Albion Interactive History / West Ward School

Albion Interactive History

Albion Interactive History / Buildings / Public Schools

West Ward School, 1873
    Renovated 1919

     Demolished March 1958

Block +
US Census Block # 33-105

By the 1870s the growing population in the western portion of the village produced the need for another school building to accommodate the growing number of children. Many of these were the children of German immigrants who worked at the nearby Gale Manufacturing Company. Area residents circulated a petition which put the question of building a new school to the voters. The question was approved by just fifteen votes. The new schoolhouse, named the West Ward School, was constructed in the summer of 1873, at a cost of $2,000. This two-room brick structure was erected on N. Albion street across from the Gale Manufacturing Company.

The exact circumstances and reasons surrounding the transformation of West Ward School into an all-black school are varied. Decisions were made in special meetings between various parties during the 1917-18 school year, and school board records do not record the details of such meetings. Two prominent opinions have been given concerning the reasons West Ward School was turned into an all-black school.

The first reason states that it was local black leaders who ironically themselves wanted West Ward School to be a school exclusively for their people, and taught by their people. This would supposedly provide a more familiar and less hostile atmosphere for the students than they would experience if they had to attend other schools.Related, the students could thereby be taught according to the style to which they had been accustomed.

A related second opinion which has been circulated is that local blacks wanted to have black teachers hired into the school system, thus providing some employment for their own people. Whatever the reasonswere, history proved that the “establishment” was more than happy to oblige, and placed the black children in West Ward School.

West Ward became an all-black facility on January 2, 1918. This fact can be deduced from several sources. Dalrymple School, under construction for two years, opened on the aforementioned date. The white teachers who formerly had been teaching at West Ward in the fall of 1917 were transferred there, according to the teacher salary lists of 1917 and 1918. Individual records of white studentsliving in the West Ward “colored” boundaries are listed as being taught by these white teachers who were all transferred to Dalrymple School. Apparently there was no mixing of the races at West Ward School after December, 1917.

A two-room addition was built onto West Ward School in 1919 at a cost of $7,500 in order to accommodate the increased number of students. This followed a vote oftaxpayers on July 7, 1919 for the additional funds, which was heartily approved, 95 to 8. Thus West Ward School was officially segregated, a situation which continued until the school closed in late 1953.

Judy Powell wrote:

West Ward was described as being dark, damp, small and cheerless. In one teacher’s opinion, the limited supplies and equipment that were available to the school werediscarded from the other elementary schools.

One major development during the Walkotten administration involved a showdown concerning the racially segregated West Ward School in September and October, 1953. The closing of the West Ward School and the turmoil which surrounded it marked one of the major milestones in the history of the Albion Public Schools. It also marked a turning point in local black history.

For many years black parents had been dissatisfied with the substandard education and poor facilities at the school. Judy Powellwrote:

Several attempts, including boycotts, were made over the years to close down the West Ward School, and to integrate the children into the other elementary schools. These attempts failed because of the lack of substantial support from all Black parents.

Enrollment at the West Ward School numbered 72 students in May, 1953. There were numerous individual requests for transfers from West Ward to Dalrymple School, but these were repeatedly turned down. West Ward principal Lena Holmes retired in June 1953, and the time seemedright for action. Led by Rev. Marion Wheeler and Robert Johnson, Sr., and others, blacks staged a boycott of classbeginning in September 1953. The “stay away” lasted forty-five days.

The boycott was successful; enrollment at West Ward School numbered only 26 pupils in the fall of 1953 as a result. After first refusing the request to close the West Ward School at its October 20, 1953 meeting, the board reversed its indecision on the matter and passed the following motion at the close of the session:

The board, after consideration of several proposals, acted as follows: Moved by Smith, supported byCartwright, that the Superintendent of Schools be authorized to proceed with the transfer of the twenty-six children remaining on the West WardSchool rolls, in accordance with the wishes of their parents; said transfers to be made on the bases recommended by a group of parents from the Dalrymple Schooldistrict; such individual transfers to be made on the basis recommended by a group of parents from the Dalrymple School District; such individual transfers to be made on the basis of enrollment in the particular grade of the school or schools involved. Five members of the board voted infavor of the motion. One opposed. The motion carried. (Powell, Ethnic History, 22-23)

After the West Ward School was closed, it was used as a storage facility for the recreation department. There were offers by two black churches to purchase the property in 1956 and 1957 respectively, but these were turned down. The Macedonia Baptist Church had offered $8,000 for the building and site in August 1957.

The board opted to demolish the school, which was accomplished in March 1958, by the B&B Wrecking Company for the sum of $580.00. The school district retainedpossession of the property for many years, until it was transferred to the City of Albion for $1.00 on February 11, 1969. The site was developed into Holland Park, named after Robert Holland, Sr., one of the men who had fought to have the West Ward School closed.

The West Ward School as it appeared in 1894.

West Ward third and fourth graders, ca. 1890.

West Ward School fourth grade play “Hiawatha,” circa 1900.

West Ward School classroom, circa 1938.

1939 photo of West Ward School, showing the addition that was built onto the facility in 1919.

Some West Ward School pupils, fall of 1950. (L-R) Teacher Mildred Biggs, with Jim, Kathleen, Betty, and Gail Smith, children of James Smith, Sr.

The demolition of West Ward School in March, 1958.

Source: Frank Passic. A History of the Albion Public Schools. Albion, Michigan: E. Weil Publishing Services. 1991.

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