EARLY EDUCATION IN MADISON PARISH

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From The Madison Journal Centennial Issue August 14, 1975, Section viii p. 1

(Slightly modified and reformatted by Richard P. Sevier)

The educational development has not come easy in the Delta area. Most early efforts to establish schools in the Parish were unsuccessful, as were the efforts to begin churches. However, Richmond had its desire for schools, such as that operated by James A. Martin in Richmond. Martin's school was for the "purpose of teaching the ordinary branches of an English education" in a three month term. Fees for "Orthography, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic" per month were $2.50 per student. Geography and grammar upped the cost to $3.00 and "other branches could be agreed upon with the patron." Martin assured the public of his ability to "render general satisfaction." A similar school operated by Mrs. H. H. McLean and her sister at Milliken's Bend, was advertised in April 1843.

In 1837, the state legislature had adopted a law authorizing the incorporation of private academies in parishes throughout the state. It provided a subsidy of each one of $1,000 a year for five years on condition that each academy would enroll 10 students free of charge.

In 1842, the Milliken's Bend Academy was opened under this new law. When it opened in May 1842 it was under the direction of Mr. and Mrs. Puller. This was the first semblance of a public school in Madison Parish.

Daniel and Susana McEachern, who donated one and a half acres for the building in 1845, established a second academy not far from the present site of Tallulah.

Another school was operated prior to the Civil War at Goodrich's Landing. It operated until disrupted by the Civil War. A private school was conducted, also before the war, in a small house in the back yard of Mrs. Savage, a wealthy widow who owned Salem plantation. It was just across the parish line into Carroll Parish, but served some children from Madison.

During the period of the Civil War, little is known of the people's education. Most of them consoled themselves by spending their time sewing and reading "well-composed" books or playing chess or backgammon.

After the War, during the period of Reconstruction, General Nathaniel P. Banks was the Union commander in charge of the restored portion of Louisiana. Early in 1864, Banks had made provisions for the education of Negroes. In each police jury and school district there was to be at least one school established for the instruction of all children under the age of twelve. Some of these schools were set up by Madison Parish. They were usually a rough, leaky shed, with the barest of furnishings. The Northern female mission teachers who taught them were socially ostracized. They could seldom find normal living accommodations, as local whites wanted nothing to do with them.

Not all the opposition to these Negro schools came from Southerners. Federal provost marshals often refused to help establish the schools, and refused to guard them if they were established. Northern lessees also opposed them because they wanted to use the Negro children as laborers. Students ranged in age from four to forty, though none over twelve were required to attend. The children were poorly clothed and loved to fight.

Religious instruction was emphasized including prayers and readings from the Bible, which opened and closed the school day. The rest of the course work consisted of reading from primers and studying writing and spelling. Texts used in these schools were Hilliard's First and Second Readers, the Bible Reader, Cowley's Speller, and the New York Speller. The program stressed "a maximum of memory and minimum of reasoning."

These schools were originally supported by benevolent societies. They depended mainly on charity. They were gradually taken over by a Board of Education, and supported by special property and crop taxes. Most of these schools were along the Mississippi River, and few, if any, were started in the interior. Madison was one of a small number of parishes, which had these schools.

The federal government attempted to educate Negroes during Reconstruction; however, no such attempt was made to educate the whites. At first the teachers of the Negro schools were provided clothing, books, slates, etc.

In 1864 (under the Radical Republicans), a state system of public schools was launched. All children under twelve years of age were to be allowed to attend. No mention was made of a separate school system. Plantation laborers over twelve could not be admitted to the schools without written consent from their employers. This consent was seldom given.

The Reverend James A. Hawley was the superintendent of schools along the Mississippi River. Since the whites were not allowed separate facilities, none attended the public schools at all, leaving them with black students only.

In the 1870's, Madison schools had a Negro superintendent. The buildings and other public facilities were pathetic. Elizabeth Bond, teacher at Young's Point, described her situation: "I opened school here in a rough log house thirty feet square and so open that its crevices admitted light sufficient without the aid of windows. The furniture consisted of undressed plank benches without backs, from ten to twelve feet long. In the center of the room was a steamboat stove which had been taken out of the river."

The whites bitterly opposed these schools, and did everything possible to harass the students and teachers. The latter could not find places to stay, nor get credit at the states. Sometimes acts of violence were committed against these schools.

Late in the 1870's, some schools were established by the whites. Those whites who could not afford to send their children to these schools were the ones who suffered from the system, just as all whites did before 1870. This, along with the general poverty of the area, accounts for a whole generation of illiterate whites, which grew up following the war.

When separate white facilities were finally established, it was too late for the post war generation. Thus, the post war public school system throughout Louisiana, and especially Madison Parish, was a total failure, and a complete waste of money especially for the whites.

In the 1880's white public schools began to be formed across the state. Still, however, there were no high schools in Madison Parish. Established public schools only went through the eighth grade. Geography was begun in the fourth grade and history was taught in the last two years, confined to the history of the United States. "Vocal music, composition, and declamation" were taught in all grades except the first. Slates were used by the first three grades, then tablets thereafter.

The first records of school board meetings in Madison Parish date back to December 11, 1885. The following members were present; S. B. McClellan, president; W.B. King, W.H. Harvey, Sol Fried and A. C. Monette, secretary-superintendent. Absent were W. L. Sharkey and J.J. Erwin.

At another meeting in 1888, Mr. Snyder of the "Madison Journal," agreed to do printing for the Board for the sum of $50.00 per annum. Up until this time the only records of the meetings were kept in a ledger written in free hand.

In 1890, there were thirty-one public schools located throughout the parish. All were small one-room schools. In fact, that same year there were only thirty-one teachers listed in the parish. Their salaries were determined by how many students attended the school they were teaching. An example was the school at Omega, taught by Miss Ad Riley. She was the only teacher and had just five pupils. In 1903, 37 different black schools were listed alone with 37 assigned teachers.

If a teacher taught from five to ten pupils, they received $30 per month. If they taught from ten to fifteen they acquired $35, from fifteen to twenty, $40, and from twenty to thirty, $50.

Although it is undetermined when A. C. Monette was appointed as superintendent of Schools, he was replaced in 1894 by J.B. Galloway. Galloway remained in this position until 1900. Then in succession were: G. M. Long, 1900-1904; A. B. Lewis, 1904-1906; E. S. Jenkins, 1906-1907; M. S. Pittman 1907-1909; A. J. Dupuy, 1909-1910; C. M Hughes, 1910-1912; J. R. Linton, 1912-1953; M. A. Phillips, 1953-1973; and H. B Halbach who became superintendent in 1973 and remains in the position today (1977).

Tallulah's first public school was located on the spot where the school board office now stands. This was the first small step toward centralization, which would not be completed until 1955.

In November 1918, Thomas H. Harris, state superintendent of schools, created the office of supervisor for each school system. A course in supervision was taught at the Louisiana Normal School at Natchitoches. In this first class was Miss Ada Mae Lilly (Mrs. A. M. Eisley) of Madison. (MADISON COORDINATOR'S NOTE: Mrs. Eisley was the daughter of Ben Lilly - legendary western backwoodsman and hunter). In 1921, she was employed as supervisor for all elementary schools in Madison, a position that she held nearly forty years.

Mittie K. Speed was a teacher of home economics during the time James Linton was superintendent of schools. She said that if teachers danced at any time during the week they were fired, but that they were allowed to go out on the weekends as long as they were at home by 9 or 10 p.m. to do homework. Mrs. Speed also said that teachers did not work under contract, and were often not rehired for the next term if they did not obey all the rules. They were required to attend church and to only attend social events on Friday or Saturday. Students were also required to obey these rules.

"They brought the children in on buses from the farms. Some of them would be so sleepy in the afternoon that they would put their heads on the desk and go to sleep," Mrs. Speed recalled, Other children would tattle on the sleeping ones and Mrs. Speed would say, "Let them sleep; they got up early". Mrs. Speed said she knew those children worked hard and she did not blame them for being tired at school. Mrs. Speed also remembered that professors from LSU and other colleges would come to teach so that other teachers could get credits and keep their certificates. "They would say that they always knew when they hit a Delta town because people were sociable and spoke better English," Mrs. Speed recalled.

Up until 1927, only those people living in Ward 4 were required to help pay for Tallulah High School. With the building of the new high school building that year, all citizens of the parish were taxed to support it. This was a further step toward centralization. However, there were still one and two room schools scattered throughout the parish.

Moreover, the black schools had received practically no attention at all. Shortly after World War Il some effort was made to improve and create more black schools. Several war surplus buildings were bought by the school board. These served as Reuben McCall High School (the centralized Negro school in Tallulah.) Then, in 1950, the first brick building for McCall was built. The consolidation of the Negro schools in the parish was effected with the bond issue of 1955, doing away with the little one and two room schools.

The next big step in Madison Parish education came in 1965 when the white schools were integrated under court order. This was a voluntary integration in which all students could go to the school of their choice.

But five years later, the entire school system was ordered zoned to massively integrate all schools in a 70-30 black-white ratio. This sudden pronouncement severely disrupted the schools at the time. The school system has since bounced back from this disturbance to again fully function as the educator of Madison's children.

1999 Richard P. Sevier (dicksevier@gmail.com)