Early Schools

Posted 3/10/19

In 1965 upon my graduation from Harding College in Searcy, Arkansas, I sought out Bruce Myers who had an office in the Walker County Courthouse working for the State Board of Pardons and Paroles. I …

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Early Schools

Posted

In 1965 upon my graduation from Harding College in Searcy, Arkansas, I sought out Bruce Myers who had an office in the Walker County Courthouse working for the State Board of Pardons and Paroles. I had attended Harding with his daughter, Charlotte, and she told me that he might help me get a job with the state. Bruce committed to let me know when the test that was required for the job would be given. It was not too long afterwards that the test was given and I was given a job with the state. At that time the Jasper office of probation and parole was assigned to cover the work in Walker, Winston, and Marion county. Bruce worked Winston and Marion and I assumed the caseload in Walker County.

Working with Bruce Myers was quite an adventure. He would invite me to accompany him at times, and it would, without fail, turn into a history lesson about the area. It was hard to pass up a cemetary without him either stopping, or informing me about some of the residents that rested there in their final earthly bed. At times he would enter the cemetary with a notepad and copy names from the gravestones. He subscribed to numbers of religious and historical publications and none of them were discarded. He probably had almost the equivalent number of books in his home as did the local library-there were books everywhere!

Those books and publications had to go somewhere. Before his death, I was told that his religious books and publications were donated to Abilene Christian University in Abilene. Texas (I do not know the connection he had with the school). His material that covered the fields of genealogy,  history, and cemeteries was donated to the Carl Elliot library in Jasper. This material can now be found in the reference room bearing his name. In this resource room is a treasure trove of material which has been collected throughout the years by an assorted number of individuals who have valued the history of Walker County, and Alabama, and sought to preserve it.

There has been one person who for about thirty years been the compass  that guided researchers in the right direction to assist in their search. Elizabeth Blanton not only is the guide, but many times has knowledge of the subject, genealogy or history, being sought. I have known Elizabeth and her late husband, Buford, for about fifty years. She has always been helpful to me when I sought information from the archives there.  

I relate this as I have spent quite a few hours in the Bruce Myers Room this past week. Elizabeth has made available to me a volume of information and pictures of a number of old schools in Walker County. I have committed to learn as much about these old schools as possible but now I am wondering what I am getting myself into. It will be a challenge! In addition to the research at the Library, I have talked with a number of former students who attended many of these schools. I have also received letters and e-mails from some of them. In later columns I hope to be able to acknowledge and respond to some of them.

I found it interesting to learn that in 1934 Walker County had 125 schools. We fast forward to today and there are around, if my count is correct, 20 or less public schools (including WCCT, 180, Jasper and Walker County schools), one college, and one significant private school. Over the years attrition has steadily  reduced the number of schools, always under local protest. As long range transportation became more available, student numbers decreasing, and financing in short supply, it is more economical to bus students than to pay the cost of administrating and maintaining a school with a low number of students. Conversely, in 1934 many schools had a low number of students, but there was not adequate transportation to transport students long distances, most often in walking distance, thus the need for local schools.

As means of transportation increased, the number of schools decreased. A little history here may help to better understand the reason for so many schools. We can trace the history of schools way back to the School Law of 1647 which required that towns of 50 or more families establish schools so that the young have access to an education. Of course, this did not insure that the young would take advantage of this opportunity. Many were required to work and others were just not interested in school attendance. In 1870 only two percent of the 17-year-old graduated from high school. Fast forward 100 years to 1970 and 78 percent graduated and 60 percent went on to college.

During that 100 years the number of schools in Walker County climbed to the record number of 125 (20 black, 105 white)  and from 1934 on, with the advantage of improved transportation, the numbers dwindled. In 1940 there were 20 black schools, enrollment 1,645, and 78 white schools, enrollment 13,424. In 1945 there were 19 black, enrollment 1,503, and 61 white, enrollment 11,846. The numbers continued to dwindle, Blacks, 1950-16 schools, 1955-11 schools, 1960-12 schools, 1965-11 schools at which time desegregation consolidated all schools. Whites 1950-54 schools, 1955-40 schools, 1960-38 schools, 1965-30 schools. In 1965 the enrollment in black schools had remained relatively  steady, dropping to 1,313 in 1955 but increasing back to 1, 512  in 1965.  The enrollment in white schools, however, gradually decreased from the 13,424 in1940 to 9,837 in 1965.

After integration in 1970 the number of schools had increased by 2 to number 32 with an enrollment of 10,760. Those numbers continued downward when in 1982 there  were 23 schools with an enrollment of 9,374. With fewer schools than that today in Walker County, the education of our young is of upmost importance. As I have been a substitute teacher in the Walker County school system for a couple of years, I can report that our young people have access to a quality education if they apply themselves. We owe a debt of gratitude to our dedicated educators in the administration and teaching in schools to help provide each new generation with the tools to be successful and happy in life. THANKS!

Contact Wheeler Pounds at 3424 Kings Mill Rd, Oakman, AL 35579, or at wheelerpounds@gmail.com.