BY CAROLYN GRIFFIN
The Greenville Standard
For this week’s review of Black history in Butler County, the focus is upon education and a bit of the historical legacy of some of the educators and the learning institutions in our beloved county.
To follow are their remembrances.
WILLIE MAE ROBINSON
I began my teaching career in Butler County right out of high school. I taught grades 1-6 at a church school in Monterey, near Forest Home.
From there, I taught grades 1-6 at the Pine Top School and then taught fifth grade at James T. Gregory Elementary School for many years.
I would teach during the school year and then attend Alabama State University during the summer.
I received my B.S. and Master’s degrees from ASU in Elementary Education. I loved teaching my students in and out of the classroom.
One of the greatest experiences of my educational career was an opportunity to teach, for many years, at Lomax Hannon Junior College, located in Greenville.
Lomax Hannon Junior College, an AME Zion church supported co-education institution, provided an opportunity for students to develop academically, intellectually and morally, enabling students to function in pluralistic society.
Entering Southside High as a freshman was so exciting for me! I was so amazed at how large I thought it was and there were so many people.
I didn’t realize until I returned as an adult that it wasn’t really as large as I thought, but what happened between those walls was amazing.
We had hard working inspirations teachers like Jeddo Bell, James Lewis, Georgia Lucas, Ruby Shambray Mozell Peagler, Edith Brooks, and my mentor, Magdalene Robinson, who encouraged us to dream big! To never give up and follow our dreams and I did.
I became a teacher and worked with some of the teachers that inspired me for 31 years . So to my heroes I say thank you!
I took this brief history from a presentation I did before the Board of Education when the campus was renamed the Greenville Training, James T. Gregory, Southside Campus.
Here are my few words from that presentation:
In 1948, the Stanley and Hopkins families sold land to the Alabama Department of Education on which would become Greenville Training High School for African Americans, for the sum of $1.00 and an agreed upon commitment that the land would be used for the purposes of public education.
Then in 1957, the City of Greenville sold and conveyed to the Alabama Department of Education land for the purpose of opening an elementary school for African American children.
The elementary school became James T. Gregory Elementary School, named after the first official African American Principal in Butler County Public Schools.
The campus colors were royal blue and gold and the mascot was the Rams.
Later, the Greenville Training High School would be renamed Southside High School, in that it was no longer politically correct to refer to schools for African Americans as Training Schools. And Southside was favored because the school was located on the south side of Greenville.
In 1972, the campus would be united under one name after forced school desegregation pursuant to Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
It would become Greenville High School. Principals and most teachers of Southside and James T. Gregory would be replaced by teachers from the white schools across town.
Different school colors, mascots, etc. would come with the students and teachers from across town, without any consideration or respect for what was already in place.
No artifacts of the existing schools, James T. Gregory and Southside would be preserved, thus decimating the history of the African American people.
Nearly twenty years later, Greenville High School would relocate to its new school campus off Interstate Highway 65 taking its name, mascot, and colors with it.
Educating children has been the hallmark of this campus and continues today as young four- year-olds in the Bright Beginnings Program are exposed to quality teaching and learning second to none in the world.
- The School spans 22 acres with distinctive up the hill and down the hill elevations.
- Different parts of the school’s campus have individual functions with assigned names such as the Butler County Board of Education, the Butler County School System Board Room, the Bus Shop, Second Chance, and Bright Beginnings, to name a few. There is even an Agriculture Building built by the teacher (Mr. Lucus) and students in the program due to lack of funds.
REV. ABBIE JONES JACKSON
My recollection of school days takes me on a journey of several schools in Butler County.
My first grade memories at Baptist Hill School which happened to have been near my church are centered around the fact that my Sunday School teacher was my first grade teacher.
I hated missing church on Sunday because I knew, Mrs. English, the pastor’s wife, was going to ask on Monday morning, “Who went to church yesterday?”
I never wanted my answer to be, “No.” And I couldn’t lie, because she would know. I also remember that large black potbellied heater that warmed our classroom.
Second grade meant a change of schools. We moved to a new home, so I was enrolled at James T. Gregory, where Mrs. Clipper was my teacher.
In January of 1961, we moved again, but I remained at Gregory until the end of the school year. But the new year, third grade, meant another change.
I had to attend the neighborhood school, The City School. We had a playground with lots of gym equipment. Mrs. Burnett was my teacher. This site however changed at the end of that year, sending me back to James T, Gregory Elementary School.
My fourth grade teacher was Mrs. Ruth Gulley, but Mrs. Clipper was also back in my life.
In order to get to school, it was necessary to pass her house. On those cold, cold, winter mornings; she would allow my friend Zettie and me to ride to school with her.
But as soon as it got warm, she reminded us that we could walk. It was a long walk because we had to walk from Roosevelt and Gregory Streets to Perdue Street to get to Oglesby Street; since Carver Circle as we know it today didn’t exist. It was just a wooded area.
It was during this school year that some, if not all students, went to school for half a day. By fifth grade, things were back to normal and we had a normal school day.
Miss Willie Mae Peterson was my fifth grade teacher. Her classroom is currently the office of the school superintendent’s secretary.
Mrs. Mattie Shaw was my sixth grade teacher and this rounded out my elementary days at Gregory, but seventh and eighth grades were in the same building.
It was during our seventh grade year that new students from outside the city limits joined us because the rural schools were all closed.
Down the hill was Southside High School, formerly Greenville Training School, where I spent the first three years of high school. Those were the best school days.
We learned at the end of the year 1970 that Greenville schools were being integrated and that meant we would be graduating from Greenville High rather than Southside.
The trailblazers who came before us knew the importance of education. They set upon themselves to begin a legacy for those who were to come.
Because of their dedication and commitment to themselves, they created an environment that others, like you and me, would one day reap the benefits.
It was not easy, as they fought adversity from all levels, but that never stopped them. The motivation within them is what we bask in today.
Reading to educate ourselves, sharing our knowledge with each other, and being a positive role model for others is the least we can do to honor the great legacy of those who made it possible for us to have the opportunities that we have today.
Remember the legacy. Honor the legacy. Live the legacy.
One of the most important institutions in our community during the 50’s and 60’s was James T. Gregory elementary school, where Black students from Butler County received an education prior to integration of the county schools.
It left such a great impression on me, that what I learned laid the foundation for the rest of my educational career.
It had such an impact that I did a dedication ceremony to commemorate Mr. James T Gregory including a bust of him that is housed in the front entrance of the Board of Education administration building.
It was such a historic event that Mr. Gregory’s 90-year old granddaughter, Ms. Gennetta Jordan, was the special guest of honor.
Many teachers, students, and parents, including my first grade teacher Ms. Williams were in attendance.
During that era the principals and teachers lived right in our neighborhoods and taught generations of families and cared about the education of our children. The quality of education was second to none.
JULIA KEATH GOLSON LONGMIRE
Education has always been extremely important to my parents, Prof. and Mrs. W.J. and Estelle Golson Longmire.
They were educators, loved their students and were dedicated to teaching them. My Father, Prof. Longmire, was President of Lomax-Hannon High School/Junior College when my sister, Venus, and I were born. We lived in the President’s House on campus.
Lomax-Hannon and my schoolmates will always hold a special place in my heart.
The education we received, reinforced what I learned at home, was first class and prepared us to meet challenges with confidence and to be competitive with other students throughout the country.
Mr. Patton was our beloved President and he cared about us all. Our classes were small and our teachers made sure that each student was successful.
We learned so much more than academics, such as, team building qualities, leadership, problem solving, commitment, respect for others, caring, self-confidence, and more.
My parents would consider that as getting an education, book learning/academics plus.
Lomax-Hannon itself, as an institution, was different from most high schools. Some of our teachers and students came from many parts of the U.S. and some from other countries.
The campus was beautiful with stately brick buildings and dormitories where some of the teachers and students lived.
Unfortunately, a tornado destroyed most of these buildings the summer of my tenth-grade year. We were devastated.
The cost to replace these buildings with the same historical grandeur and capabilities was prohibitive. As a historical Black school, we did rebuild.
Lomax-Hannon also has the historical distinction of being the first only school in this area.
It was established by the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Denomination which was founded in New York City in 1796.
The Georgiana Training/Robert L. Austin High School had its humble beginning as Georgiana Colored Union School, grades one through nine, in a frame Rosenwald building.
The name was changed to Georgiana Training School in 1948, with its first 12th grade graduating class on March 23, 1949. Another building was erected.
During the period of 1949-66, buildings were erected to accommodate the many students, transferred from surrounding schools. Many curriculums were established.
From 1966-69, during voluntary integration, it was named Robert L. Austin High School after the principal, Mr. Robert L. Austin.
Upon integration it became a middle then elementary school, which closed in 2009.
I am a proud 1968 graduate of R. L. Austin School. I am honored to serve as the President of the G.T.S./R.L. Austin School Reunion Committee.