1953, the Twiggs County New Era was thrilled that $1 million was to be local:

“The largest beneficiary of the new program would be Twiggs County, which will rebuild every school in its system at a total cost of $1,025,025. Projects will include 32 white and 46 Negro classrooms. All of the structures in Twiggs now are wooden.”

Five schools were approved, high schools for white and black in Jeffersonville (the white structure consolidating high schools at Twiggs, Smith and part of Twiggs-Wilkinson at Danville), a white elementary at Smith and black elementaries at Antioch and Mount Olive. The county was to help fund the building of an elementary at Twiggs-Wilkinson.

Antioch and Smith were both at Dry Branch. Mount Olive was in the southern part of the county.

The red dirt surrounded Mount Olive, an eight-classroom school with a lunchroom, built on land purchased from Mary Hand. The Twiggs County New Era stressed that all buildings would be fireproof, constructed with concrete blocks inside and a brick exterior.

Mount Olive had already been a school base, listed as having four teachers in 1951-52 and eight in 1953-54, after presumably some small school consolidations.

The contract for building was let in June 1955, with the buildings finished in 1956.

Despite the eight classrooms, Mount Olive opened with just seven teachers for its seven grades. Antioch had eight teachers for seven grades. The Georgia Educational Directory finally listed the school as having eight teachers in 1965-66, nearly a decade after it opened.

Mount Olive remained at eight teachers, but was reduced to six grades in 1968-69. The Freedom of Choice era did not seem to affect the school’s student load.

 

In 1970, Twiggs’ schools were restructured so that Antioch and Mount Olive became junior highs with grades 4-7 integrated. Twiggs-Wilkinson and Smith became grades 1-3. By 1972, the elementaries were renamed to South Complex #1/#2 and North Complex #1/#2.

Mount Olive, now South Complex #2, remained grades 4-7, but was down to five teachers. One principal was now handling both southern schools.

The 1975-76 Georgia Educational Directory was the first to list telephone numbers for schools and the last to mention South Complex #2.

South Complex #2 lacked a telephone.

Few improvements had ever made at Mount Olive, to the extent that the building never had a proper parking lot. Georgia red dirt surrounds the property.

In 1976-77, the South Complexes were reduced to South Elementary. Antioch and Smith still split grades in the northern half of the county.

As kindergarten fit into the Danville building, Mount Olive was likely abandoned permanently as a school in 1976.

Sources: Twiggs County New Era – April 30, 1953, May 27, 1955; Historical Maps of Twiggs County; multiple editions of the Georgia Educational Directory

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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.

School Stories: Good Hope-Peters

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The former Good Hope-Peters School in February 2010, located in southeast Walton County

The Minimum Foundation Program and State School Building Authority was a dual-purpose organization for Georgians: it enabled school systems to upgrade education and for Governor Herman Talmadge, it enabled school systems to upgrade education, hopefully enough to stave off integration.

When integration began sweeping the state, it meant that systems generally now had a bunch of buildings without a purpose. DSC01151Most attempted to incorporate their formerly all-black schools in some way, but for buildings in rural communities, those attempts were generally short-lived.

Talmadge’s grand scheme of warding off integration was already beginning to wear slightly thin by the time the new Good Hope-Peters school opened in the town of Good Hope in Walton County in 1958. A year earlier, Little Rock, Ark.’s, Central High had been the first blow to the deep south’s chances.

Good Hope-Peters had already existed in name, combining the black Good Hope and Peters schools at the start of the 1951-52 school term. The new school came via State School Building Authority funds, built for $164,000 and containing 12 classrooms, a library and a principal’s office.

An estimated 239 students were enrolled, according to the Sept. 3, 1958 Walton Tribune. It was an increase over the 150 from a year ago, due in part to students consolidating from the small Mount Enon and Bethany schools.

For the first year, the school held grades 1-10. Tenth grade was shipped to Carver High in Monroe in 1959-60. Ninth was dropped by 1963-64. Georgia Educational directories list the school as holding eight grades for the remainder of its days as Good Hope-Peters, but it appears that Walton County received a grant in 1966 for preschool; Good-Hope Peters was one of the sites listed to get a class.

Life at Good Hope-Peters came to an abrupt halt at the end of the 1967-68 school year. Walton planned a massive desegregation program. The initial plans, announced May 27, 1968, were to house K-5 at Good Hope-Peters and 6-8 at Good Hope (a white elementary) and operate them as one school.

However, Walton was told by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) the overall county plan was not completely acceptable. In the redraft, both Good Hope-Peters and Good Hope were eliminated as schools. Under its original purpose, Good Hope-Peters served 10 years.

The school then received a strange savior.

George Walton Academy, one of quite many private schools to open in Georgia in the late 1960s under the guise of a sudden need for quality education, DSC01149 took over both campuses in the fall of 1969. It is unknown if Good Hope-Peters was included from the start or not, but by the time George Walton opened a new building in late 1974, both Good Hope sites were operating.

After George Walton’s departure, Good Hope-Peters was used to educate special education students, in combination with Morgan County as the Walton-Morgan Training Center. The school is not listed in any Georgia Educational Directory and is unknown how many years the site was operational.

(Walton Tribune – Sept. 3, 1958; Sept. 9, 1959; April 13, 1966; May 29, 1968; July 3, 1968; Aug. 21, 1969; Nov. 14, 1974; July 6, 1976.)

School Stories is a series of current-to fairly current photos of schools 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.