Former Reedtown school named to historic register
A building that played a very influential role in the lives of many people in the Reedtown community was officially deemed a historical landmark this past Thursday.
The old Reedtown High School was placed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage, and officials with the Historic Register as well as the Black Heritage Council visited the school on Monday to formally present letters of acceptance to city leaders.
The designation is the result of months of work and research by Rev. Charles Dale, a graduate of Reedtown High School, and Franklin County Extension Coordinator Katernia Cole, who began the project back in December.
“This school is an important part of our community and getting it on the historic register was something I have wanted to do for some time now,” Dale said.
“It is important because this school was and is the last black school in the county. And out of all the other black schools in the area, this is the very first one to be placed on the Historic Register. I think that speaks volumes about the significance of this building.”
Dale said knowing the importance the school had for so many people, including himself, was what propelled him to do the research it took to get the school listed.
“When I finally decided to take on this project and I got the large stack of paperwork to fill out, I asked Katerina to help me because I knew she would know more about the process.”
Cole said she was glad to help with the project.
“This is what Extension is all about – community development,” Cole said, “so of course I was glad to help in any way I could.”
To be placed on the register, applicants have to show the building in question is at least 40 years old or older and that it has some level of historical significance.
Reedtown High School was built as a “Rosenwald School,” which was the title applied to over 5,000 schools in the South that were built primarily to educate African Americans who were forced to attend segregated schools.
Julius Rosenwald, part owner of Sears, Roebuck and Company, was the founder of the project and provided seed money along with money contributed by the rural communities, to build these schools like Reedtown High School.
The school was constructed in 1952 and operated until its closing in 1972, even though the last graduating class was the class of 1968.
Dale said for two months the pair gathered information about the school from newspaper clippings, online sources and personal stories and histories, which they complied into a report that was turned in to the Historic Register this month.
“I didn’t think we would have much problem considering the historical significance of this school,” Dale said.
“I knew the board was meeting on Thursday and we could be considered then but I didn’t expect to hear back so soon. “When I received the phone call that we had been approved, I was just glad the hard work had paid off.”
Cole said the phone call she received was very emotional.
“When Rev. Dale called to tell me the school had been unanimously approved, I just couldn’t help but think how fitting it was that the school had been added to this prestigious list during the month in which we have been celebrating black history,” Cole said.
“It couldn’t have come at a more fitting time and it’s just a testament to the students of Reedtown High School who paved the way for future African American students in this county.”
Dr. Dorothy Walker, the public outreach coordinator for the Alabama Historical Commission, said the approval made Reedtown High School one of three places in Russellville on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage.
Walker presented letters of approval to Dale, Russellville Mayor David Grissom and Russellville councilman Lanny Hubbard at the school on Monday afternoon.
“Our job is to designate places in an area that best represent that community,” Walker said.
“Seeing the pictures that are submitted along with the paperwork is nice, but it is so special to get to come here and see the place and the people who are part of that history.”
Franzie Taylor, chairwoman of the Black Heritage Council, congratulated the group for the distinction and for taking the initiative to preserve their history.
“It is great that there is a group of people who are wanting to preserve this school,” Taylor said. “Continue to preserve those histories because they are so important.”
Walker said the designation the Reedtown High School received is honorary but doesn’t place restrictions as far as what the building can be used for in the future.
Hubbard said the building was currently used as a multi-use community building for meetings, dinners and other functions, but he hoped to do more with it in the future.
“We would love to be able to have some adult continuing education classes at this school so it can continue to be a place where people in our community come to receive an education,” said Hubbard, who graduated from the school in 1964.
He said the building is also used every other year for former students to gather together to remember for a bi-annual reunion called the Reedtown Roundup.
“This is actually the year we’ll be having the reunion so having this distinction will make this year’s gathering even more special,” he said.
“Hopefully we can gather even more information about the school from some of the people who plan to come back to the roundup this year.”
Several former students of the old Reedtown High School were present for Monday’s presentation and their expressed their joy that the school was being recognized.
“I have a lot of good memories from my time here,” said Beatrice Harvey, who graduated from the school in 1961.
“I remember our favorite teacher our senior year was named Ms. Hicks and she took us to Birmingham for our senior trip.
“We had such good times at this school and I’m glad it has been placed on the Historical Register because, even though my children do not live here, they can come back and see where we went to school and it is something they can be proud of.”
“This was really a top notch school when we came here,” said Donald Willingham, who also graduated from the school in 1961.
“I liked it because we didn’t have to dig for coal to burn to keep us warm like we did at our other school. It was a place we could be proud to say we went to, and I’m glad to see somebody get the school recognized for the great place that it was.
“Hopefully that designation will bring more recognition to the school and we can continue to restore it for the community.”
The group will now begin working on obtaining a historical marker that will be placed outside the school, which Dale said he hoped they could acquire as soon as possible.
“This is a great day for our community,” Dale said.