Wednesday, June 1, 2011

1 June 1911: Knox Institute Graduation Exercises Attract Diverse Crowd

On this day in 1911, the schedule for graduation exercises at the private Knox Institute were published in the Athens Banner:

The Knox Institute began as the Knox School in late 1867, established by the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, also known as the Freedman's Bureau. The land for the school was purchased in 1867 by three local African-Americans, Mr. Courtney Beal, a property owner who would later be noted by the Southern Watchman newspaper as the "wealthiest negro in the state;" Reverend Floyd Hill, who established the first African-American Baptist Church in 1867 across from the school property; and Madison Davis, who would elected to the Georgia House of Representatives the following year and continue to be active in Republican politics. 

The three men donated the land specifically to be used to "to educate freedmen's children or children of any race." However, no white children attended the school, and it was sometimes used as a meeting place for political rallies for Republican and African-American candidates.

The school was named for Major John J. Knox, the Freedman's Bureau Assistant Commissioner for a 10-county subdistrict around Athens. He oversaw the building of the two-story building located on the southeast corner of Reese and Pope Streets, across from Hill First Baptist church. Knox also saw the benefit of moving ownership of the school to the African-American community and the American Missionary Association, which was active in establishing schools and colleges for African-Americans all over the country. 

Initially, the teachers at Freedmen schools were AMA members from the North, mostly white women who were often unable to find places to live in the Georgia communities where they taught, and faced personal threats for doing their work.  By the time of these graduation exercises in 1911, most of the teachers were African-Americans who had trained in Atlanta or at the AMA-founded Fisk University in Tennessee. In 1912, teachers were paid $35 per month, $25 in cash and $10 in their room and board on campus.

Tuition for Knox Institute was 50 cents per month for primary grade education, and up to $1.50 per month for upper level coursework including special music classes. The school attracted students from all over Georgia and other states as well, with a curriculum of academics as well as domestic science, industrial training (such as carpentry and typesetting), and music. Composer Hall Johnson was one the school's 20th century alumni, graduating in 1902 at the age of 14. 

Over the next 15 years, the Knox Institute expanded its campus and enrollment, peaking in the 1924-1925 school year with 339 students from five states, and became the first African-American school to receive accreditation from the University of Georgia's Accreditation Committee. However, in 1928, financial difficulties caused the school to close. From 1933 to 1936, the city of Athens leased one of the buildings for the Athens High and Industrial School, but it was torn down in the 1950s, and remains an empty lot. In 2010, the Georgia Historical Society put up a marker commemorating the Athens High and Industrial School and Knox Institute in the location.

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1 comment:

  1. On a national, historic, and most importantly local level, this material inspires and forces reflection upon the pilars that were laid long ago for a foundation of excellence in education and contribution to society. If we fail to remember our past we have no future to build upon. This is great work and thank you.
    a b turner