Good Samaritan steps up to care for historic black school in Russell County
Welcome to a special Black History Month edition of The Inquirer. With that in mind, this week we are literally going Old School.
Today we are going to visit an historic site across the river, over on the West Bank. There, out U.S. 431 a little past Highway 165, tucked back off the road in a swale is the old Pilgrim Hill School, erected almost 100 years ago for black Russell County children.
Pilgrim Hill School came about when, around 1919, the Russell County Board of Education bought land on which to build a school for black children in the county.
It started out as a one-room schoolhouse, but in 1954, a second room was added, so a second teacher was needed, and one of them had to be the principal, too. That first teacher/principal in 1954 was a woman named Katie McCoy Mitchell, who still lives in Phenix City.
Phenix City Councilman Arthur Day said he went to Pilgrim Hill in the first through the fifth grades.
“When I went there, there was a boys’ outdoor bathroom on one end of the school and a girls’ outdoor bathroom on the other end,” Day said.
Day said he vividly recalls having to walk to a nearby house and carry buckets of water back to the school, which had no plumbing or even a well. He also remembers helping to gather firewood for the wood stove that heated the building.
“I toted many a bucket of water to that school, and I made many a fire there,” Day recalled.
The school closed on May 29, 1964, and its students were reassigned to Mount Olive School, where Day said he finished up his elementary school education.
Today, the small clapboard building is painted white with faded green trim and sits where it always has, in a swale off Ware Road, just off U.S. 431. There is little to no glass in any of the windows, but the land around it appears to be taken care of.
That hasn’t always been the case, it seems. If you find the old building on Google Earth and look at the street view, you’ll see that in 2014, it was badly overgrown with weeds and vines. Someone obviously cleaned the place up. Anyone know who did the work? Let me know.
The two old outhouses Day referred to are still standing at each end of the historic school, padlocked.
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