One of the most iconic images of historic American education is that of the country schoolhouse. A one-room fixture, it represented education and it represented communities.
One-room schools are rare these days. Florida closed its last one, Duette Elementary, in 2016. Minnesota still has one, Angle Inlet, located in a section of the state only accessible by roads in Canada.
Georgia, generally being easily accessible and communities located close enough to towns of some size, began weeding theirs out as soon as possible. By 1960, they were all but extinct.
This is a list, as best is currently researched, as to what was built during the 1950s by the State School Building Authority.
The list is a complicated one. Some locally funded building projects are included, but only if they were built at the same time as the rest of the State School Building Authority projects. That means that Eastside Elementary, which opened in 1951 in Lumpkin County, is not credited as Lumpkin County’s building program completed in 1957. Lavonia’s black elementary is included as it was part of the larger Franklin County program.
Schools with an asterisk are buildings that were proposed, but unproven as to whether they actually went up.
Not all systems have been researched, or in the case of some, such as Bryan County, information about the building program has not been found.
Note: This is the start of a series about the biggest change to ever hit Georgia public school education, the Minimum Foundation Program.
With most of the action happening in the 1950s, the Minimum Foundation Program completely reshaped school systems throughout the states, building new or adding to thousands of schools. It caused widespread consolidation of white high schools and eliminated more than 75 percent of black schools over a 10-year span, from 1949-50 to 1959-60.
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 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.