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George Washington Carver School

Groveton, Texas
 

George Washington Carver School

 Groveton, Texas

Historical Narrative by Susanne Waller, Trinity County Historical Commission

In 1881 the Trinity and Sabine Railroad Company acquired a great deal of land in Trinity County.  The line ran through the vast virgin forests of East Texas from the town of Trinity to Colmesneil along the boundary line between the Maria G. Castro and Pedro J. Caro Leagues.  About that same time the Trinity and Sabine Timber Company acquired the Paro and Castro Leagues and several others and located a site for a small mill on the south side of the railroad line on the Paro/Castro boundary, adjacent to the mill site.  The railroad and timber company united to lay out a town north of the railroad tracks and soon the town of Groveton began to grow.[1]  On June 1, 1882, the Trinity and Sabine Timber Company and Trinity and Sabine Railroad sold about 30,000 acres to the Trinity County Lumber Company, reserving the railroad right of way with 200 or more feet on each side of the tracks, and an additional 160 acres in both leagues. 

In 1882, with the increase in population along the railroad line, additional workers for the mill, increased trade for the railroad and nearness of the trade for the courthouse to transact their business, the sawmill promoters had seen the advantage of moving the county seat from Pennington to Groveton.  The Trinity County Lumber Company offered to donate land to the county, provide a temporary courthouse until a permanent one could be constructed if the County Seat were moved to Groveton within one year.[2]  On October 7, 1882 an election was held and votes were recorded in Minutes of Trinity County Commissions Court: 510 for removal to Groveton, 171 for remaining in Pennington.[3]

During this time schools in Trinity County had been operated under the community school system.  If a group of people desired a school at a certain place they procured the signatures of all the citizens agreeing to this location.  The petition, indicating the number of children pledged to attend the school, was presented to the county judge.  He would then grant the school, and appoint three trustees to supervise it.  Under this system there was no territory encompassed in a district.  One set of white trustees operated the white school and a set of Negro trustees operated the Negro school, even though the two were within half a mile of each other.[4]  A photocopy of an old school accounting ledger from 1886 was found to show Groveton Colored Community School, number 33, in the community school system.  Laura Patton was listed as teacher, and being paid $24.00 a month.

By 1889, Groveton had formed a permanent school district.[5] It was formed for the purpose of levying a tax in order to have more money and better school.  The first white school had begun in 1884 and at that time the Negroes were not provided with a new school building but used any house that was available. In 1895 the Groveton district voted to become independent as the Groveton School Corporation.[6]  Later the Groveton School Corporation name was changed to Groveton Independent School District.

By 1895 the population of the Groveton and population of school children increased so much that in 1898 it was necessary to construct a new school building for white children.  While the white school expanded so rapidly a new school was proposed to be built, the Negro school changed very little.  When the new Groveton District was formed the Negroes lost the control of their school which had been wielded by them under the community system.  In the district there was one set of white trustees for the entire district.  The Negro population and consequently the number of Negro children also increased as the town grew.  Regardless of the growth in scholastic population, the white trustees continued a one-teacher school in a very poor building.[7]

On November 22, 1900, the Trinity County Lumber Company for the consideration of seventeen and 50/100 dollars cash, deeded to the Groveton School Corporation for the colored population of said town, a survey of three and one half acres of land in the P.J. Caro League.[8]  It was in this area of the P.J Caro League where Negro residents of Groveton resided, and the community, then known as Red Town, was located on the west side of the mill pond. When the Trinity County Lumber Company built the mill houses for the African American workers they had painted the houses red, and therefore, the community became known as Red Town. The white mill workers lived in "Mill Town" located on the east side of the mill.  The residents of Red Town were mostly millworkers and their families employed by the Trinity County Lumber Company.  In a photo taken in the early 1900's of all the Trinity County Lumber Company mill employees there are approximately 266 employees in the photograph; 156 white, and were 110 African American men.  The Trinity County Lumber Company closed the mill exactly at midnight on December 31, 1930.[9]

Minutes of the Groveton School Corporation do not exist for that period of time, however, older residents of the county who attended that early school claim it was a wood frame building and the school was known as the Groveton Colored School.  Few accounts of the Groveton Colored School are noted in the early Groveton Independent School District minutes that do exist, but from the few records that have survived it was evident and occasionally noted that the Groveton Colored School was only enlarged as other school buildings from the district became available, salvaged and used for additional space and rooms.  The oldest existing Minutes of the Groveton Independent School District begin on May 7, 1915 and on May 31, 1915 the board elected P. Abner and his son, B.E. Abner as principal and teacher of the colored school, at a salary of $60.00 and $45.00 each per month respectively.  The Abners were again elected as teachers for the 1916-1917 term at a salary of $60.00 per month each and P. and B.E. Abner to furnish all necessary assistance in the way of additional teachers at their own expense.[10] 

According to the  June 8th, 1920 minutes the board was made to appear that the school rooms then used for the Negroes were wholly and inadequate for such purposes.  The board stated that it was unable out of funds that can now be collected by local taxation, and the value of property at its full cash value, to furnish means with which to furnish and provide suitable and adequate rooms, and that officials of the Trinity County Lumber Company are willing to furnish the lumber and material with which to construct the same and permit free use free of charge of such building until such time as the School District is able to provide funds with which to pay for same, conditioned, however, District will convey one half acre of land to the Trinity County Lumber Company upon which said building is to be erected and title to remain in company until such time as the house and lands are purchased by the District.  One half acres of land located in the south east corner of the present school ground set apart for the Negro school of this school district, were sold to Trinity County Lumber Company for the sum of $12.50.[11]

In the minutes of September 4, 1920, the matter of furnishing a building free of charge to the school board for use by the Negroes, having been referred by local officials of Trinity County Lumber Company submitted to the board and offer to furnish such building, but demanded that the School Board execute a contract to pay as annual rental therefore a sum equal to 5% of the cost until such time as the School Board be able to purchase such building when it would be sold for the original cost, less such rental payments that may have been made.[12]  A call for bid for labor to build and erect the Negro school building, all material to be furnished by the Trinity County Lumber Company, was called for on September 9, 1920.[13]  In October of 1920, bids for such building were rejected by the School Board and was referred to Trinity County Lumber Company to contract for the building of the Negro school house as said company was paying all expenses for said labor and material.  No further mention of the construction appears in the School Board Minutes about the newly constructed school building.  However, in the Minutes of June 7, 1921, the School Board ordered "the colored people are hereby granted permission to use the school building for colored children and school grounds there around for celebration, June 19th."

Many of the Groveton Independent School District Minute Books during the late 1920's and early 1930 are lost. However, in the years 1934 through 1936 minutes that still exist, there is very little mention of the Groveton Colored School.  In the Minutes of August 21, 1940 there is mention of a motion accepted to buy library books for the colored school through the Rosenwald Fund.[14]  Minutes also indicate that by May 9, 1940, the school board was employing fourteen teachers in the colored school and by May 4, 1943 they were employing nine teachers.  Former student, Eulalia Horace, tells that she attended the 12 grade in the "Downtown" [Groveton Colored School] school for the first time during World War II.  She had transferred from Oak Grove School in the Lacy Community and bused to Groveton.  She said there were only three rooms in the Oak Grove School and the "Downtown" school had several classrooms. Her 12th grade class had 9 children, eight girls and one boy.[15]

In 1952, the board created a committee to get necessary papers and plans ready for the construction of a gymnasium for the colored school.[16]  On May 12, 1952 the board motioned total bonds for the Colored School to be $35,000.00, and to hire L. Nelms Architect on the gym for the colored school.  On July 7, 1952, the board authorized issuance of $35,000.00 bond, order number one: Groveton Independent School District shall be issued in the amount of $35,000.00 for school building purposes, to wit: The purchase, construction, equipment, or repair of public free school buildings of materials other than wood and the purchase of necessary sites therefore within the limits of said District under and in strict conformity with the Constitution and Laws of the State of Texas.  Order number 8 states: the evident need of school buildings for the Negroes and the modernization of the elementary building and other repairs of the physical plant. It then became obvious that the $35,000.00 bond was for more construction than that of the Negro gymnasium.   

Though not shown in the School Board Minutes, on September 20, 1952, the board had bought another 1/4 acre lot adjacent to the existing Groveton Colored School property that had originally deeded by the Trinity County Lumber Company in the P.J. Caro League and constructed the gymnasium on that lot.[17]  The gymnasium building was 70 feet wide by 90 feet long, with metal siding and roof with windows set high and across the top of the walls on the sides of the building with a wooden floor.  Former students tell that the gymnasium in its first years of use was partitioned off on the interior and used for classrooms and after the gym was completed the old school was torn down in 1955.[18]

The mention of naming or dedicating of the school name of George Washington Carver was never mentioned in the minutes of the Groveton Independent School District and was probably adopted by the staff and students attending the school during that time.  June 2, 1958 was the first date that the board used the name G.W. Carver during a motion recommending five teachers for the school year of 1957-1958.[19] A Certificate of Award given to a student for neither absent nor tardy for the school term of 1955-56 in the Public Schools of Groveton, was issued on May 23, 1956.  The same student received the same Certificate of Award for the school year 1956-57 and school was then called G.W. Carver.  This same former student proclaims that it was in 1956 that the school was named George Washington Carver and new school colors of maroon and grey were adopted.  Since there was only one school for Negroes at that time this partitioned gymnasium served all grades in the partitioned classrooms.[20]

On May 2, 1955 the School Board discussed the bond indebtedness of the Groveton Independent School District and the evident need of school buildings for the Negroes and the modernization of the elementary building and other repairs of the physical plant, and moved to review the entire school system and determine a prospective amount of money needed to make necessary improvements.  On June 6, 1955 a discussion of the cost estimates for the construction and repairs to the school plant in Groveton Independent School District was held: a. Colored school building, wood frame, brick veneer, asbestos siding from window sill up, $29,515.00.  Another motion on that date resulted in the motion to go into a bonding program in the amount of $90,000 to cover the estimated total of $67,594.72 for repairs and construction in all schools.  The board also agreed to check on the plot of ground that was nearly across the street from the existing school.  The property, owned by the estate of J. B. Gary, et.al. located in the P.J. Paro League consisted of about 5.6 acres and the board was to determine availability as a location for construction.  It was also agreed that the school board as a whole serve as a building committee, and that by meetings and etc., the board be constantly informed as to the progress of construction as well as types and quantities of materials used therein.  On July 5, 1955, the board motioned to hire Mr. Louis Nelms to draw plans and specifications for: a. Negro school building, b. repairs on elementary school (white), c. Football bleachers, d. Gym floor, e. Buss ports at elementary school and high school, f. Repairs on windows and frieze boards on the eaves of the high school building.  The plans and specs were for the purpose of arriving at a cost figure for building and repairs.  On August 1, 1955 the board made a motion to buy 5.6 acres of Gary property at a price of $100.00 per acre.[21]  On August 17th the board makes a motion that Mr. Nelms be paid a fixed fee of $2500.00 and that he be paid $200.00 of this amount in advance to take care of blueprint work.  On September 8, 1955 Gary's attorney finds the property transaction agreeable and that construction may started at any time the board so decided without any fear of purchase of property failing.  The new Gary property for the new school was located within a very short distance of the old school and gymnasium and was located on the Old Caney/Chita Road.  Old Caney/Chita Road was later named Martin Luther King Road (MLK).  The date the new school was actually completed is not noted in the Minutes of the Groveton Independent School District minutes, however, a motion was made and carried on April 9, 1956 that Mr. Nelms, the building contractor, be given a check for $500.00, this added to the $1750.00 which he had already received making a total of $2,250.00, and a balance of $250.00 to be paid when the work at the elementary school is completed.[22]

At the November 5, 1955 meeting the School Board discussed the need for a vocational shop for the Negro vocational agricultural boys.  They passed a motion to hire Mr. Nelms or Mr. Browder to do necessary work to get this building under construction.  The building was to be constructed of old lumber and metal roofing salvaged from the old Negro school. 

During the April 1, 1957 meeting the Negro principal and vocational agriculture teacher approached the board explaining they were interested in constructing a 20 ft. by 20 ft. classroom on the end of the vocational shop just completed and if construction was made it would be necessary to purchase sand, gravel, cement, and etc.  A motion was made that this building project be checked into, checking the expense involved, and if it was an earnest desire on the part of the Negroes to construct this building and the price was not prohibitive that it be carried out. 

By 1958 the School Board indicated that a crowded condition existed in the Groveton Negro School and they were ordered to investigate building at least one building, possibly using salvage from the old Glendale School and Thompson School buildings that were no longer being used.  In November of 1958 a motion was made to get necessary plans and specs for a new building and to advertise.[23]  On December 1, 1958 the board accepted the low bid of $3,241.85 and awarded the construction to H.L. Taylor Lumber Company for construction of the new building.[24]

Again in 1960, the School Board addressed new construction at the G.W. Carver School.  On June 22, 1960 the board accepted a bid from Dudley Parker and Co. for new structures, which included in part construction of an addition to the G.W. Carver School. By 1964, the board had elected 12 teachers and four colored bus drivers for the G.W. Carver School for the school year 1964-1965.[25]

On February 8, 1965 the Groveton Independent School District approved and signed the Assurance of Compliance With The Civil Rights Act.  On May 11, 1965 the School Board adopted the Plan of Desegregation of the Groveton Consolidation Independent School District that was to be submitted to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.  In this document is stated the Racial Characteristics of the district including some of the following items:

            The school age population of the district is composed of approximately 266 Negroes, and 471 Whites.

            The District has maintained one Negro elementary school, and one white elementary school for grades 1 thru 6.

            The District has maintained on Negro secondary school and one White secondary school for grades 7 thru 12.  Both schools are accredited.

            The school district employs a total of 40 on its instructional staff.  Of this 40, 27 are White and 13 are Negro. 

Plan of Desegregation items included:

            Beginning with the 1965-66 school year the district will operate all twelve grades in both the previously White and previously all Negro schools on a desegregated basis.  Prior to the beginning of the 1965-66 school year yeas student will be furnished with a "Request for Assignment" so that he and/or his parent may select the school for him to attend.  In the event freedom of choice results in overcrowding at a particular school, priority of assignment shall be based solely on proximity without regard to race, color or national origin.[26]

In the minutes of March 28, 1966 the motion was made to proceed with total integration:  Grades 1 through 4 at present elementary school, 5 through 8 at Groveton Jr. High [formerly the G.W. Carver School], and grades 9 through 12 at Groveton High School. In 1966, the board elected to use the old G.W. Carver gymnasium as a workshop.  The property where the old G.W. Carver gym still stands was sold by the Groveton Independent School District in 2014. 

In 1977, minutes of the board begin examining plans for a new elementary school and renovation to Groveton High School.[27]  On March 16, 1978 a motion was made to advertize for bids on selling the property where the Junior High was located.[28] The Groveton Junior High, former George Washington Carver School, closed in the summer of 1978 and the school and property was sold that following August.  Since then the school has been demolished. 

Through the years many outstanding African American men and women served as teachers at the Groveton Colored School and George Washington Carver School.  Of these, Mr. T.L. Mathis is noted as a man of integrity and compassion.  Serving as principal of G.W. Carver School from 1956 until 1965, at the time of his death.  He struggled tirelessly to improve the school.  He advocated strongly the absolute necessity of a basic skills program for all students.  One of the accomplishments of in this area was organizing a band.  Students were unable to buy their own instruments, so it was left to the community to meet that need.  Mr. Mathis was instrumental in securing cooperation of citizens to meet this need.  Among those who assisted him were Mrs. A.V. Adams, Mr. Roland Smith, who always gave unselfish support to the schools.  The influence of Mr. Mathis personality is reflected in students who came under his instruction.[29] A great respect goes out to all the teachers throughout the history of the school, who worked under extreme conditions to provide quality education to the African American students of the Groveton Independent School District.  The 1976 Bicentennial Tomahawk Yearbook for the Groveton Schools made a dedication to Mrs. Inella Callahan: "It is with pleasure that the Annual Staff dedicates this Bicentennial edition of the Tomahawk to one who exemplifies the high ideals of faith in God, love for one's country, and service to mankind.  In a modest and unassuming manner and with the humility that is always so attractive in one possessing great strength of character, this teacher is compassionate, kind, fair and generous with her time in helping others.  Her family cherishes her, the students love and respect her, and her co-workers admire and appreciate the contribution she has made to the school and community.  The staff therefore, dedicates the 1976 Tomahawk to a lovely lady: Mrs. Inella M. Callahan."  Mrs. Callahan first appears in the minutes of the School Board on April 5, 1948, being recommended for teaching.[30]

In the book Journey to Jubilee, Groveton Texas, there is mentioned an article titled "Victims of the Black Indians" saying that "Somewhere along the line the boys who played for the negro school became dubbed The Black Indians, so the Black Indians under Webster Williams were an awesome group from the Port Arthur-Baytown area to the Timpson area-not to mention the surrounding areas like Trinity, Corrigan, Crockett, etc.  All of the forenamed towns were victims of the Black Indians at some time or another.  Each year the team just played anyone wanting a game.  There were no district games as we know them now, that's why there were such a wide range of towns on the listing."  In the next article "The Black Indian Sports 1959-1962" lists numerous young African American young men with Basketball, Football and Track wins during the time period.[31] 

The fact that must be stated by the author of this historical narrative is that there is very little, or literally nothing mentioned in histories written about Trinity County history about the African American people of Trinity County. Yet some of the African American families that still reside in the county have an untold heritage going back to the 1850's or earlier in Trinity County and the State of Texas, during and after slavery.  Their heritage, history or their schools were not generally included in the history books and articles written about Trinity County history.  Carl Brannen, in his 1942 college thesis about the History of Groveton, is the one of the only histories found that contained a candid view of some of conditions of the African American school history of that period.  

It is of great importance to the African American community to commemorate the George Washington Carver School as a symbol of their proud heritage, to be finally acknowledged for the education and advancement of the proud citizens of the community.  During the years the Groveton Colored School/George Washington Carver School existed that school accepted African American children from all over the county as they merged into the Groveton Independent School District.  From that population came forth future generations of teachers, doctors, and numerous achievements acquired by meager but proud scholastic beginnings.[32] 

Please note: terminologies used in this narrative are general terms used during the historical time period. 


 

[1] Patricia B. and Col. Joseph W. Hensley, Trinity County Beginnings, Friends of Trinity County Historical Commission, Inc. 1986/2008, 65

[2] Ibid., 66

[3] Trinity County Commissioners Court Minutes, Vol. B, 272

[4] History of Groveton, Thesis submitted to Sam Houston State Teachers College, Carl A. Brannen, B.S., 1942, 14

[5] Trinity County Commissioners Court Minutes, Vol. C, 397

[6] Trinity County Commissioners Court Minutes, Vol. d, 360

[7] History of Groveton, Thesis submitted to Sam Houston State Teachers College, Carl A. Brannen, B.S., 1942, 18

[8] Trinity County Deed Records, Vol. W, 610

[9] Flora G. Bowles, A History of Trinity County, Texas, Groveton Independent School District, 1966, 116

[10] Minutes of the Groveton Independent School District, May 30, 1916, 28

[11] Minutes of the Groveton Independent School District, June 8, 1920, 91

[12] Minutes of the Groveton Independent School District, September 4, 1920, 97

 

[13] Minutes of the Groveton Independent School District, September 9, 1920, 98

[14] Minutes of the Groveton Independent School District, August 21, 1940

[15] Personal Interview, Eulalia Horace, July 14, 2015

[16] Minutes of the Groveton Independent School District, April 7, 1952, 99

[17] Trinity County Deed Records, Deed Vol. 126, 274-275

[18] Personal Interviews with Charles Hubbard and Glen Ward, July, 2015

[19] Minutes of the Groveton Independent School District, June 2, 1958, 10

[20] Ibid, 17

[21] Trinity County Deed Record, Vol. 134, 396

[22] Minutes of the Groveton Independent School District, April 9, 1956, 237-238

[23] Minutes of the Groveton Independent School District, November 3, 1958, 27

[24] Minutes of the Groveton Independent School District, December 1, 1958, 31

[25] Minutes of the Groveton Independent School District, April 20, 1964, 345

[26] Minutes of the Groveton Independent School District, May 11, 1965

[27] Minutes of the Groveton Independent School District, January 17, 1977, 31

[28] Minutes of the Groveton Independent School District, March 16, 1978

[29] Groveton Ex-Students Association, Journey to Jubilee, Groveton, Texas, USA, 1980, 134

[30] Minutes of the Groveton Independent School District, April 5, 1948, 34

[31] Groveton Ex-Students Association, Journey to Jubilee, Groveton, Texas, USA, 1980, 179-180

[32] Studies and Research about African Americans in Trinity County, Susanne Waller, Trinity County Historical Commission, 2007 to present

 

Updated 24Sept2015/skw