A recreated classroom is at the center of an exhibit showing the historical progress of educational opportunities for African-
Americans in Coweta County.
The exhibit, sponsored by the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society at the McRitchie-Hollis Museum, shows the transition from early private schools through the years of segregated public schools.
Remembered are such early schools as McClelland Academy in Newnan as well as later public schools including Howard Warner High and Central High where black students attended before integration in the late 1960s – early ’70s.
The first school established for African Americans in Newnan came in 1866 following the Civil War and was a small house near the East Broad Street depot, belonging to the railroad, according to information from the local history book “Coweta County Chronicles.” Integration of the schools for black and white children in Coweta County eventually came as the result of a court order in 1970.
Among special artifacts are an April 1966 letter to parents from then Newnan public schools Superintendent O. P. Evans regarding a school desegregation plan and the “Willie the Tiger” mascot given up by Newnan High School with integration with the black Central High in favor of the “Cougar.” The William L. Bonnell Company presented NHS with a seated, stuffed Willie in 1958 and again — this time on all fours — in the 1960s. It is the second Willie that is on display at McRitchie-Hollis Museum.
Recent University of West Georgia history graduate Eric Gilley and new NCHS staff member Jessie Merrell did the research for the new exhibit. A volunteer from the African-American Alliance also assisted with research, and a copy of the exhibit is being made available for display at the Alliance museum on Farmer Street.
Eleven panels are featured in the new exhibit. Early schools, both black and white, were often located in rural neighborhoods. These schools were sometimes sponsored by churches or even by individuals. Among schools recalled in the NCHS display are McClelland Academy in Newnan, Brown High in Moreland, the Booker T. Washington School in Roscoe, the Grantville Training School, Ebenezer, Paris, the Howard Warner School, the Pinson Street School, Central High School and Rosenwald Schools like the Walter B. Hill Industrial School whose building now serves as the Turin Town Hall.
Local education advocates were inspired by the example provided by Booker T. Washington, a former slave who became the first teacher at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama when it was created in a one room shanty with 30. It was founded in 1881 and authorized by the Alabama Legislature.
In 1907, a “Presbyterian colored school modeled after Tuskegee was built in Newnan by Dr. B. L. Glenn and his wife at a cost of $3,500, according to the “Coweta County Chronicles.” The school, eventually named McClelland Academy, had roots extending back to 1889, when the first class was enrolled as part of a Presbyterian mission.
The Grantville Training School, in operation until 1955, offered a range of extracurricular activities including Tri-Hi Y Club, Hi Y Club and Drama Club.
Brown High School (1933-1946) in Moreland is often called “the county’s first black high school,” but students in grades 1-12 were taught there. Classes included English, math, social studies, home economics, agriculture, and shop.
The McRitchie-Hollis Museum, 74 Jackson Street, is also featuring a textiles exhibition of ladies’ lingerie, “Naughty Newnan: From Corsets to Couture,” which will be on display through Mother’s Day. The museum is at the corner of Jackson and Clark Streets just north of downtown Newnan. Hours are10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.