AHS Events

Black Educators and Their Schools

Quenching the Thirst for Knowledge


by Michael L. Thurmond


Reprinted with permission from A Story Untold: Black Men and

Women in Athens History. (Athens, Georgia, 1978.)


Boy, you got to git an education ‘cause dat’s gon’ be the only way out for ya. Son, you git dat education ‘cause what’s in your head can’t no man take away.

Grandma Bossie Burton


Despite the  dialect, the  message has  always been clear. The personal drama of illiterate blacks urging their children to acquire that priceless thing they did not possess themselves has been repeated throughout the years.

Although it was once a crime in most southern states to teach a black man to read and write, the teaching continued, cloaked in the secrecy of night. Finally, when the slaves were freed, the effort to quench the black man’s thirst for knowledge was begun with the help of sympathetic whites.

In most southern cities during the Reconstruction period, one of the first tasks undertaken by Freedmen’s Bureau agents and local citizens was the establishment of schools for blacks. Athens blacks made it known in no uncertain terms that they not only wanted educational training but were willing, on at least two occasions, to fight for the privilege. Shortly after emancipation, a group of blacks assembled near the University of Georgia campus and prepared to seize control of the recently reopened institution.

E. M. Coulter wrote, “the motley group of dusky educational warriors ... began to jeer their more fortunate white brothers.” Town marshals arrived on the scene and unsuccessfully attempted to disperse the freedmen. University students finally succeeded in routing the blacks by unleashing a volley of gunfire in the general direction of the group.

Late in 1867, “the thirst for higher education gained the ascendance again” among a group of blacks who, after arming themselves with “sticks, clubs and every kind of weapon obtainable,” made a second attempt to  seize  control  of  Georgia’s principal  citadel  of  higher learning. “The students, some armed with guns they had carried through the Civil War, gathered to defend their alma mater. ...” A heated battle was averted by the intervention of a Professor Mell who convinced the freedmen to leave the campus.

In response to the strong educational desires of local blacks, the Freedmen’s Bureau, the federal agency in charge of implementing the southern Reconstruction programs, established the Knox School in Athens in the spring of 1868. A report by the bureau stated that excellent school buildings for blacks were erected in Athens and in five other Georgia cities.

Students at the freedmen schools were usually taught by northern white women who felt a religious calling to instruct the former slaves in the rudiments of reading, writing and arithmetic. The first four Yankee schoolmarms to teach at the Knox School were Miss E. C. Ayer, Miss M. E. Dyer, Miss E. F. Fitch, and Miss Sara Vannest.

These “nigger teachers,” as they were called by some southern whites, met stiff resistance from those who believed that educated blacks were dangerous and untrustworthy. Although actual physical violence against the teachers was rare, the more destructive method of social ostracism made life very difficult for them.

A teacher stationed at Greensboro, Georgia, in 1868 described the trouble  that he  and  his  fellow  teachers  encountered  when  they attempted to secure housing in that city.

"We applied at six places, three of which were boarding houses, but none of them would board a “nigger” teacher – I have good reason to believe that there is an understanding between the people of Greensboro to keep out Yankee “nigger” teachers."

A group of  white  Athenians  vented  their  resentment  of  the education of blacks by disrupting classes at the Knox School and forcing the white teachers to leave the building in November of 1868. The local press described the Athens teachers as “pious young females of the Puritan persuasion” who, according to one historian, performed a disservice when they dangled “before the Negroes the educational Utopia and innocently awakened in the African heart longings for what could not be.”

But there were others who possessed somewhat different opinions of the teachers and their educational work in the Reconstruction South. General Oliver O. Howard, head of the Freedmen’s Bureau, called them “the rank and file in the long fight with prejudice and ignorance.” M. Hippeau,  a  French  educational  researcher,  wrote,  “It  would  be impossible to  convey an  idea of  the  energy and friendly rivalry displayed by the women of America in this truly Christian work. ...”

Since it was already an educational center, it is not surprising that Athens became the focal point of black undergraduate education in Georgia during the 50 years after the end of the Civil War. The quality and prestige of these schools for black students were equaled by very few black institutions in the South.


Knox Institute

Knox School, the first school for blacks in Athens, opened in 1868. It was named in honor of Major John J. Knox, a white Freedmen’s Bureau  agent,  who  had  been  assigned  the  duty  of  directing  the Reconstruction  program in Athens. (The school was later renamed Knox Institute and Industrial School.)

By 1901, Knox Institute was advertising itself in the Athens Clipper, a local black newspaper, as having a “Literary Department unsurpassed by that of any institution for colored youths in northeast Georgia.” The school also had a highly developed industrial department which offered courses in carpentry, typesetting, printing and sewing.

In 1913, Knox Institute expanded its curriculum to cover 12 grades, and in 1921 earned the distinction of being the “first high school for Negroes ever  accredited by  the  Accrediting  Commission  of  the University of Georgia.” In addition to the regular grades, there was a special department of music and domestic science.

The school grew steadily, and eventually became the largest and one of the most prestigious private schools in Athens. During the 1924-25 school year, a total of 339 students were enrolled, representing five states, 28 counties, and 38 cities and towns.

Located at the corner of Pope and Reese Streets, the Knox campus consisted of a girls’ dormitory, a boys’ dormitory, principal’s office, and  Carnegie Hall. Money for the latter building was donated by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1912. The three-story brick structure was “steam-heated, electric lighted, contained all modern conveniences, and [was] modern in all its equipment.” It contained 21 rooms. The first floor was used by the industrial department, and the second and third floors were set aside for literary work.

One of the influential figures in the development of Knox Institute was Reverend I. S. Clark. He became principal of the institution around

1886 and remained in that position until Knox closed its doors in 1928. Clark’s wife also served as a teacher, matron and preceptress at the school for approximately 30 years. During their tenures, Knox grew from a small “ungraded school with few students to be one of the top ranking schools for Negroes.”

The teachers of Knox Institute were, for the most part, trained at Atlanta and Fisk Universities. In 1912, they were paid about $35 per month – $25 in money, plus $10 worth of board and lodging in the school.

Originally supported by the Freedmen’s Bureau, Knox later came under  the auspices of the American Missionary Association. Other revenues were received from philanthropic organizations and by the collection of tuition from students. In 1912, tuition ranged from 50¢ per month in the primary grades to $1.50 per month in instrumental music courses.

Knox Institute operated for approximately 60 years. When financial difficulties caused the American Missionary Association to cut off funding to the institution, it was forced to close its doors. In 1933, the city of Athens leased Carnegie Hall on the Knox campus for three years to house the Athens High and Industrial School.


Heard University

J. Thomas Heard University was the smallest of the four black private schools operating in Athens in 1912. It had only a six-year curriculum, but J. Thomas Heard, the black lawyer who founded the school, named it a university so that, in the words of his wife, “it may some day grow into a university, and be a factor in the uplift of his race.”

Heard’s wife helped to operate the school and teach its 78 students. She taught during the day, and shared evening teaching duties with her husband. (Heard University gave working students the opportunity to attend classes in the evenings in addition to the regular day classes.)

The school was located adjacent to Knox Institute, and this, according to T. J. Woofter, created a major problem.

"It would have been more fortunate had this school been located in some other part of town. It is on the lot next to Knox Institute and, consequently, there is no good will lost between the schools."


The Methodist School

Little is known about the history of this institution. It was probably founded about 1876 by William H. Heard, co-founder of the Athens Blade, Athens’ first black newspaper. The school was located on Hancock Avenue in the basement of the Negro Methodist Church. Carrie Pledge was listed in the 1889 Athens Directory as the principal of the institution. Although the exact date of its demise is not known, the Methodist School had ceased operations by 1912.


Jeruel Academy – Union Baptist Institute

Conflicting accounts exist concerning the identity of the founder(s) of the Jeruel Normal School. Two sources credit the Reverend Collins Lyons with being the founder of the institution. Another source states that the Reverends E. D. Jennings, A. R. Davenport, H. M. Smith, Jesse R. Callaway and J. Y. Fambro were the principal founders.

But all sources agree that Jeruel opened its doors for the first time in 1881, and was originally supported by a group of mostly rural black churches known as the Jeruel Baptist Association. The first classes were held in Landrum Baptist Church, which stood on the ground now occupied by the Central Railroad depot. After “two or more years of precarious existence,”  the  school’s  name  was  changed  to  Jeruel Academy, a “name more suited to the kind of work sought to be accomplished.”

In 1886, Jeruel moved its facilities to the corner of Pope and Baxter Streets, where it remained until its closure in 1956. During the years between 1886 and 1956, the school experienced three more name changes. Sometime before 1914, the school changed its name to Jeruel Baptist Institute, and in 1924 it was renamed Union Baptist Institute. The latter name change was the result of the consolidation of the educational efforts of the Union Middle River, the Northwestern No. 1, the Madison, and the Jeruel Baptist Associations.

During the mid-1930s, the Union board of trustees voted to delete the word Baptist from the school’s name. The trustees made this change because  the  school  had  “outgrown  the  narrow  path  in  serving humanity” and was opening its doors “to all denominations and creeds without let or hindrance and on even basis.”

The Baptist institution was the second largest private black school in Athens in 1912, with a student enrollment of 197. Jeruel was equipped with boarding residences which facilitated attendance by students from surrounding counties.

By 1914, the Baptist school had amassed a “competent faculty from both Southern and Northern Colleges,” and was offering its students “superior facilities and advantages.” The curriculum included college preparatory courses, elementary English, kindergarten, theology, and a “Music Department [the] most thorough in northeast Georgia.” Industrial courses, which included sewing – plain and artistic -- and cooking were also offered.

Union Baptist had a physical plant which consisted of a chapel, classrooms, library, laboratories, a twenty-room girls’ dormitory and an eight-room residence with bedrooms for boys.

One of the early principals of the school was Professor J. H. Brown who served as the principal of the institution for approximately 36 years, beginning in October of 1886. He advocated racial cooperation and believed blacks needed the help of white people in order to carry out their educational projects. Whenever possible, he would call on white speakers to address his meetings.

Each year, Professor Brown held a Farmer’s Conference at his school. The two-fold purpose of the conference was “first, to help the farmers by giving them better methods; and second, to arouse the interest of the surrounding rural sections in the work of his school.”

The conference often drew the attention of agriculturalists of local and national prominence, including such well-known personalities as Chancellor David C. Barrow of the University of Georgia; Dr. George Washington Carver of  Tuskegee  Institute;  and  Professor  J.  Phil Campbell of the Agricultural College. According to a 1914 newspaper article, the school had “the fullest cooperation of these gentlemen” in the planning and staging of the annual affair.

One of Union’s most outstanding alumni was Professor C. H. Lyons, Sr., who devoted his life to the uplift of his people. Lyons graduated from Jeruel Academy in 1901. After receiving an advanced degree from Atlanta Baptist College, he returned to his alma mater as an instructor in 1908. Fourteen years later he was appointed the general manager (principal) of Union Baptist Institute.

Lyons  held  the  top  position  at  Union  until  the  school  was incorporated into the public school system. During his tenure, the school increased  its  enrollment  and  improved  the  quality  of  its educational service. Following his death in 1955, Lyons Junior High School was named in his honor, making him the first black man ever to be recognized in this way by the Clarke County School District.

Both Union Baptist and Knox participated in men’s and women’s interscholastic and intercollegiate athletics. The two Athens schools played  athletic schedules that included many black schools in the Southeast,   including  Paine,  Morehouse,  and  Atlanta  University. Naturally, bitter athletic rivalry developed between the two church- supported institutions. The Knox-Union athletic grudge matches were sometimes accompanied by name calling and fistfights between the schools’ supporters.

Following an embarrassing defeat by the Knox football team in 1922, Professor Charles Lyons began looking for a new football coach for Union Baptist. He eventually hired a 21-year-old World War I veteran named Harry “Squab” Jones.

Born in 1901, Jones quit school and enlisted in the army at the age of 15.  After serving in France, he returned to Athens and began a coaching, managing and training career that would span over half a century. During that period, he served on every level of athletic competition   –   high   school,   collegiate,   semi-professional, and professional. Jones is presently [1978] serving as trainer for  the University of Georgia football team.

He made his coaching debut in the fall of 1923 against Union’s arch-rivals from Knox Institute. Although Jones’ memory of the game is  faded and colored with nostalgia, he recalls that it was a tightly contested,  hard-hitting affair. The game developed into a scoreless defensive struggle with neither team possessing the ability to mount a successful offensive drive.

Of course, such an epic contest was deserving of nothing less than a storybook ending. According to Jones, he called on a fleet reserve halfback by the name of Eddie “Ape” Pauldoe in the waning stages of the contest. With the coach’s special instructions firmly planted in his mind, Pauldoe grabbed the pigskin on the ensuing play and streaked across the goal line with the game-winning touchdown. Jones testifies that it was a disheartened and thoroughly beaten Knox football team that walked off the playing field on that fall afternoon.

Second only to the fierce rivalry that existed between Knox and Union was the mutual animosity the two schools shared for the Yellow Jackets of Athens High and Industrial School. Coach Jones still laments the fact that he “never could beat that crowd from Athens High and Industrial.” The closest Jones and his Union football team ever came to defeating the A. H. I. S. squad was in 1924. He is certain that if the referee had not been the opposing coach’s brother-in-law, Union would have defeated their public school opponents that year.

Union Baptist Institute remained open longer than any of the black private schools in Athens. In 1956, the merger of the city and county school systems forced the “Baptist School on the Hill” to close its doors after 75 years of service.


Hyman Liana School and Home

Founded by Miss N.N. Hyman in 1915, the school enrolled about 30 students who came from very poor black families in Athens. Liana was located in a small building donated by the local white Presbyterian Church.


Rosa Smith Normal School

Established by Anne Smith, a black teacher affectionately known by her former students as “Miss Anne,” the school was named in honor of its founder’s mother. It was located on or near Lyndon Avenue on the northwest side of Athens.

A graduate of Atlanta University, Anne Smith taught at Knox Institute and Heard University before starting her own school. “Her object  was to care for a section of town not covered by the public schools, and to furnish a school where children who have to help their parents could attend at odd times.”

The school maintained a relatively small enrollment in order to facilitate Miss Anne’s individualized method of teaching. Although it contained a high school department, the Rosa Smith School offered no definite curriculum. Each student was given the opportunity to progress at his or her own speed, and was permitted to come to class whenever duties and chores were completed at home.


The County Schools

Although not as well developed as their city counterparts, the black schools in rural Clarke County provided invaluable  educational opportunities for children who lived nearby. Most of these schools were located near the various black churches which  were  scattered throughout the county.

In 1916 there were 28 schools, equally distributed between blacks and whites, operating in Clarke County. The management of all but one of these institutions was in the hands of the county board of education, which was separate and distinct from that body that administered the Athens City School System. The schools were funded exclusively by the state of Georgia, with the exception of the Model and Training School, which received funds from private donors.

All the black county schools were located in one-room buildings except  the Model and Training (Harris) and Midway schools. The Billups Grove, Timothy, Allenville, and Brooklyn schools were housed in church  buildings. In 1915 a Phelps-Stokes researcher stated that these four schools were among the poorest in Clarke County.

According to the same researcher, most of the school buildings were in poor condition and generally ill-equipped. The St. James school building  on  the  Jefferson  Road  was  “not  well  suited  to  school purposes.” Classes at the Shiloh and Mount Sinai schools were held on the first floors of lodge buildings located on church grounds.

The following description of the schools was made in the Rural Survey of Clarke County, Georgia:

"The church schools are as unattractive within as they are from the outside. The blackboard facilities are wretched, and the frame benches are poor substitutes for desks. There are no pictures or maps in these schools, and few in most of the others. – All the schools are heated with unjacketed stoves, some of which are in bad condition. Four of the buildings in use are in good condition, five in fair, five in bad condition and three unfit for use as school houses."

The generally poor physical condition of the black county schools was due to several factors. Some of the schools were only in their first decades of existence, but all of them were crippled by discriminatory appropriations of  educational funds under the “separate but equal” doctrine. Although black students accounted for 63 percent of the total county student population in 1916, the blacks schools received only 33 percent of the financial appropriation for that year.

Appropriation figures for the entire state are even more startling. During the 1929-30 school year, the racial composition of Georgia’s public schools was 61 percent white and 39 percent black, but the white schools received 91 percent of the total appropriation. Within this atmosphere, “a new roof, an uncontaminated well, a decent sanitary outhouse, and enough school books to go around were counted as solid accomplishments” by black teachers.

It was upon this scene that the Jeanes teachers and supervisors appeared in Georgia in 1907. The founder and original financial contributor to the program was Miss Anna T. Jeanes, a white woman of the Quaker faith who wanted to aid and improve rural black schools scattered throughout  the  South.  Anna  Jeanes’  first  effort  in  this direction was  the  placement of Jeanes teachers in counties in the southern  states   where  one-teacher  demonstration  schools  were established.

The first demonstration school was opened in Clarke County in 1932. Mrs. Quinton Jones was the first Jeanes supervisor employed by the county school board, followed by Miss Mammie Sapp Dye, Mrs. Mary Trawick, and Miss Madie Kincy. The success of the Jeanes supervision program in the black county schools prompted the Athens city school superintendent to hire Mrs. Ella Billups to serve as the Jeanes teacher in the black city schools in 1955.

Jeanes teachers were employed by local school boards throughout Georgia, and served as supervisors of rural black schools in each county.  Through the efforts of these men and women, significant improvements in curricula, teaching methods, and physical facilities were made in black schools in Georgia and several other southern states.

Although the programs were unrelated, Jeanes supervisors and agricultural extension agents worked closely in Clarke County to improve the farming techniques of rural students and their parents. Through the establishment of 4-H Clubs in the schools, extension agents were  able  to  organize farmer cooperatives, various group workshops,  and stage community-wide agricultural fairs annually. Seven men served as county agents in the black communities of rural Clarke County: P. H.  Stones, D. A. Starks, Edgar Cooper, Robert Church, Lloyd Trawick, E. R. Gary and Herman Hackney.

Black male and female instructors were paid an average monthly salary of $24.00 and $23.45 respectively. White male instructors were paid an average monthly wage of $70.00, and white females earned an average pay of $48.20 per month. The monthly cost of tuition in the county school system averaged $2.40 for each white student and 73¢ per black student.


Judia C. Jackson Harris School

As a rule, the county school maintained relatively small enrollments and offered courses covering only the basic reading and writing skills. One notable exception to this rule was the Model and Training School, later renamed the Judia C. Jackson Harris School.

Along with the basic grammar and math courses, Harris School students were trained in art, music and drama. On several occasions, students at the school presented musical pageants at the Morton Opera House in Athens. Judia Harris, founder of the school, wrote and produced  at  least  four  pageants  which  had  racial,  historical  and religious themes.

The institution was also the site of an annual agricultural fair which drew large crowds from Clarke and surrounding counties. Canned goods, livestock, quilting and other farm goods were exhibited with prizes awarded to the best entries in each category.

The Harris School campus consisted of one three-room wooden structure which served as the main classroom facility and a two-room home economics building. A fire of still unknown origin completely destroyed the three-room wooden building around 1926. However, classes continued to be held in the home economics building and in Judia Harris’s home, which was located directly across the Danielsville Highway from the school.

Blacks and whites came to the aid of the Harris School after a drive to raise funds for the rebuilding of the structure was begun. White philanthropist Julius Rosenwald was the principal financial contributor. Rosenwald was the founder of the Rosenwald Fund which contributed to the construction and improvement of over 5,000 rural Negro schools in the South.

By 1929, a four-classroom brick structure with a principal’s office, library, and auditorium had been constructed on the school campus. A Phelps-Stokes Studies observer wrote:

"[The] Training School is the only negro building in the county where the property is in good condition. The grounds are well kept and have flowers planted. ... The premises are kept  clean  of  trash,  and  altogether presents a neat appearance."

The school was founded in 1903 by Judia C. Jackson. She was born on February 1, 1873 in Athens to Alfred and Louise Jackson, graduated from Atlanta University in 1894, and received postgraduate instruction at Harvard College, the University of Chicago, and the University of Pennsylvania. In 1912 she became the second wife of Samuel F. Harris, who was also a prominent local educator.

Jackson held leadership positions in several local, state and national organizations. She was the recipient of a Teacher’s Life Certificate and a lithograph from the governor of Georgia in honor of her educational services to the state. In 1926, she authored and published a book entitled Race Relations.

Judia Jackson Harris devoted her entire career to the educational and social improvement of blacks in rural Clarke County. Because she espoused a philosophy of self-help and economic independence, she organized Land Owner Clubs in 1901. Their principal purposes were “to improve Negro home life and to establish a substantial school that should be the center of all activities.”

Using the Model and Training School as a base, Harris helped develop the surrounding community and, according to one source, aided blacks in the purchase of “more than 2,000 acres of land. ...”

"The first club contained ten members. They paid in $100 in cash in 1900 and obtained bond for title to a tract of  40 acres (later increased to 55 acres), the purchase price being $350 for the forty acres. In 1908, .... the tract was divided among the members. ..."

During the next seven years, four other Land Owner or Corn Clubs were organized, and by 1915 the organizations had acquired a total of

440 acres valued at more than $3,000. Under the direction of Harris, the clubs   expanded their  cooperative  investments  and  purchased  a community saw mill, a cotton gin, and a threshing machine.

Apparently there was a strong sense of competition between the city and county schools in Clarke County during the early part of the

20th century. This competition often bordered on mutual contempt. Woofter notes that, in 1912, at least three of the county’s black principals  were  not  on  speaking  terms  and  seldom  missed  an opportunity to belittle the work of their counterparts in city or county.

There is little doubt that this discord influenced Harris to send her graduates to schools outside the city of Athens. But regardless of her motives, Harris School graduates successfully matriculated at prep, undergraduate and graduate schools in all parts of the United States.

Because of failing health, Judia Harris retired in 1950 from the teaching profession and from the principalship of the school she had founded. Supported by the Slater Fund, the Phelps-Stokes Fund, by private donations, and by Clarke County, the school remained open until 1956 when the city and county school systems merged. Four years later, Judia Harris died at the age of 87. Today there is a nightclub on the spot where the main building of the Harris School campus was located.


The City Schools

The movement that led to the establishment of a free public school system in Clarke County began around 1870, but the long-standing tradition of private education in Athens and surrounding areas impeded the birth of the public system for more than 15 years.

Local opponents of public schools reasoned that the proposed system would create  greater  tax  burdens. According to historian Augustus Hull, “the public school was a Massachusetts invention and we [Athenians] were becoming Yankeenized fast enough anyhow.” Another historian, Robert Gamble, suggests that some local whites were also  afraid  that  free  schools  for  blacks  “could  lead  to  serious consequences for the social system which the white Athenians wished to preserve. ...”

But there were others, black and white, who strongly supported the concept of “free schools for everybody.” This group included black legislator Mat Davis, Emory Speer, a white attorney, and the editors of two white newspapers. Speer addressed several of the university literary societies to extol the virtues of free public education. Representative Davis supported public education measures throughout his career in the legislature. The Southern Watchman also pleaded the cause of free schools to its Athens readers:

"It costs an average of three times as much for tuition in Athens, as  the  charge  in  the  public  schools  of Savannah, Atlanta, Brunswick or other places. ... We certainly have more than five thousand inhabitants ... and ... can establish a splendid system of free schools.... Other towns and cities of the state have done this. ... Let us not be behind in the race for knowledge."

Even before the establishment of Knox Institute in Athens, some blacks in the area benefitted from educational instruction supplied by benevolent white masters. At the request of his former slaves, Colonel David Barrow built a school on his Oglethorpe County plantation and hired a white teacher to instruct 40 black children in the fall of 1866. And although it violated Georgia law, Olivia Cobb tutored her girl- servant in the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.

"Olivia called her a “most excellent” domestic, but confessed that “more common sense and not quite so much genius” would make her a better servant. At any rate, the nurse progressed so rapidly under the tutelage that Olivia soon confessed to her husband that she felt “almost incompetent to teach her.”

The first public schools opened in Athens in 1886. An application to establish the city-run schools was approved on October 15, 1885. It was   signed by M.A.  Harden,  clerk  of  the  Georgia  House  of Representatives; William A. Little, speaker of the House; H.A. Carlton, president of the Senate; and the Honorable D. McDaniel, governor of Georgia.

In his annual report, Athens School Superintendent E.C. Branson recounted the board’s initial efforts in the field of public education.

"Contending against a deep-rooted opposition to the public school idea, the Board of Education erected two, two-story, ten-roomed brick buildings, one for each race."

The school for black students was on Baxter Street, and the white school on Washington Street. Black children also used the Foundry Street, or Methodist, School, which had four teachers. Mamie Jackson was principal in 1886. In 1890, A. J. Carey was made principal of Baxter Street School, which had six “well-trained Negro teachers.”

The Baxter Street School was remodeled in 1893 for use by white students. The black students were moved to two six-room frame buildings on the east and west sides of Athens. Professor J. R. Mack was appointed principal of the smaller East Athens School, which was manned by  a  three-member  faculty.  A.  J.  Carey was  given  the principalship of the West Broad Street School which offered seven grades taught by five teachers. “Under Carey’s management, the West Athens School increased in grades from seven to nine and became a high school.”

Following a short tenure as principal of the East Athens School, Professor Samuel F. Harris (later husband of Judia Jackson Harris) was appointed principal of the West Broad Street School in 1903. The following year he designed and introduced into the curriculum an agricultural self-help program at the school. Believing that a garden would supply food for underprivileged students, “Professor Harris started his garden, assigning small patches to each student. ...” The adventure was so successful that

"... for the following year he rented ten acres of land, bought a horse and some tools, and received from the Board  of Education an appropriation to employ an agricultural graduate from Tuskegee. ..."

Although the West Broad Street School was equipped with only the barest essentials, T.J. Woofter penned the following observation in 1912:

"Under conditions such as this it is hard to do any work of merit, yet several unexpected visits to the school showed that the children were learning very well what was put before them."

Severe overcrowding at the east and west Athens schools was one of the major problems of early public education. Although black public school enrollment increased from 746 in 1893 to 1,004 in 1911, black students continued to attend classes taught by a total of 14 instructors in two wood-frame buildings.

"Consequently the little children could not be placed in school, and if they could have been, the schools were too crowded for them to have thorough instruction. The  need of  another  negro  grade  school  became evident and a four-room grade school was added in 1911-12, the corps of teachers being increased to 17."

However, the addition of the Newtown School did little to alleviate the overcrowded conditions at the West Broad Street School. During the 1912-13 school year, there was a total first grade enrollment of 140 with an average daily attendance of 105. This large number of students compelled one teacher to teach in split sessions, holding one section until 11:30 in the morning, then teaching a second until 2:00 in the afternoon.

In 1913 Professor Harris became principal at the old Athens High and Industrial School (A. H. I. S.) and supervisor of all black schools in Athens.  Under his supervision, evening vocational classes were added to the curriculum at A. H. I. S. in 1918. Adults were “given the opportunity to learn cooking,  sewing,  home  nursing,  carpentry, masonry and the rudiments of bookkeeping.” According to Willie Mae Mullins, “The rooms were filled with eager students.”

In 1922, Athens High and Industrial became one of the first black public secondary schools to be accredited in the state of Georgia. Four years later, in 1926, Harris organized the state summer school for black teachers.

Mrs. A. H. Burney, instructor and assistant principal, served as principal of the high school in 1934 when Professor Harris became seriously ill. He died the following year. Professor Aaron Brown succeeded him both as principal of A. H. I. S. and supervisor of black schools. He was an ardent believer in the necessity for extracurricular activities to promote the educational growth of economically and socially disadvantaged students. During his ten-year tenure as principal of A.  H. I. S., Brown added several “extra-class activities” to the school’s program. They were:

"... the Athletic Association, whose purpose was to train girls and boys to be great athletes; debating club, to stimulate  interest  in  the  conclusion  of  problems; dramatic  club,   to   train  students  who  are  more interested in dramatization; glee club, to train students who are interested in singing; Tri-Hi-Y and Hi-Y, to create, maintain and extend throughout the school and community high standards of Christian character."

Professor Charles Duvaul succeeded Brown in 1938. He was followed by Homer T.  Edwards, Sr., eight years later. Professor Edwards recalls one of his most gratifying experiences as a local educator: being able to move into the new high school building on Dearing Street in 1956.

In 1964 a group composed of students, teachers and parents spearheaded a  movement to  have  the  black  high  school’s  name changed. Following approval by the Clarke County Board of Education, Athens High and Industrial School was renamed Burney-Harris High School in honor of two black educators, Annie H. Burney and Samuel F. Harris.

The remainder of this article, covering desegregation of the schools in

Athens, will appear in the next issue of the Athens Historian.



Coulter’s College Life in the Old South presented a somewhat detailed account of the early movement to establish a school for blacks in Athens, but the majority of the information about Knox Institute and Union Baptist Institute was gathered from school catalogs and interviews with local alumni of the institutions.  Two Phelps-Stokes Fund studies provided important statistics about the private and public black schools in Athens and rural Clarke County during the early part of the 20th century.

The 1927 edition  of  Who’s  Who  in  Colored  America  contained background material on Judia Harris. This information was supplemented by interviews with some of her former students. Negro Education: Private and Higher Schools for Colored People, edited by Thomas Jones, was also helpful in  developing  this  chapter.  A valuable unpublished  source  was  Rosa Strickland’s private scrapbook collection. Much was also gained from studying the Athens City School Reports at the Clarke County Board of Education.


The Athens Banner-Herald newspaper, April 17-20, 1970.

Athens City School Director.

The Athens Clipper newspaper, August 31, 1901.

Conway, Alan. The Reconstruction of Georgia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1966.

Coulter, Ellis Merton. College Life in the Old South. 2nd revised edition. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1951.

Gamble,   Robert.   “Athens:   The   Study   of   a   Georgia   Town   During Reconstruction.” Master’s thesis, University of Georgia, 1967.

Heard, William H. From Slavery to the Bishopric in the A.M.E. Church. New York: The New York Times Press, 1969.

Hull, Augustus Longstreet. Annals of Athens, 1801 - 1901. Athens, 1906, reprinted 1978 by Heritage Papers, Danielsville, Georgia.

Jones, Thomas Jesse, ed. Negro Education: Private and Higher Schools for Colored People in the U.S. New York: Arno Press and The New York Times Press, 1969.

Knox Herald newsletter, May 1925.

Phelps-Stokes Fellowship Studies. The Negroes of Athens, Georgia. Series No. 1, Vol. 14, No. 4. Athens: University of Georgia, 1913.

Phelps-Stokes Fellowship Studies. Rural Survey of Clarke County, Georgia. Series No. 2, Vol. 15, No. 3. Athens: University of Georgia, 1915.

Schinkel, Peter Evans. “The Negro in Athens and Clarke County.” Master’s thesis, University of Georgia, 1971.

Sessoms, Josie B., chairman of writing committee. Jeanes Supervision in Georgia Schools: A Guiding Light in Education. The Georgia Association of Jeanes Curriculum Directors in cooperation with Southern Education Foundation, 1975.

The Southern Watchman newspaper, January 9, 1867.

Strickland, Rosa. Private scrapbook collection.

Trillin, Calvin. An Education in Georgia: The Integration of Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes. New York: Viking Press, 1964.

Union Baptist Institute Catalogue, 1935.

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