A Brief Historical Sketch of Lake McBride School

By Shawn Comminey

In partial fulfillment of the requirements of HIS 5083 for Introduction to Historic Preservation

November, 30, 1994

 

Black public education in Florida evolved from an 1866 state law which provided for the establishment of a public school system for freedmen.' Freedmen's School, which opened in Leon County under this law, rapidly emerged as the largest and best public school for blacks in the state.2 Since, several schools were built in Leon County through the years to accommodate many blacks who expressed a desire to be educated. Among those was Lake McBride School.

 

The origin of Lake McBride School was deeply entrenched in the founding of the Bradfordville community and an interest in providing education for local children. The Bradfords of Leon County, the community's founders, were direct descendants of William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth Colony (Massachusetts). His great, great, grandson John Bradford, received a grant of land located in Halifax County, North Carolina from King George of England. During the 1830s, four brothers who were descendants of John Bradford embarked upon a journey from Sweetbriar Creek (Halifax County) to Leon County, Florida. After three months of enduring travel in covered wagons, the four Bradford brothers reached Leon County and settled near Lake Imrnonia. Upon setting in Leon County, one of the brothers, Richard H. Bradford, became the owner of Water Oak Planation, which was later sold and became the Griscom Estate, the property on which Lake McBride School was built. He was also the father of five children, four sons and one daughter. During the Civil War, Richard H. Bradford's oldest son, John Bradford served as a Confederate Army colonel. After the war he became an affluent gentlemen in the Bradfordville community. He was owner and operator of a general store, a grits mill, a cotton mill, and a blacksmith shop. This Colonel John Bradford was credited with being the founder of the original Bradfordville settlement named in his honor. The Bradfordville community became the location for educational activity which led to the establishment of Lake McBride School.3

 

Few educational opportunities existed for blacks during slavery. Consequently, a majority of blacks remained unexposed to the fundamentals of education. Following the Civil War, freedmen in the South expressed an increasing desire for education. Their zeal motivated them to seek ways to quench their thirst for knowledge.4 Situations were no different in the Bradfordville community. Schools began for freedmen that were taught either by former slaves who had only accompanied their master's children to school, or those who had learned to read and write from their master's children.

 

When a system of free public education for blacks was created in January, 1866, two schools existed in the Bradfordville area. There was one for whites and one for blacks. The black school was located three fourths of a mile from the center of the community on Thomasville Road, which led to Meridian Road. This school was called Bradfordville School.6 It was not until 1897, however, that one of the first county rural schools for blacks was built.

 

This enterprise was made possible through the instructions of Nicholas W. Epd~ Superintendent of Leon County Schools. Those who actively participated in the schools' construction were J.E. Whitehead, Rev. Mack Davis, and others. Among the first teachers of this school were George McCall, Rachel A McGriff, William A. Carr, Amanda Parrish, and Mrs. W.K. Perkins.7 These educational developments were all precursors to Lake McBride School.

 

Many Bradfordville blacks were excited concerning the prospect of a new and improved school by progressive standards. Several, however, were unwilling to accept change that would elevate Southern educational systems. As it turned out, a new school meant better equipment, better facilities, longer terms to enhance learning opportunities, as well as shortages in family labor supply.

 

A majority of parents in the area were farmers with large families who depended heavily upon children for assistance during periods of planting and harvesting. Because of this fact, parents of this group were satisfied with the existing three month school term. They had very little knowledge of advanced technology or inventions in farming which would soon create a demand for educated skilled and semi-skilled workers. Parent farmers were content with existing educational conditions which spared their family labor force in times of great need. They were also convinced the farm was not destined to become highly mechanized and eliminate the use of unskilled workers.9

 

Other black Bradfordville parents had always dreamed of a new school. They viewed it as a means of ameliorating the conditions of family members and society at large. This group believed a three month school term was too short to provide children with sufficient academic training. They realized an additional month of school, at the request and expense of parents, taught by a rotating teacher would not suffice either.' The solution was a new school that would institute reforms to cover deficient educational areas.

 

In 1924 Mrs. Annie L. Perry, on Anna T. Jeanes Supervisor, and Mrs. Amanda Parrish, Home Demonstration Agent, informed Bradfordville blacks of a way to secure a better school and facilities with the assistance of the Julius Rosenwald Fund." The Rosenwald Fund (Incorporated 19 1 7) was established by Julius Rosenwald, a Chicago philanthropist, in response to requests from prominent black educator, Booker T. Washington, and different educational supporters for assistance in constructing Alabama rural schools and others in the South. In order to receive aid from the Rosenwald Fund, prospective builders of schools had to agree on certain construction requirements set forth by the fund. These requirements included unilateral lighting, cross ventilation, sub-flooring, storm sheathing, standard size rooms with adequate storage space, good heating facilities, and sufficient blackboards and desks. Such plans for school buildings were the first good plans available in Florida for erecting small rural schools. However the Rosenwald Fund did not provide assistance to counties unless tax funds were appropriated for -erecting school houses. Furthermore, donations were required by area black supporters to defer portions of school building costs. In this way, county school officials were almost certain to assume their responsibility in furnishing educational facilities for blacks, and more enthusiasm was generated among community blacks because they played an integral part in developing educational facilities for their children.'2

 

Mr. John Anderson and Mr. Eddy Jackson, two school supporters, supervised one phase of the plan for building a Rosenwald school in the Bradfordville community. These individuals organized local community residents for a meeting to discuss possibilities of such an enterprise. A meeting was held one Sunday afternoon at St. Philips Methodist Church during which matters concerning the idea were discussed. Several Bradfordville community members attended the meeting with hopes a decision would be made they all would be proud of. Among those in attendance were Mrs. Clemon Harris, Mr. Wallace Carr, Mr. Jerry Wash, Mr. Henry Gaines, Sr., Mrs. Lizzie Hawkins, Mr. Willie "Buster" Harris, Mrs. Maratha Johnson, Mr. George Henry,

 

Rev. Willie Weatherspoon, Mrs. Mit Nash, Mr. Eddy Wilson, and Mr. P.W. Williams.'3 An agreement was made to pursue the matter further. The other phase of the plan was spearheaded by community member, Mr: Edward Jackson. The Rosenwald Fund agreed to furnish $2,000.00 for the enterprise, and the Bradfordville community needed to match the amount. Jackson immediately devised fund raising strategies to raise money for construction of the proposed new school. His plans mainly involved the organization and participation of school clubs in the effort to raise money required, but other measures were heavily depended upon also. Money was donated by numerous individuals from the local vicinity. One loyal significant contributor was Dr. J.R.E. Lee. president of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (1924-1944). Lee not only gave his money an time to champion the cause, but he also made the university band, quartet, and Glee Club available for entertainment at different fund drives, which included dinners and a host of other activities. Only $1,500.00 was raised in the community fund campaign. However, smaller fund drives were held in which donations of ten dollars or more was paid in an attempt to match the Rosenwald Fund donation.'4 Mrs. Frances Griscom, owner of the Griscom Estate, and later a National Women's Golf Champion, was a loyal white contributor to the enterprise. Griscom was the daughter of Clement H. Griscom and Frances B. Griscom of Philadelphia, who were among the first rich northern families to acquire plantations in the Leon County area (Water Oak Planation). Her father was a director of the Pennsylvania Railroad and president of the Red Star steamship line.'5 Miss Griscom matched whatever amount was raised on the school project.'6 She also exchanged a site of land with the Leon County Board of Public Instruction for one more suitable for building purposes, which was a five acre plot." In September of 1926 the dream of Bradfordville blacks became a reality. The Lake McBride School building which stands today (located east of Bradfordville on Roberts Road) opened its door for the first time. It was named Lake McBride by Miss Griscom after one of the adjacent lakes.'' During a period in which numerous black rural county schools "ranged from crude cabins with sieve-like roofs to mock-tudor edifices of brick and stone",'9 Lake McBride ranked among the better constructed schools. The newly erected Lake McBride School was a Georgian-style building which consisted of four classrooms. Due to increases in enrollment and faculty throughout the years, additions were made to Lake McBride School.20 Five more acres of land was purchased from Miss Griscom, which enlarged the school site to ten acres.2' Plans for the school indicate that building additions were made in 1957.22 By 1962, Lake McBride School consisted of two white wooden frame buildings of ten classrooms. Three classrooms served as an assembly room. There was also a home economics room, a kitchen, a combined library and music room, a combined teacher's lounge and clinic, one bathroom with a basin for faculty, and two bathrooms for the student body. The school's enrollment was 308 students.

 

Lake McBride mainly functioned as an elementary and junior high school. The school's objectives were the following:

 

  1. To train children to use time wisely.
  2. To prepare the child to live in an ever-changing democratic society.
  3. To have each child understand the basic principles of health and to develop
  4. personal responsibility for healthful living.
  5. To help the child to meet the objective of self-realization and human relationship.
  6. To assist the child to face economic responsibilities.
  7. To develop each child's potentialities to become a participating citizen in [an] ever-changing democratic society.
  8. To afford each child an opportunity to become trained in the fundamental
  9. processes, (reading, writing, arithmetic, etc.).
  10. To encourage initiative, creativity, and all means of critical thinking.
  11. To identify the needs and strive to improve the quality of the child's social heritage.
  12. To develop attitudes of thought, feeling, behavior, and ideas of efficiency, honor, duty, love, and service.
  13. To strengthen the relationship between the school and the community.24

 

Lake McBride's faculty work diligently and made considerable progress towards achieving these objectives. In 1960, the school received state accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.25 Lake McBride continued to educate blacks in the Bradfordville area until 1969. The school's demise was a result of consolidation and ultimatelytegregation.

 

Lake McBride School shares an important connection to the development of black education in America through its association with Jeanes teachers. Jeanes teachers, or Jeans Supervisors were dynamic forces in the organization and amelioration of black education. They were assigned and financed by the Anna T. Jeanes Fund, or the Negro Rural School Fund. The Jeans Fund was established in 1907 by a wealthy Philadelphia Quaker philanthropist, Miss Anna T. Jeanes. It was directed "solely toward the maintenance and assistance of rural community, or county schools for Southern [blacks]. The fund was not for the use or benefit of large institutions, but for the purpose of rudimentary education ...." Jeanes teachers mainly taught and supervised rural black schools under the direction of county supervisors. However, they engaged in other tasks such as "promoting education among [black] parents, improving attendance, developing goodwill, improving relationships between school and other social institutions in the community, especially the churches, raising money for acquiring sites and constructing schoolhouses, providing instruction in sanitation, good house keeping, gardening, canning, sewing, caring for the sick, an stimulating school beautification." Jeanes teachers served as liasonsbetween black schools, teachers, and supporters and county school officials.26 A Jeans teacher who played an integral role in the growth and development of Lake

 

McBride School was Mrs. Dorothy G. Holmes. Mrs. Holmes first came to Leon County from Washington, D.C. in 1938. Later, she was named Supervisor for Rural Negro Schools, serving under three county superintendents. Lake McBride, as well as other black rural county schools, benefited tremendously from the hard work and dedication of Mrs. Holmes. She reminisced her days at Lake McBride and other black rural county schools when teachers "were given on the first day of school a register, a box of chalk, a box of wax crayons, one package of paper, and a bucket broom and dust pan."27 Her memorabilia has left behind a perception of the mission Or Lake McBride and other schools of similar caliber and the circumstances under which they struggled to progress.

 

Lake McBride School served as a significant symbol in the development of African American education in Leon County and beyond. Rural county black schools, located in the most obscure places, were the sites of a myriad of learning activity which, bolstered AfricanAmerican education. In fulfilling its objectives, Lake McBride School provided numerous African-Americans in Leon County with knowledge to pursue other academic endeavors and interests in a racist, hostile world.