Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Remembering the Old Schools - the Pillars of our Communities

Boarding Students at Piney Woods Country Life School
Source: Piney Woods and It's Story

It is known by many, that before the 1960s there were more than 100 boarding schools for African Americans.  From the 1880s onward, these schools had a tradition of educating young black boys and girls for their future. Many are familiar with the legacy of Palmer Memorial Intitute, and also that of Piney Woods Country Life School.  And in Oklahoma we had Oak Hill Academy .

High School Boarding Schools thrived at Historically Black College Campuses

However I recently realized that many college and universities also had boarding schools for black children as well. Recently, while reading an old edition of the Crisis Magazine, the official publication of the NAACP, the advertisements from the historically black institutions caught my eye.  I noticed that in several of the ads, there were references to academies--to train students on the high school level. I was surprised to see how many of the historically black colleges taught children as well as  young adults on their campuses.

At Tougalaoo College 4 scholarships were given
to those with high exam scores in 8th and 9th grades.
Source: Crisis Magazine, May 1918 

At Livingstone College in North Carolina, a primary school as well as a  preparatory school provided educational foundation for young learners.

A grammar school and HS Academy existed at Livingstone

At Atlanta University there was a primary school, a four year academy and the college, as well.

In 1914, a book was written about the Oak Hill Academy in Oklahoma. In that book an extensive list of all black independent boarding schools appeared, reflecting the need for a strong educational foundation that needed to be formed in thousands of black communities during an increasing era of Jim Crow segregation.  

List of Black Boarding Schools, in 1914
Source: The Choctaw Freedmen, Oak Hill Academy  by Robert Flickinger, 1914

So, after taking note of the prevalence of these institutions, I am compelled to ask, what happened to these preparatory schools?  

Could and should these some of the HBCUs institutions today consider re-establishment of such schools again?  

Since so many schools 4 year colleges and universities had high schools and even preparatory schools, should that legacy be re-examined again?  The schools thrived during the years when education was perceived to be the primary road away from poverty and despair for the community. These were painful years during a harsh Jim Crow system. 

Was the National Training School in Durham, NC 
a preparatory school for for No. Carolina A & T?

Can the histories of the independent schools also be learned? Are there archives at the HBCUs that reflect the histories of these boarding schools for young boys and girls?

A century ago, the reverence for learning was deeply a part of the community, and the work that went into the development and maintenance of these schools involved a devotion that extended beyond the ordinary. The community worked to support those schools, and now, the world consists of a public funded school system, with most children now attending the public schools. But---it is also widely known that in many cities large and small, that system does not work very well.

Biddle University became Johnson C. Smith University. In 1918 the institution also offered a high school.

These ads reflected another time, but education provides a need that continues with each generation. And there are wonderful stories that come from these institutions.  These places planted the seeds for growth and learning that passed from decade to decade. And upon the dusty soil of those long forgotten places, lie the legacies and souls of that which those former slaves and their parents longed.

Are there lessons to be learned from the successes of these schools? Perhaps it is time to rediscover their legacies and to tell their stories.

We must make the effort to not only find the archives that tell these stories, but we must also devote ourselves to preserving the histories of those institutions. Those teachers now long gone, carried so many into a new era, and these places should never be forgotten as part of the pilars of our history.


Renate Yarborough Sanders said...

Thanks for sharing this, Angela. I was glad to see Mary Potter School (Oxford, NC) on the list. Several of my family members attended there.


Anonymous said...

Arkadelphia Academy was merged with Cotton Plant Academy. I grew up hearing of "Presbyterian Academy," which was probably formally named "Arkadelphia Academy," and the "Baptist Academy." Both were gone before my time and I attended Peake High School in Arkadelphia, built under the Rosenwald Schools initiative.


Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...


Thanks for letting me know about Cotton Plant Academy. When I saw it on the list, I was wondering what happened to it! I still wonder if anyone has photos of the old school, and whether or not there are any records. I also wonder if there is anything that might still be on or near the site where the school once stood.


Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Hi Renate, yes I have heard of Mary Potter School. I hope that people who had relatives attending these academies, might be able to find some images and/or documents from those years.

Mavis said...


If I remember correctly, some information on the North Carolina schools is covered in A History of African-Americans in North Carolina. I'm in the process of reading the book but can't remember all the details from the chapter on education.

Also, it wasn't associated with one of the HBCUs in NC but I remember my mother wanting to send me to one of the boarding schools, Allen Home School, which was located in Asheville, NC. She always thought that the girls that graduated from there were a little more dignified. Dad thought the public schools were good enough for me. Either way, Allen Home closed before I was old enough to attend. It closed in 1974 probably as the result of financial pressures due to lack of students after intergration.

Anonymous said...

Angela, I have emailed a cousin who grew up in Arkadelphia to see if she can answer your question relative to "Presbyterian" Academy. I lived in the country, five miles away, so am not nearly so familiar with "town" and what "useta" be there as she is, not even exactly sure where in town it was located. Her mother (my aunt) always talked about the academy, so I'm sure Cuz knows where it was. And she will be surprised that I don't. :-(


Anonymous said...

Angela, here is a recent article from the Arkadelphia newspaper which mentions the Academy.


Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Wow, Melvyn!!

Thank you so much for this information! This is a great article and how wonderful to learn more of the school's history!!!

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

I thought I would mention that Mr. Columbus Knox, who was mentioned in the article about the Arkadelphia Presbyterian Academy, died in 2001 at age 102. And had been employed nearly up till then, though not as a teacher.

Now I have to see why I don't have his obituary!!


Anonymous said...

Biography of Mr. C. E. Knox
On the occasion of the celebration of his 100th Birthday

St. Paul A.M.E. Church
Arkadelphia, AR - March 27, 1999

Columbus Emerson Knox, the second child of William and Elizabeth Bryant Knox, was born on March 27, 1899, in the Knoxville Community, Clark County, Arkansas.

He began his education in Knoxville’s one-room school. His preparation for life’s service includes: graduation from the old Arkadelphia Presbyterian Academy; AA and BSE Degrees from Arkansas Baptist College, Little Rock, Arkansas; validated graduate work at Bishop College, Marshall, Texas; a Diploma in Moral Science from Anderson Institute, Anderson, Indiana.

Mr. Knox served in the public schools, in several counties in Arkansas, for thirty-five years. He served as a teacher, a vice-principal, and a basketball coach. Many of his students went on to become ministers, teachers, bank tellers, attorneys-at-law, medical doctors and musicians.

At the Ralph Bunche High School in Benton, Arkansas, his first teacher, Miss Fairy Dawson Taylor, and Superintendent, Mr. Howard Perrian, expressed words of appreciation for service well done at his retirement ceremony.

Through the years, he put his commitment to God into action by serving as a steward, a trustee, a choir member, and a Bible class teacher at St. Paul AME church in Arkadelphia.

He has demonstrated how to continue serving his fellowman after retirement by: marching with the FAM Brothers for thirty-five years, as a member of the Quorum Court for eight years, and as a Notary Public. He served as a secretary for the F.C. Wiley Funeral Home, and is currently employed by Mitchell’s Funeral Home.

What a blessing to know Brother Knox, on his 100th birthday. He is challenging us to be faithful Christians, devoted husbands, parents and grandparents for centuries to come.

From: The St. Paul A.M.E Church Family – 1999