Educating Our Young

Posted 4/28/19

For several weeks I have written about schools that once taught Walker County students but are no longer in existence. I have received an overwhelming amount of information regarding these schools, …

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Educating Our Young

Posted

For several weeks I have written about schools that once taught Walker County students but are no longer in existence. I have received an overwhelming amount of information regarding these schools, with all of them I am attempting to preserve records so as to be able to collect as much information, which will soon be lost if not recorded. Sadly, much of this old history lies buried with former students and cannot be retrieved.  

I have established a file on every old Walker County school that I have been able to document. I have 140 named files for white schools in the county, and 22 schools for blacks, a total of 162 which I have presently identified. I intend to list these, as well as any additional ones I may learn about in a future writing. I am sure there must be more as many of the ones I have found are located in the southern part of the county.

The feed-back that I have received has been both interesting and informative. One e-mail exchange that I had with Terry Bo Lollar, originally from Oakman and Parrish, but most of his lifetime Berry has been home for him. As the exchange that I had with him has been interesting to me as it has given me additional insight into my perception of the early schools in the 1800's. He begins by inquiring about the length of time that the columns had been running in the DME as he is interested in old history and  has not had access to the newspaper. After this inquiry he writes; “I wouldn't think that most if not all the schools mentioned today” (April 21 column) “ would be an “official school”  and only a makeshift place that a few might gather occasionally to try to learn a little reading', riting', and rithmatic. Is this a fair assumption?”

My reply, edited for the newspaper; “In regard to your question regarding “makeshift schools.” One needs to realize that 140 years ago when Hewitt Johnston attended school these were the only schools available except a few in the large towns. If a person wanted to get an education these rural schools were as important to them as those few which were available to the town's dwelling, and boarding students. Hewitt and his siblings, and their neighboring children, grew up in Beat 10 with no chance of getting an education except in what you would term as makeshift and not “official” schools, many of which survived for the duration needed for the children to get an education, and to them the schools they attended were as “official” as the ones provided for those in towns. As you could deduct from my articles, some of the schools were mentioned as having been attended in successive years. Most were built to house schools as well as serve a dual purpose of being available for church services and community functions, while others were held in residents that were only used seasonally as housing. Sometimes I think that we fail to see the challenges that confronted those of that era who aspired to become educated.”

Terry Bo Lollar replied; “Wheeler, thanks for the reply. I certainly do understand the challenges the folks back then faced to get an education. And I'd think the numbers were low that endeavored to do so. I doubt the kids were all that enthused by it. And by makeshift, I meant that they most likely had to use any building that would fit the purpose and was available. I wasn't denigrating the effort at all. One has to respect the time and effort some put into educating their kids.”

It is good to get observations of others about past history and the effect schools, churches, organizations, and employment had on the shaping of society as it affects us today. Bo is correct in his assessment that there were many who were illiterate in that period of time in our nation's history. We can also assert that the people at that time were quick to seize upon every opportunity to utilize available resources such as empty buildings, to find a use for them. My reply to him conveys my thought regarding this. My edited reply follows.

“It was very common at that time for a family, or a community, to join forces and cut ample logs to construct a building, typically around 16x24, dirt floor, split logs for benches, (I have described this in previous articles in the DME) which were used for school and church purposes. As for students, some children had no interest in school attendance, some wanted an education but lacked the opportunity to get one, some kids were too busy working on farms and doing household chores to have the time to get an education, and some would do whatever necessary to become educated. The driving force in this area were parents who wanted their children to have a better opportunity to excel than what they had and were willing to go the extra mile for their children.”

I interrupt my reply to Bo with this insert. Parents concerned about the future of their children played an extremely important role in the development of our nation as we have it today, to the extent that they would build buildings and hire teachers to teach them. Sadly, where are many parents today with the same zeal that our ancestors had to help educate and develop our young into productive citizens?

I'll jump back off my stump and finish my reply to Bo. “The Johnston family mentioned last week in the column is an example of how adversity can be transformed into productivity. Hewitt, became an medical doctor as did brother Noah. Their brothers, Fleming, became a dentist, Manley co-founded the Cordova Citizens Bank and was a successful lifetime banker, Powell, before age 18 (1887), started teaching at Providence Baptist Church in Jefferson County. (for a salary of $15 a month). Their sisters had successful marriages and success in life. This was a family who was willing to do whatever necessary to achieve and advance in life. Many of our business and professional people who helped build the great nation that we have today grew up in similar humble circumstances. True, there were those who were not as willing to make this sacrifice of time and energy and were contented with the status-quo, nevertheless, we owe a great debt to our early schools, teachers, administrators, and to the families and students who made it all possible.         

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