Africatown's High School - The Cradle of Mobile's Black Education
Our early education in public school taught us that the continent of Africa is the cradle of civilization for our planet. It is considered the cradle of civilization because the oldest known fossil remains of a human was found there and because of that fossil finding it is believed that the human population grew and evolved from the continent of Africa.
Africatown's Mobile County Training School is widely known as the cradle or birthplace of black public high schools. It was the first black public high school in Mobile and five of the next six black public high school in Mobile have direct ties to Mobile County Training School.
Photo: Dr. Benjamin F. Baker, who served as principal of the Mobile County Training School from 1926 to 1953. (Courtesy Mobile County Training School Alumni Association)
In 1880, descendants from the last slave ship, the Clotilda, established a place to educate their children at the Union Baptist Church in Africatown. In 1910, the school was moved to a building constructed on land donated to Mobile's public school system by descendants from the Clotilda. The school was certified by the state of Alabama as a public high school, making it the oldest training school for blacks in the state of Alabama and the first public high school for blacks in the city of Mobile. The principal at that time was Mr. Isiah J. Whitley.
In 1928, the Mobile County Training School was awarded its state accreditation by the state of Alabama and awarded its Southern Association Accreditation of Schools in 1936. Dr. Leonard Morse was its principal from 1923 to 1926 and Dr. Benjamin F. Baker was its principal from 1926 to 1953.
Because Mobile County Training School was the only public high school for blacks in Mobile, its enrollment outgrew its building capacity. Because of this over-population at Mobile County Training School, another high school for blacks in Mobile was made available on Davis Avenue (now MLK Avenue). This new black public high school was called Central High School and had its first graduation class in 1947. Dr. Benjamin Baker moved from Mobile County Training School to Central High School to become its first principal. Because he was the football coach as well as the principal at County, he was also the principal and football coach at Central and took County's best football players to Central with him. He also brought along with him half of County's faculty and staff and all of the standards he had set for County he set for Central.
Central eventually became the second largest public school in Mobile's school system and the only school in the state that taught Russian at that time. Dr. J.T. Gaines, a former student of Dr. Baker became principal of County after Dr. Baker left. Dr. Baker and Dr. Gaines started the annual Thanksgiving Day Football Classic between County and Central in 1947.
In 1951, County and Central became the first all black high schools to play football in Ladd Stadium after Drs. Baker and Gaines negotiated a deal with the city. In 1953 Dr. Baker became ill and was replaced by Dr. Gaines who moved over from County. Another well known person at Central was basketball coach L.V. Green. Coach Green was an Africatown native and graduate of Mobile County Training School. Coach Green was also a direct descendant of one of the slaves that arrived aboard the slave ship the Clotilda. Coach Green was elected to Mobile's Sports Hall of Fame as one of the most winning high school basketball coaches in Mobile's history.
In 1958, Blount High School produced its first graduating class with Dr. Burton as its first Principal. Dr. Burton had been a teacher at Mobile County Training School and brought with him a host of teachers from both County and Central High Schools. When it came time to determine Blount's school colors, the chemistry teachers decided to combine the colors from County (blue) and Central (maroon) to determine the colors for Blount, because the entire student body and faculty was a combination of the two schools. Thus purple was adopted as Blount's official color. Today the color purple is widely feared around the state as belonging to one of the most fierce football teams in the state.
Also in 1958, Williamson High School produced its first graduating class with Dr. L. Keeby as its first principal. Dr. Keeby was born in Africatown (Magazine Point), graduated from Mobile County Training School and kept his residence in Magazine Point his entire lifetime. Dr. Keeby was also a direct descendant of the slaves from the slave ship the Clotilda. Another well-known member of the Williamson High School staff was baseball Coach Green. Coach Green is the brother of Coach Green from Central and also a member of Mobile's Sports Hall Of Fame.
In 1963, Trinity Gardens High School had its first graduating high school class. Most of its students came from the Africatown and Prichard areas.
In 1967, Toulminville High School (now LeFlore High School), produced its first graduating class with Dr. L. Taylor as its first principal. Dr. Taylor was a graduate of Mobile County Training School. Later Coach Charles Rhodes and Mr. Fred Marshall became principals at LeFlore High School. Both Coach Rhodes and Mr. Marshall are graduates of Mobile County Training School.
In 1968, Nelson L. Adams High School, located in Saraland produced its first high school graduating class. Nelson Adams was the last all black high school opened by Mobile's public school system. Mr. Nelson L. Adams was the first millionaire from Africatown. He owned and rented houses in Africatown, Saraland and Creola. In 1906, Nelson Adams spearheaded a group of men that were concerned about the education of the children of Africatown and asked for state tax supported high school education in Africatown. I grew up across the street from Nelson Adams' home in Africatown. The first television I ever saw was in the home of Nelson Adams. We all knew him as "Papa Nelse". Two things that I can remember him teaching me was how to pull old nails from an old structure he had torn down and how to "pop the necks" of chickens, geese and ducks without causing them any pain.
As a member of the Mobile County Training School Alumni Association, I believe in our mission of promoting and preserving the history of our school. I believe that most people don't know their own history. If we did, maybe there would not as much violence directed to others that might be related to us. If we learn to preserve our history maybe we can learn to appreciate each other more.
I was overcome with joy a couple of years ago when it was announced in the local news that efforts were underway to restore Barton Academy. Barton Academy, located in Mobile, was the first public school in the state of Alabama. Any building with that type of history should be preserved forever for all to see. It is a positive form of history and should be preserved. Most of the funds to restore the building and conduct regular classes in it are privately donated, however, recently the Mobile Public School System donated one million dollars toward the preservation efforts of Barton Academy.
This financial commitment tells me that the school board officials see the importance of preserving a very important positive landmark for all to see and learn about. This will mean that the Mobile school system will have preserved and still uses the first public high school in the state of Alabama and the first training school for blacks in Alabama. The Mobile Public School System has done something that we all learn while growing up in our various neighborhoods, "put your money where you mouth is."
The Mobile County Training School is on the verge of making an announcement similar to the one made by those restoring historic Barton Academy. The continued existence of those two historic positive educational facilities and their continued contribution to the education of Mobile's children says a lot about the citizens of Mobile.