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Back to School - One Last Time! The Completion of the Series on Columbus' Educational History

Sources: Columbus by David Owings; Columbus, Georgia in Vintage Postcards by Kenneth H. Thomas, Jr.; Columbus on the Chattahoochee by Etta Blanchard Worsley; A History of Public Education in Muscogee County and the City of Columbus, Georgia 1828 - 1976 by Dr. Katherine H. Mahan and William C. Woodall; and Hardaway High School celebrates its gold (and crimson) anniversary by Richard Hyatt, and The Long and Winding Road: School Desegregation in Columbus, Georgia by Dr. Virginia Causey.


From the surveys that began back in 1941 when Dr. Alves of the United States Office of Education visited Columbus, to the coming of Dr. Shaw to head the schools, to plans given at the Chicago meeting in 1957, the school system moved steadily ahead. Each elementary school was building a kindergarten. All junior high schools received accreditation in December 1965. Elementary schools were visited in 1966. Difficulties were settled. In 1968, every elementary school was individually accredited. This made Muscogee County one of the few in the nation to have full and complete accreditation of all its public schools. Additions to St. Mary’s, Columbus High, Arnold Junior High, Britt David, River Road and Baker High were made in 1964 with two new schools for Weems Road and Wesley Heights. Muscogee County hadn't built a high school from scratch since Baker opened in 1943, but by the mid-1960s, Columbus was about to get two added to the roster. Hardaway was first in 1965 and Eastside (later changed to Kendrick) came second in 1967.

Hardaway was built on a site set aside when the school system purchased an old dairy farm for a junior college that became Columbus State University. The building was ready by September 1965 and welcomed over 1,500 students on its first day. Most people in town graduated from Columbus, Jordan, or Baker, and generations of African American students had gone to Spencer. Hardaway didn’t have traditions yet or a football team. At least the name was familiar. The school was named after Benjamin Hurt Hardaway Jr. (pictured left), a veteran school board member and a leader in constructing buildings and bridges.

Dewey Renfroe was appointed principal. He had been principal at Richards Junior High School since that school was established in 1961. Richards was just a few blocks from the impressive new campus. He arrived with plans and dreams. He built his faculty around band director George Corradino and choral conductor Robert Eakle and commissioned them to compose an alma mater and a fight song. He hired Sam Pate, a science teacher who brought live animals to school. He appointed Ruth Ball to dean of girls and put Dot Bruner in charge of the main office. He lured Jane Deaton away from Baker to be a counselor.

The nucleus of that staff would stay at Hardaway for years to come, touching the lives of thousands of students and creating an aura of stability unseen in today's schools. They became the Golden Hawks and, as a Marine, Renfroe chose crimson and gold as the school colors. "We finish to begin," was adopted as the school slogan. In December of 1965, the future high school to occupy 43 acres of farmland on the east side of Columbus was contracted to be built at a total cost of $1,714,640. On September 5, 1967, the initially named Eastside High School, opened its doors to 1,253 students. This new modern high school had 46 classrooms with 58 faculty and staff members. It would boast of having complete state of the art facilities for learning and would include a library that could hold 15,000 books, a full purpose physical education building, a library and cafeteria. The school was originally built to accommodate up to 1,350 with plans to add a 14-room annex and an auditorium within the next few years. The auditorium and an additional wing were completed in 1976. Kendrick now has 72 classrooms.

As the years passed, Kendrick found its building was becoming tired and outdated. In 2004, the entire school was renovated to include new paint, new doors and many other technological improvements including fiber-optic computer network wiring throughout the building. Mr. Thomas Clarence Kendrick (June 16, 1875 - November 8, 1951) had a long and distinguished career as an educator in the Columbus Public Schools, having served from 1900 to 1945 as Principal of Tenth Street, Sixteenth Street, and Columbus High. He was Principal of Columbus High School for 32 years, after which he became Assistant Superintendent of the school system.

His illustrious character, his personal dignity, his recognition of the worth of the individual, his ability to impart knowledge in the classroom, and his inspiring manner endeared him to the heart of every pupil. In his service at Columbus High, he had a tremendous influence in upholding scholarship and in promoting high ideals among the youth of the city. He is remembered especially for the success he had in formation of character of the students. Always forceful in his personality, Mr. Kendrick commanded the respect and love of students, teachers, and parents as well as the community in general. For these reasons on April 15, 1968, the Board of Education voted unanimously to name the newest high school in Muscogee County in honor of Thomas Clarence Kendrick.

As mentioned last week, NAACP pressure helped speed desegregation in Muscogee County. The first African American school board member was appointed in 1967. In September 1968, the Muscogee County School Board ruled that all grades were to be integrated through the Freedom of Choice Plan. When the federal court case U. S. v. Jefferson County Board of Education ruled that teaching staffs must also be integrated, the district agreed to assign at least two teachers who would be in the racial minority at every school. By 1970, under Freedom of Choice, 27 of 67 schools in the district remained completely segregated. Most of the white schools employed only the mandated two Black teachers, but many of the Black schools employed more white teachers. Under the threat of a cutoff of $1.8 million in federal funds, the school district fully integrated the schools in 1971.

Jordan High School student protest march, January 1970. Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.

School opened amid much confusion on September 7, 1971. Several parents tried to register their children at schools where they were not assigned. A group of thirty white parents presented petitions to Superintendent Shaw demanding his resignation. Over the Labor Day weekend preceding the first day of school, 350 parents met and formed Citizens Against Forced Busing (CAFB). The new organization voted to boycott the schools rather than submit to forced transfers. Two hundred and fifty parents showed up to CAFB’s September 9 meeting, but only twenty-five indicated they would support a boycott. To show their continuing displeasure with the district desegregation plan, the group burned an effigy of Shaw and dumped it in the fountain in front of the school district administration offices. Despite these open displays of opposition, 37,000 of the expected 40,000 students showed up at their assigned schools on September 7, and overall, the first week of school was quiet and orderly. By September 16, enrollment had reached 40,471.

Picketing of the Muscogee County School District by Citizens Against Forced Busing, February 1972. Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.

During its initial implementation of desegregation, Columbus did not experience the turmoil of other cities mainly because of the open support of political and business leaders. Calm and balanced newspaper coverage also helped shape public opinion in favor of desegregation. Both local newspapers’ editorial stances reflected a reluctant acceptance of the inevitable and urged citizens to express dissent through legal channels. But loopholes began to be exploited. The court order allowed changes in student assignments only for course availability, compelling hardships, or “other good reasons demonstrated.” Shaw received many transfer requests based on “physical hardships” resulting from the new assignments such as lack of air conditioning or difficulty climbing stairs. He remarked ironically in mid-September, “I never knew we had so much asthma.” Many of the requests were for Hardaway High School, which happened to be built on one level. Part of the upgrading during this time was also to close some of the older Black schools. Most were in areas with few school age children or were substandard facilities. But when the board proposed in 1973 to convert Spencer High School to a junior high school and special education center, and to change its name to “Southside School,” the African American community rose in protest. Spencer was Columbus’ first Black high school, named for a pioneering Black educator, and it had a network of fiercely loyal alumni. The two Black school board members negotiated behind the scenes with their white counterparts, and when at the March 1973 board meeting, they proposed to preserve the high school with the Spencer name, the motion passed unanimously.

Dr. William H. Shaw, 1973. Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.

Though overall Muscogee County saw fewer problems than surrounding districts, every Columbus high school experienced conflict the first year. The most serious and persistent occurred at Baker High School. Baker was the first school to desegregate and by 1970, it had more Black students and teachers than any other white school. The auditorium burned to the ground in 1970. In 1973, Superintendent Shaw retired, and Dr. Braxton Nail was appointed Superintendent of the Muscogee County School District. Shaw High School was opened in 1978 and named in honor of the former Superintendent.

Carver High School Football Team, 1976. Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.

The school district remained under the Lockett case for many years. It was originally filed in 1964 by the NAACP asserting that the district maintained an inferior school system for African Americans. The district would make twice a year reports as required by the courts on the status of school integration. Dr. Nail emphasized communication and long-range comprehensive planning during his tenure. He was also instrumental in the creation of "stabilization" of school assignments which enabled the majority of Muscogee County students to remain in the school they attended the previous year. What "stabilization" did was to relax the transfer criteria and by 1982, all four south-side high schools and fifteen of the nineteen south-side elementary schools had Black majorities. Dr. Nail would also create an extended inter-scholastic sports program for girls, establish the Columbus Roberts Center for Student Services, and create the positions of human relations coordinator and media specialist.

In May 1997, the three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed its former decision, agreeing that the Muscogee County School District had achieved unitary status and was no longer under the 1971 court order. The School Board believed the court affirmed the district’s effort through the 1970s to maintain ratios and their argument that demographic changes, not intentional action by the board, caused re-segregation. The Columbus NAACP chapter gave up the litigation but not the fight. It made six proposals to the school board that asked for continuing efforts to desegregate schools, to increase the number of African American teachers and administrators, and to raise minority student achievement, all to be affected with input from the African American community. The NAACP had reasons to be optimistic about the chances for improvement in Columbus schools. Muscogee County chose its first elected school board in November 1993 and, with four Black members out of ten, the NAACP felt it had more opportunities for input. In September 1997, voters gave strong support to a one percent sales tax increase to be used for capital improvements in the school district. In addition, it saw possibilities for desegregation in the district’s new magnet schools.

Muscogee County high school magnet programs include Liberal Arts (Columbus), STEM (Carver), International Baccalaureate (Hardaway), College and Career (Jordan), Communication Arts and Design (Kendrick), Mass Communication (Shaw), and Computer Science and Game Design (Spencer). A new high school finally came online – the first since Shaw in 1978. Northside High School was opened in 2002. Originally, the mascot was planned to be the Wolverine, but after the September 11th attacks, the mascot was changed to the Patriot. They are an Engineering and Biomedical Science magnet.

Northside High School

The Rainey-McCullers School of the Arts opened its doors in 2017 – completing the nine Muscogee County high schools. The name Rainey-McCullers, comes from the last names of two influential artists from this area. The school was built to represent the interests of the arts in the Columbus community. Students who are interested in an arts area, can apply to attend and study creative writing, dance, music, theatre, or visual art.

Today, the Muscogee County School District boasts 33 elementary schools and 13 middle schools in addition to nine high schools. These include: Elementary Schools (Pre-K – 5) Allen Elementary School, Blanchard Elementary School, Brewer Elementary School, Britt David Elementary School, Clubview Elementary School, Davis Elementary School, Dawson Elementary School, Dimon Elementary School, Double Churches Elementary School, Dorothy Height Elementary School, Downtown Elementary School, Eagle Ridge Academy School, Edgewood Elementary School, Forrest Road Elementary School, Fox Elementary School, Gentian Elementary School, Georgetown Elementary School, Hannan Elementary School, Johnson Elementary School, Key Elementary School, Lonnie Jackson Academy, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. Mathews Elementary School, Midland Academy, North Columbus Elementary School, Reese Road Elementary School, Rigdon Road Elementary School, River Road Elementary School, South Columbus Elementary School, St. Mary’s Elementary School, Waddell Elementary School, Wesley Heights Elementary School, and Wynnton Elementary School. Middle Schools (6 – 8) Aaron Cohn Middle School, Arnold Magnet Academy, Baker Middle School, Blackmon Road Middle School, Double Churches Middle School, East Columbus Magnet Academy, Eddy Middle School, Fort Middle School, Midland Middle School, Rainey-McCullers School of the Arts, Richards Middle School, Rothschild Leadership Academy, and Veterans Memorial Middle School.

Next Week: September will bring a new series! For the next five weeks, we will cover the history of our downtown churches - St. Luke United Methodist, First Baptist, First Presbyterian, Trinity Episcopal, Holy Family, and Temple Israel. We will also highlight in our social media historic postcard images from our collection and those included in Ken Thomas' Columbus, Georgia in Vintage Postcards to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of its publication. If you aren't already a member, we hope you will join us! I also want to encourage you to follow Historic Columbus on Facebook and Instagram for more posts on our community's history. Thank you all for your continued support of Historic Columbus! Elizabeth B. Walden Executive Director

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