An academy for Freedmen

Oak Hill Industrial School in 1905 was established for freed people, formerly enslaved by the Choctaws, near today’s Valliant in Indian Territory.

Per the 1866 treaties signed after the Civil War, the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations were supposed to provide education to the people it had formerly enslaved. The Chickasaw Nation never did this, but the Choctaw Nation’s historic affiliation with Presbyterian missionaries garnered collaborations to build schools to serve African American youths. Along the old road between Ultima Thule and Doaksville near the Red River (today’s Valliant, McCurtain County, Oklahoma) Oak Hill Industrial Academy was established in 1869 with funding by the Presbyterian Church for the education of freed people in the Choctaw Nation. The first terms as a real boarding school occurred nearly two decades later, in 1886, after the Choctaw Nation enrolled freed people as citizens in 1880 and African Americans demanded schools of their own as they were denied access to the academies at Spencerville, Armstrong, and Wheelock.

Initially, Oak Hill students met in the old log cabin of Robin Clark, a Choctaw Freedman, where studies focused on religious instruction and basic literacy (Clark’s log cabin had been initially built by Chief Leflore in the 1850s). Gradually, buildings and land were donated to the school by native black teachers.

This 1901 USGS map shows Oak Hill Academy, a prominent feature east of Fort Towson along the old military road.

The Presbytery recruited Anglo teachers, many from Pennsylvania, to expand instruction in academics. The main focus continued to be on mechanical education in farming and home economics. While this sounds practical, it was also a paternalistic denial of African American advancement. Though in his 1914 book about the academy, Robert Elliot Flickinger recognized discrimination and mistreatment of African Americans, he also wrote that one of the school’s goals was to “prevent sloth.”

Oak Hill Industrial Academy became a self-sufficient farming complex in which the crops, honey, and milk raised by the students helped to sustain the institution. In 1912, the school was re-named to “The Alice Lee Elliot Memorial School” to honor the wife of a donor from Indiana. As one of very few high schools for African American students in southeastern Oklahoma, the Oak Hill Industrial Academy/ Alice Lee Elliot Memorial School closed in 1936 when the Choctaw Nation moved to a public but nonetheless segregated school system.

Today, a historical marker at Valliant cemetery commemorates the academy, but there are no physical reminders of the school left on the surface.

Read more about Oak Hill Academy in this very informative blog post: http://african-nativeamerican.blogspot.com/2011/02/remembering-oak-hill-academy-for.html

Students pose in front of Oak Hill buildings. The large buildings in the front served as dormitories and classrooms. On the left sits the academy chapel. Between the chapel and dormitory is a two story, log cabin; perhaps this is Robin Clark’s cabin, a Choctaw Freedman who used his home (the home of former chief LeFlore) as a make-shift school when Oak Hill was first opened as a school for freed people.

Questions this blog post might generate:

Choctaw Freedmen donated buildings and taught the first classes at Oak Hill. However, when the Presbyterian Church begins to manage the school, white teachers were recruited from far away (and most lasted only a year) and hired instead. What happened to the black teachers? Why did the church do this?

How does the state purpose of the school —to prevent sloth —reflect racism?

Why did the Choctaws segregate black students from native students? White students, with special permission, could attend academies like Armstrong and Wheelock, but not black students.

Roosevelt schoolin’

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The well-built little school in Roosevelt, built by the Works Progress Administration, had two entrances – one for girls, and one for boys.

In Roosevelt (Kiowa County, OK) sits this disused building that appears to have been erected by the WPA. Since the WPA lent labor to public works, and this place was last used as a pub (now closed), I asked Red River Historian readers on the Facebook page if anyone knew what the building’s original purpose was. Mijo Chard explained that it was the Douglass Seperate School (school designated for African American children), and Mijo even shared some documents with Red River Historian!

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Completed in 1938!

 

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I got a kick out of the signs on the door: “No longer a public bar. Closed. Keep out. Unless you’re a hot stripper.” RRH Reader Judy Hilliard Dean wrote: “After the school closed it was opened as a bar by Rube McGee. It was called Rube’s Night Spit. They kept the curtains on the stage closed because there was always gambling going on.
Don’t ask me how I know- lol.”

 

Report card 2 mijo chard

Mijo Chard shared a report card from 1947.

Employees for cafeteria mijo chard

A memo for the cafeteria workers at the Douglass School, date unknown. This was shared by Mijo Chard.

 

Humphreys’ History

The school in Humphreys closed in 1961 and is now used for storage for cotton farmers

The former elementary school in Humprheys, Jackson County, OK is a bit on the sunny side.

Even though Jackson County (Oklahoma) is home to the air force base at Altus, it is full of ghost towns. Many of them lost population during the Great Depression, but it wasn’t until the latter half of the 20th century when the communities lost their schools (to me, the loss of a school is the hallmark of a ghost town).

I visited Humphreys in southeastern Jackson County and took a picture of its school, which closed in 1961. This was the “new” elementary school, at least for a while. Three teacherages (teacher homes) sat across the street, but they have been razed. I got a lot of my information from two extremely knowledgeable and pleasant people, Bill and Louise Snodgrass, who came out to talk to me. Mr. Snodgrass attended school in Humphreys. He was born not far from the Red River in a half dug-out. Ms. Snodgrass was the former county clerk of Jackson County!

There is nothing better than hitting the road with a vague destination in mind. You’ll never know what – or especially who! – you’ll find.

Bill and Ms Louise Snodgrass of Humphreys M. Snodgrass was the county clerk of Jackson County for nine years

Bill and Louise Snodgrass from Humphreys shared A LOT of history with me. Lovely people whom I’m so honored to get to know, even in passing!

Your mom may have gone to this college, Napoleon.

The buildings at McKenzie College, j depicted in photographs in the WPA Guide to Texas

From 1841 to 1868, McKenzie Institute (also called McKenzie College) was the pride of Clarksville, Red River County, Texas.

Until the end of the Civil War, high schools and colleges along the old southwestern frontier were invariably private (also called “by subscription”) and available only to the free middle class. Even with limited educational opportunities, a solid classical foundation remained very important, as the institute’s ad in the Dallas Herald (Aug 9, 1856) attests. Smith Ragsdale, by the way, was the Reverend McKenzie’s son-in-law.

Many of its students volunteered for service in the Confederacy, which left the school with a limited enrollment. The mandates of public schools during the Reconstruction era (by 1876, the Texas Constitution guaranteed free public schools throughout Texas) and the lack of tuition forced the institute to close its doors.

An advertisement for McKenzie Institute was published weekly in the Dallas Times Herald in August 1856

Spelling may have been an optional class at McKenzie – can y’all spot the spelling error in the ad?

KY town

Another advertisement in an 1866 newspaper, this time for an academy at Kentucky Town, Grayson County, TX. Until the railroads bypassed it, Kentucky Town was a very prominent community in the 19th century. During the Civil War, William Quantrill and his notorious guerilla gang even camped out here, and the citizens did not take kindly to him.

KY town tombstone

Today, not much of the town – named after the origin state of its settlers – remains. It does have a pretty neat cemetery, though.

Published in: on April 26, 2018 at 2:03 am  Leave a Comment  
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Lone Grave

Along a county road in Jackson County, Oklahoma, lies the lonesome grave of Joel Moseley, 1846-1890.

Aaron or Prairie Hill school grave at side of road 2

Mr. Moseley was born in Georgia and, at one point, made his way to Texas. He died when Jackson County (organized in 1907) was still part of Greer County, Texas until the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the land between the North Fork and the Prairie Dog Fork of the Red River belonged to Oklahoma Territory.

Aaron or Prairie Hill school grave at side of road 4

Mr. Moseley may have died on a cattle drive (if it was a long distance cattle drive, it would have been the Great Western or Dodge City trail). He was buried along the trail, as the nearest cemetery was ten miles away.

Locals knew about the grave, which was ringed with native stones and featured the granite headstone placed by his daughter, a Texas school teacher. They became concerned when the land surrounding it began to erode, so the county commissioner and his crew encased Mr. Moseley’s resting place in concrete along a culvert to keep him where he belongs.

I stumbled upon the grave when I was driving out to the old Aaron school, and found the information above from Find a Grave.

Aaron or Prairie Hill school 5

The Aaron school in Jackson County, Oklahoma (near Altus).

The prairie is full of surprises.

Published in: on February 4, 2018 at 8:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Simply, a Vexing Question

Every time I give a presentation on ghost towns, invariably I’m asked this question: “What exactly is a Ghost Town? And why are you wearing that shirt with those pants?”

While I usually just shrug off the latter question, the first one is one of my favorites, because the answer is actually fairly obvious.

Dundee school close up

Ghost Towns come in a variety of different ways: they might have several paved roads, or they only exist as a cemetery, or they are surrounded by people’s well-kept homes, or they have a post office, or they have a city hall, or they are inside a state park. Whatever and however they represent, the constant in a ghost towns is that it no longer has a school.

Believe it or not, the United States has always been a big believer in education. A mere 30 years after the Puritans came ashore, they formed Harvard. In quick succession, several other schools opened, with an emphasis on literacy and reason… the idea being that men and women both should be able to read the bible and conduct trade in a free market economy. Their zeal to be educated led the colonists to read treasonous philosophies, print banned books, and question authority. After all, Thomas Paine would not have been well received by a people who could not exhibit critical thinking skills.

Thus, often the first public building erected by a fledgling community was not a courthouse or a church, but a school (in Texas & Oklahoma, I’ve discovered that many towns’ first building was the Masonic Lodge, which doubled as a school during the week). Having a school meant the town believed it had a future. Schools embodied optimism.

Dougherty school door
As modern economies of scale encroached on communities, centers of trade began to shift (when you want to visualize “economies of scale,” just think about a local hardware store versus Home Depot, or the small grocer versus Wal-Mart). Kids who might have stayed in their towns after graduation discovered that they had to move to larger cities to take advantage of opportunities there. Their progeny went to the larger schools, which became ever larger, and so on – until the small town schools had to close their doors.

There’s nothing sadder than a shuttered school. It’s as if the locks on the doors murdered the very soul of the community. No longer are school events like football season, the big dance, or the open house the focal point. Everyone in a town – regardless if one had a kid in school or not – invested in the school in some way. Without it, the citizens of those towns lose their commonality.

Bucher School-side

Little towns like Ravenna (Fannin County, Texas) or Dougherty (Carter County, Oklahoma) might not like having me denote them as “ghost towns.” After all, they still have town halls and post office, and maybe a gas station or two. But, without their schools, they only exist as an outpost of the bigger cities in their midst.

And that is the simple answer to a seemingly complex question.

Published in: on February 15, 2013 at 10:09 pm  Comments (1)  
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