CHAPTER 3 THE PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM IN PANOLA COUNTY, 1870-1950
The period between 1870 and 1950 was one of the most diverse in Panola County’s educational history. The county was in a constant state of change. Several events, beginning with a lengthy Legislative Reconstruction period in the 1870s, led to an interlude of gradual educational growth and development in the 1880s and 1890s.
During this reconstruction period, residents of the county would once again concern themselves with the location of a new county seat. Business and farming rivalries, the invasion of carpetbaggers from the Northern states, military rule, Radical Repub-licianism, destruction of property caused by the war, and finally a fear of black <lorn-ination would occupy the minds of white Panola County residents on a near continuous basis.
In 1910 the first attempts were made at consolidating or combining smaller schools, consisting of as few as three or four students, into larger more workable entities. 1
This consolidating would continue through much of the twentieth century. Finally two world wars and a worldwide economic depression would further define education within the small Mississippi county. These changes would affect segments of the county in different ways. In some cases, the county would work as a whole in meeting challenges; in other instances, the northern and southern sections would devise separate strategies of dealing with educational change. These changes, over an eighty year period would lay the foundation for major conflicts in the 1950s, regarding consolidation (see Chapter 4) and the 1960s relating to racial integration, federal intervention, and the introduction of a new private school system (see Chapter 5).
This chapter, therefore, covers a significant part of Panola educational history.
Included in this chapter is information regarding the end of the private school system, the beginning of public education, early consolidation beginning in 1910, and education during the Depression of the 1930s. The chapter shows how education was influenced by these factors, both positively and negatively.
Although consolidation is covered in this chapter, Chapter 4 will present a major revamping of the public school system based on super-consolidation and separate educational districts. The date 1950, is generally marked as the beginning of this major transition in Mississippi education.
THE PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM IN PANOLA BETWEEN 1870-1910
In the early 1870s Panola County saw the enactment of the Public School Act of 1870 (see section 3 7.3.la). With this new law, came numerous political and social problems. This was especially true as the act was passed during Legislative Reconstruction (see footnote 2 of Chapter 2). The 1870s and 1880s saw the increased construction of new schools and the creation of teacher institutes and normal schools. Finally, the period between 1870 to 1910 was also a time of white resentment of black teacher institutes, white fear of blacks as well as massive public school advertising and school curricula changes.
Schooling during Reconstruction, 1870-75
The newly elected Republican state government (see section 3.7.1. la) attempted to establish an educational system of a quality equaling those in Northern schools. Their early efforts in Panola failed miserably. Southern whites’ resentment of the 1870 Public School Act (see section 3 7.3.la), and apathy of Panola county’s black parents and children (see section 22.214.171.124b(i)) provided little encouragement to Northern Reconstructionists.
Education and the Southern Strategy
Panola’s Board of Police had in 1869 requested and been granted permission to ‘order an extra enumeration [(to ascertain the number)] of the [black and white] school children in the county for the purpose of including colored children that are entitled to the benefits of the school fund’ (Kyle 1913: 89).2 The plan, however, in February 1870 was indefinitely postponed. The reason for this postponement, according to the board, was Mississippi’s pending readmission to the Union (Lindgren 1994:47). Apparently the board did not want to enact rules unfavorable to whites, when they could postpone the enactment, transferring the responsibility of such undesirable regulations to any forthcoming administration (Lindgren 1994:47).
An 1871 Report of the County Superintendent of Education (Kyle 1913:91) stated that by autumn 1871, the Panola school directors were ready to implement the newly passed Public School Act of 1870 (see section 3.7.3.la). However, this promised implementation was once again postponed during the autumn session by directors who although expressing confidence in the program stated that:
… owing to the lateness of the season and the fact that a large proportion of the pupils were the children of the laboring classes, and must attend school, if at all, during the winter months, it was deemed best to erect no school buildings for the first term but to use such as can be procured …. The board has experienced considerable inconvenience procuring efficient teachers for some of the schools, particularly colored ones; but we trust this evil will be remedied in time.
For this reason, the act was not implemented until the following year. From statements such as these there seems to have been gradual progress toward public education and education of the black pupil. Integration of the races in an educational setting would not, however, take place until the late 1960s (see Chapter 5). Also evident is the introduction of the so called « southern strategy »3 as it related to education in the county. This technique was also used during racial integration of the 1960’s in Panola (see Chapter 5).
Resistance to the Public School Scheme
According to the 1870 census, there were 12,585 free blacks within the county.
Many of these newly freed slaves had worked on smaller white farms ranging from 20 to 100 acres. Although the county, especially in the northern section, had small to medium size plantations thatranged up to 1,000 acres in size (Kyle 1913:83), most of the agricultural holdings were relatively small. Unlike owners of larger plantations in central Mississippi who were known to have during the 1830s-1850s educated some of their slaves,4 small farmers in Panola had fought constantly against any form of black learning.
These small farms were usually worked not only by slaves but also by the owner and his children. On the smaller farms, mental tasks were much easier, physical work was more demanding, and blacks were directly supervised by the white farmer. For these reasons, farmers did not see the need for educating their slave laborers. As an area with farms and small plantations, both the southern and northern regions of Panola County had been less productive than larger 1000 to 5000 acre plantations in many central Mississippi counties5 (Wren 1988: 12) Lower revenue and a large poor white class made the county’s northern hill section (see section 1.1; and Map 2) acutely aware of the costs and obligation of building and supporting a black public school system. Also, much of the black population lived in the northern portion of the county as it still does today. For this reason, Batesville residents did not feel responsible for the burden of educating this black population.
Batesville residents were also enraged at the power of Radical Republicans in Sardis and Como and loss of their county seat due to intervention of carpetbaggers, Sardis blacks, and scalawags (see section 3.7.1.lb). The county was also the site of Ku Klux Klan activity (Harris 1979:382), possessing several dens (i.e. lodges) both in the northern and southern sections of the county.6
Although residents of the county resented carpetbagger intervention, Legislative Reconstruction, and the formation of black public education7 (see section 3.2.2), black schools in Panola County experienced little violence or destruction. Actually, the Klan was initially known for acts of « non-violence », playing upon superstition by using noctumal visits, white sheets, cross burnings, and verbal threats to intimidate and scare black residents. There were, however, a few incidents which had tragic results (see section 2.5.3) (Harris 1979:326).
School Building Construction during Reconstruction
The early 1870s, was a period of great economic change, social resentment, and political polarization (see section 3.7). However, the period also saw a boom in white public school construction with forty-nine school buildings in operation by late 1871 (Kyle 1913 :90). It is surprising that so many schools could have been built, and education prospered to such a degree, since in 1870 the entire state possessed only $600.00 of dependable assets and nearly $800,000 in worthless Confederate funds (Rowland 1925, II: 163). Through private sources, diligent work, and determination, residents of the county, both north and south of the river, payed out over $11,800 in black and white teacher salaries ($70 per month/teacher) (Kyle 1913 :90). By 1 January 1871, Panola tax payers had spent a total of $33,264.14 on public education.
In 1874 Panola County had eighty-six public schools (over half of which were white) and an additional thirty-two all white private institutes (Kyle 1913:90). Many of the private facilities, by this time, were used by white parents as a means of extending the public school term8 by providing a school environment after the public schools’ short term. Parents, therefore, did not have to pay for the full term of private schooling but merely for the additional time children were in the private facility after the end of the regular public school term. For this reason, these schools (private and public) although independent occasionally co-operated together (Kyle 1913:90). Public school construe-tion came largely from taxes. This public school system, however, still lagged behind the few remaining « pay schools » or private academies.9 While the pay schools provided curricula comparable to high school level, many white public schools would continue (until the 1900s) offering curriculum similar to today’s grammar school (PanGens 1987: 139). Black public schools even provided a far more inferior education.
In the zeal to provide public education, far too many white and black public schools were built. In fact, some schools were built around a small community merely to provide employment to its sole teacher, who taught fewer than five children (Rowland 1925, II:481). In many cases, curricula were poor, buildings were shoddy, and teacher training was near non-existent. For these reasons, some private schools, although not as dominant an educational force as before the war, would remain popular throughout what remained of the 1870 and 1880s. 10 However, by the end of Legislative Reconstruction in 1876, public schooling in the county had been firmly established (Rowland 1912:290).
Schooling and Educational Development, 1876-1910
The concept of public schools was met with open hostility and resentment during the early 1870s (see footnote 7) as some parents felt that their children received a better education from the private schools (see Chapter 2 and footnotes 16 and 17). Others, did not want to pay extra taxes for black education and resented, in some cases, sending their children to private institutions while paying higher taxes to allow poor whites an education. Some of the richer whites, felt that educating blacks and poor whites was a waste of time and tax money. By the 1880s, however, the system was steadily advancing, having been accepted by the general public. There were, however, many grave problems which still faced the Panola County public school system. Like most other Mississippi counties, Panola lacked funds and qualified faculty. Sardis, especially lacked qualified black teachers. This, however, would later change countrywide with the creation of teachers’ institutes (see section 126.96.36.199).
The lack of funds and qualified faculty caused the public schools in the state to remain, in many cases, ineffective and inferior to those of other states. Residents, during this era, both north and south of the Tallahatchie constantly complained about poor curricula, second-rate classrooms, and untrained faculty. Because of these insufficiencies, residents within the state forced elected officials, both on their state and local levels, to constantly revise school laws. As Rowland (1912:292) stated, what one session oflawmakers passed was repealed or modified by the next. This revision of laws would continue throughout the 1880s.
The Teachers’ Institute of the Late 1800s
Since the formation of the public school system in Panola in 1870, emphasis had been on providing the best possible education for students, both black and white. To obtain this education, it was necessary that the teacher be well-qualified. To achieve this goal, local teacher training workshops were formed in Batesville, Sardis, and other areas throughout the county and state. These workshops were therefore created to instruct black and white teachers in the art of teaching. The workshops were also instructive in regards to disciplinary problems which has always been more evident in the black schools than the white facilities (Harmon 1989:1A, 3).
Although the county’s first teaching institute was formed in June 1876 at the old Sardis fairgrounds (Valedictory 1881 :2) it was during the 1880s that the institute became a popular and progressive tool for the teacher.
Inability of Teachers to Attend Normal Schools
Although training for public school teachers had existed since the School Law of 1859 (see section 2.7.2 and footnote 16 of Chapter 2), throughout Mississippi, most were located in large urban areas. Due to the small number of training centers locally and the poor salary paid teachers, especially black teachers who had to attend separate normal schools, most were unable to attend normal schools. Attending these schools in distant counties or out-of-state locations also increased the burden on the local school system which was already limited in the number of teachers available. Also, teachers did not have the money for the training, room and board, and travel expenses needed in attending these training sessions (Cole 1992:5B, 5). It would also mean that area teachers would not be receiving salaries from their own schools while away receiving teacher training.
It was therefore imperative that local training facilities be formed either within Panola County or in the surrounding counties.
Training Available at Teachers’ Institutes
By 1880, the Sardis Teachers’ Institute and similar programs in Water Valley and Winona (see Map 8) were actively engaged in assisting white teachers and administrators in their educational development (Educational 1880:3). Education at these institutes included lectures, demonstrations, subject areas (math, science and English) and teacher testing. Teachers both in the Batesville and Sardis areas had little formal training and some, mostly blacks, could barely read or write. Although this annual program, usually conducted during the summer, lasted only a few days to three weeks, teachers were provided with current practical and theoretical training (Educational 1880:3).
The Sardis Institute, was presided over by Panola county’s superintendent of education, Captain J. A. Rainwater (Valedictory 1881:2). This institute (also known as the Panola County Normal Institute) provided sessions for white teachers while the Colored Normal Institute in Batesville trained and assessed local blacks. Black teacher education was especially important within the county as the southern portion of the county possessed a student enrollment of over 1,000 black students, three times that of the white student population ([PanGens] 1987: 140), with nearly twice that number north of the river. Generally, these programs were well received by black and white residents both north and south of the Tallahatchie and were heralded as a step forward in Panola education. Many black teachers of the area (both in North and South Panola), especially in Sardis and Como, were excited at their advancement. In 1887, Mrs Ida B. Leake (Colored Teachers’ Institute 1887a:2), a black teacher from Sardis stated:
In order that you may see what benefit we have derived from these Institutes it occurs to me that it would be well for us to take a curosy [sic] glance at their origin. In June 1876 when our most worthy Superintendent, Captain Rainmaker, saw the necessity ofraising the standard of teachers, he forthwith called them together …. At this time to call them teachers is flattery in its fullest sense; for indeed only a few of them could read in second or third readers, or even knew the fundamental rules in Arithmetic .
… [Capt Rainwater] … was working earnestly, diligently and incessantly] to extricate the free school system from the almost chaotic state that it was in …. Ten years ago these teachers could scarcely write their names on the black board. Today they can solve some of the most difficult examples in Arithmetic or Algebra, …
b(i) White Resentment of Black Institutes
Black teacher institutes although providing education and encouragement to local teachers, had their share of enemies. According to an article in the Batesville Blade (Valedictory 1881 :2):
It is an almost incredible fact that ours, an institution which aims so high, and is destined to do so much good service in the cause of education, in a county and among a people that feels the need of it so forcible [sic], should be opposed, discouraged, and have its objects misconstrued by those who should encourage its continuance; yet such is not the lamentable fact. … His satanic majesty has emissaries here as elsewhere, who try very hard to do his will; and they will not lose their reward, for he will surely pay them when they come into his kingdom. 11
By late 1887 the white Panola County Normal Institute was holding sessions in Sardis while the local Colored Normal Institute12 had moved most of their classes to Batesville (Colored Teachers’ Institute 1887b:7).
The Teachers’ Institutes ofthe Early 1900s
The teachers’ institutes continued throughout the 1890s, providing area teachers with innovative methods of teaching and curriculum development. In 1907, the institute underwent a noticeable change in that State Superintendent, C.P. Cary, suggested an altemative to traditional county institutes in that two or three counties would be combined into a district. Administrators from these educational districts would conduct a compulsory annual workshop for a period of three weeks (The County Institute : 12).
Even with the teachers’ institutes, until 1903 approximately eighty percent of teachers within the state possessed little more than a seventh grade education (Patterson 1937:51).
Gradually, as teacher training and departments of education were formed at regional colleges, (i.e., the University of Mississippi and Delta State Teachers’ College) the need for teachers’ institutes became a thing of the past.
Advertisements and Curricula in Panola Public Schools, 1876-1900
Public school growth after 1876 was dynamic as new facilities were built, better curricula developed, and teachers’ institutes and training programs were created. The period of 1876 to 1900 was also a time of advertising and public school notices as more and more school administrators saw the need of presenting their school’s achievements.
Public School Advertisements
Advertising and public school notices regarding teacher training flourished in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Each issue of The Panolian, The Weekly Panolian, The Batesville Blade, and The Southern Reporter, contained between 4-7 notices regarding the activities of schools. 13 Papers north of the River, like in previous years, did not provide school activities or advertisements to the degree as did the papers of Batesville (south of the river). This was true of the period between 1840 through 1870 with the advertising of private school activities (see section 2.4.2) and between 1870 to the 1968 with the black and white public school systems and recently the integrated school system.
By the 1880s, most of the area papers carried only small public school advertisements, stating the school’s principal, location, and a listing of several benefits.
Advertisements prior to this period were more in-depth with a listing of courses, lengthy paragraphs on the school’s growth and a partial listing of courses (see section 2.4.2).
Although notices regarding teachers’ institutes (see section 3 .2.2.1) monopolized much of the educational scene of the 1880s, public school developments including school construction, rural school consolidation, increased teacher pay, and development of agricultural schools were occurring. By 1882, these activities received near constant attention in the local papers (Lindgren 1994:62-66).
Most of the newspaper notices regarding education north of the river were concerned with teacher training. The notices for this area concerning other topics of education, such as school openings and tuition costs, pertained to schools in Sardis. In proportion to other county regions, few school notices concerned schools in Como.
The Como High School (1883:3), a public school located some five miles north of Sardis, was advertised during this period. This, however, was one of the few times that this school received any form of advertisement, paid or otherwise. Although advertising the school’s opening and several other small notices regarding tuition, no in-depth information was provided pertaining to the school’s (nor any other school north of the Tallahatchie) curriculum or teaching staff (Lindgren 1994:62-66).
The fall of 1883 also saw the opening of two public schools in Sardis, i.e. the Sardis Graded School (The Graded School 1883:3) and Lee Street School (Lee Street School 1884:3). Notices concerning the elementary schools referred to the high quality of teachers and the schools’ innovative curricula. Once again, no details were provided concerning what comprised the innovations.
One of the most publicized public high schools of the 1880s and 1890s was Panola High School in Sardis. According to the 1889-1891 Biennial Report, the school was formed to provide an exceptional facility, school environment, and curriculum, for the children of Sardis and surrounding areas (Gardiner 1889-91 :393). The school, whose board president was the noted L.F. Rainwater, was one of the first to hold a nine month consecutive term and had an enrollment of about 235 students. The facility, as with most other schools, was divided into four sections of Primary, Intermediate, Business, and Normal.
According to the above school’s Catalogue and Announcement (Panola High 1891 :3) its primary aim was to ‘teach the pupil to think closely, correctly, and quickly, and, while all are taught thoroughly the most practical knowledge, yet those who graduate here shall be worthy of the honor conferred, and their educational attainments shall be equal to the best’.