History of Frederick Douglass High School
By: Aaron Wallbrecht, Student
In 1865, the Missouri General Assembly made allowances for schools for black children. The black Baptist Church and the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church of Columbia started funds for an all black school. They bought Lot 309 on the southeast corner of Third and Ash Street for twenty dollars, but they were unsatisfied with each other so they terminated the venture.
The Methodist Church opened their own school during the school year of 1865-66. This lasted for only one year. The Baptist school was organized and run in 1866 in the home of John Lang, Sr. The Baptists raised $1000, and with the help of William Switzler and the Freedman’s Bureau, another $800 was given to help build a two-story building on Lot 309. Charles E. Cummings was the principal from 1867-1876. The school was named Cummings Academy and was recognized as the official school for the black children. The school received state and local tax money and became part of the Columbia School District when the district was organized in 1872. In 1867, there were 63 students, and by 1870 there were 100 students. Miss Anna Jackson assisted by teaching English, grammar, and geography, just as they were in the white schools. At the end of the school year, students were given examinations to take. A vocal music program closed out the school year. William F Switzler, editor of the Columbia Missouri Statesman, saw the 1869 commencement and wrote that the Cummings Academy was one of the best in the state.
The number of children enrolled increased each year. By 1879, the enrollment had doubled since the school opened twelve years earlier. The school board authorized a one-room addition to the school and hired a third teacher for the more than 200 pupils.
In 1884, the school board approved a $5000 loan to build a new school. A lot was purchased on the northeast corner of Park Avenue and Providence Road. In the summer of 1885, a two-story brick building was built for the 291 pupils in the fall. The name was changed from Cummings Academy to Excelsior School. In 1898, the name was changed again. This time it became Frederick Douglass School in honor of the run-away slave who became a leading abolitionist speaker. Mainly, ministers taught classes. The pay between the white teachers and black teachers was quite different. The black teachers received about half of what the white teacher got.
On May 23, 1899, the school board approved having steam heat installed at Douglass School.
There was no official date for the beginning of the high school, but it is believed to be around 1887. During the1898-99 school year, there were 46 students in the high school. One teacher, H. A. Clark, taught all the classes. Diplomas were accepted for admission to Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City, Smith College in Sedalia, and Western College in Macon.
At this time, Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Institute believed black children should be given vocational training. The Columbia schools began this type of program in 1901. They offered manual training, home economics, art, music and sewing and cooking classes.
H. A. Clark became principal in 1898 for three years. He expanded courses for students who wanted to go to Lincoln and added vocational classes. Many people did not believe in vocational training because they felt black schools would not be equal to the white ones if they taught something other than basic, literacy classes. Clark was accused of being drunk at school and making immoral and indecent proposals to a young girl. After a school board and grand jury hearing, the charges were dismissed. However, they demoted him to teacher and his wife became principal. She served for one year. They resigned in 1902 and left Columbia.
On May 2, 1916, Columbia voters approved constructing a new building for Douglass to replace the 1885 building. It was to be a two-story building with fifteen rooms and a library.
The Douglass program became a three-year high school program in 1903. A third teacher was hired in 1911 and special domestic science and manual training classes were added in 1913. Students sold the items they made to help finance these classes.
Under Principal J. E. Jones, athletic competition was added–the first football team was organized. They also added musical groups, a newspaper, a yearbook and other clubs. An auditorium/gymnasium was added in 1927 to the south part of the building to allow athletic activity inside. Also, two classrooms and a shop were added with the furniture built by the students. They built all the tables, chairs, desks and lockers for the school. A fourth year was added to the high school, and it earned a first-class rating from the state for its high school academic program. During 1927, a junior high school division was established at Douglass. January 2, 1927 began seven nights of activities to celebrate the new addition. The Board of Education provided a new athletic field for Douglass on a three-acre lot at McBaine and Oak Street.
In 1924, it was recommended that Douglass operate on a six-six organizational structure rather than having a separate junior and senior high school. However, the school continued to operate as a six-year elementary, two-year junior high and four-year high school for quite some time.
Douglass High School applied for accreditation from the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools in October 1928. They were approved in 1935 as a four-year high school with 131 students. In 1939, Douglass High School was accredited as a six-year program, which continued until 1960 when it became a three-year program for one year.
The 1940 Douglass High School football team, coached by Roy Wood, won the state championship and the basketball team won seventeen of its eighteen games to place third in the state. A student government, under Roland L. Wiggins, operated to give students a role in the operation of the school so the student would be “living his life while he is in school” (R. Gafke, p. 62). The Douglass lunch program began in the fall of 1940. It was prepared at Ridgeway Elementary and trucked to Douglass. Originally, the Columbia lunch program was started for poor students, but by 1940 any student could purchase lunch for ten cents.
Special Education classes were added in 1958 to Douglass and were taught by Vivian Ray.
On May 17, 1954, the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka banned segregated schools. The Columbia schools declared Douglass as one of their seven elementary schools. The senior high and junior high students had the option to go to Jefferson Junior High or Hickman High School. Douglass elementary students could choose to go to a school of their choice if they wished. This allowed freedom of choice for black parents. White children were not sent to Douglass. The school board phased out upper level classes of science, math, and foreign language so students had to transfer to Hickman High School. At the end of the1959-60 school year, the high school was completely eliminated. This increased the number of black students at Hickman from 20 to 113 in the 1960-61 school year. Raymond Hayes was the first black student athlete at Hickman High School. He played junior varsity basketball in 1958-59 and received a school letter for varsity football in 1960. Charles Allen ran track in 1960-61 and was a captain the next year. Mike Richardson was the first multi-sport black star athlete in football, basketball and track. By 1961-62, twelve black students were playing on an athletic team. Tony Edwards became the first black student elected to a school-wide office (vice president) in 1969. Celestine Guyton (1960) was the first black student to achieve community-wide recognition for her achievements at Hickman High School. Her achievements helped break down the tendency to stereotype a black student.
On May 7, 1962, the Board closed the Douglass junior high program sending students to Jefferson Junior High or the new West Junior High. The Board agreed not to discharge any black teachers. Eliot Battle went to Hickman High in guidance, Mrs. Muriel Battle taught Social Studies and Geography at West Junior, Mrs. Ruth Wiggins went to Hickman High School to teach English, and George Brooks went to Jefferson Junior High to teach PE and Math.
It was decided that the elementary students would be moved to other schools for the 1967 school year. This was supported by a poll where 95% of the black parents wanted their children moved. Because the Board consulted committees of both black and white parents and the slow process of integration (13 years), there was no racial violence as seen in other parts of the country. This does not mean there weren’t problems. Many of the students transferred to Hickman High found it extremely difficult. They felt they weren’t prepared academically or socially for the transfer. Some students felt they weren’t given the opportunity to participate in school activities and that class work was much harder than at Douglass. Classroom order and discipline standards for black elementary children became a problem in the beginning.
After closing out the junior and senior high programs, the district moved their practical nursing program to the Douglass Building along with a physical therapy program and an electronics class from Hickman.
Eliot Battle set up an alternative program at the Douglass Building during the 1967-68 school year called the Continuing Education Program. It was for students with special needs (pregnant girls, suspensions, etc.) This included junior and senior high students. The size grew through the years and the program was expanded to provide for students who chose not to participate in the regular school program.
John Kelly became coordinator of the program in 1970, and by 1973-74 school year, there were 4 full time staff and 125 students. Some students attended for short periods of time while serving a suspension while others were dropouts working toward a high school diploma. In 1974, fifteen students completed graduation requirements. Originally, the program gave a second chance for pregnant girls, as they were required by policy to drop out of school. This changed in 1972 when they were no longer required to drop out.
The Secondary Learning Center was located in a remodeled old church on North 8th Street. The first floor area (the entire school) was the size of the cafeteria in the Douglass Building. Temporary partition walls divided the area into six or seven “classrooms.” Since originally the Secondary Learning Center was a “detention school,” students were not happy about being sent there. Students had no schedule and were assigned one seat for the day. Everyone did independent study. At the end of the semester, all students would return to their sending school. There was no school spirit or pride.
In 1982, Tim Travers was hired as principal of Secondary Learning Center. He had a vision for the school: “an independent high school where teachers cater to students who do not do well in traditional classes” (Columbia Daily Tribune, Nov. 6, 1992). Travers and his staff designed a program which used different learning styles and developed individual programs that focused on certain outcomes such as effective communication, problem solving and team work (Columbia Daily Tribune, Nov. 6, 1992). Students would apply or be referred by a counselor or a teacher and then must be accepted in order to attend.
Secondary Learning Center was moved to the Douglass Building in the fall of 1985. With their own building and more space, school spirit and pride began to grow. The Mustang was chosen as a school mascot in December of 1986. It was chosen because it is spirited, strong-willed and independent–characteristics of many of the SLC students. The 1987-88 school year marked the 20th anniversary of the program. SLC was selected by the district as a model program in the Columbia Public Schools. A report was written and sent to governors of all 50 states.
On March 23, 1989, then Governor John Ashcroft visited SLC. He gave a brief speech on education and dropouts and recognized SLC as an innovative program working on these problems.
Also in 1989, a daycare was started due to the efforts of two SLC student/mothers. They noticed many girls dropped out after having babies because of lack of daycare. They did a survey and contacted the school board for support. Mr. Travers applied and received a grant to start a daycare, which continues today.
A ceremony for the new Partner in Education was held on September 26, 1989. The highlight was Mr. Jack Waters (Tribune) rapping a poem he wrote about the partnership. The first scholarship was given to a SLC student in the spring of 1990. Mike Gelder received the Tribune/SLC Scholarship. He attended and completed a vocational school in Wyoming and has been employed in the automotive technology field since.
November 6, 1992 was a red-letter day for the school! The Columbia School Board approved a name change from Secondary Learning Center (SLC) back to Frederick Douglass High School. However, diplomas would not be issued until spring, 1995. A bust of Frederick Douglass was unveiled, and the name officially changed at a dedication ceremony on May 10, 1993. Once again, Douglass became an official, accredited high school! The Bulldog was selected as the mascot, just as it had been some thirty years ago.
Donations by the Fred and Dorothy Heinkel Charitable Foundation and Boone County Community Trust enabled Douglass High School to purchase their own small bus for field trips. A dedication ceremony was held April 28, 1995. The first prom since 1960 was held in the gym on May 19, 1995. Joe McCarty and Tylisha Johnson were crowned king and queen. June 2, 1995 was the first official graduation since becoming an accredited high school. Twenty-two students graduated in their royal blue gowns and blue and white tassels. Six scholarships were given. It was quite a celebration.
Progress still continues at Douglass High School. Satellite programs have been created at the Columbia Tribune in 1994 (Project Print and industry based). In 1995-96 Missouri Book Services in cooperation with Schnucks started a working deli from scratch, which serves all the MBS employees on a daily basis. The students selected the name “Between the Pages,” for the deli, and a grand opening was held on January 8, 1996. In addition, there is an industry-based program at Missouri Book Services. Another Partner joined Douglass in 1995-96: The Job Center. Missouri Cotton Exchange (1997-98) helps with our screen-printing program.