The Founding of Boggs Academy:A Historical Note from an Oral History By Dr.JosephT.Durham
Boggs Academy, a Presbyterian school founded in 1906 in Keysville, Burke County, Georgia, under the aegis of the Board of Missions for Freedmen, Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., was an outstanding college-preparatory academy for African Americans. The school was closed in 1984. In its seventy-eight-year history Boggs Academy grew from meager beginnings to an institution of acknowledged educational excellence, recognized by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, which accredited the school in 1943.
In The Rise and Decline of the Program of Education for Black Presbyterians of the United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., 1865-1970, Inez Moore Parker recounts the early history of Boggs.
Deep in the heart of the “Black Belt” of Georgia, where superstition and ignorance gripped the minds of the inhabitants, and where the seeds of discord between house slaves and field slaves and field shaves had germinated and taken root – the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. established the academy on a two-acre plot donated by a Baptist elder.
The identity of the “Baptist elder” referred to by Moore has been a matter of dispute. One researcher identified him as MorganWalker, who was black. PhinazeeWalker, a Presbyterian elder and fourth-generation Walker, informed the writer that at the end of the Civil War, his great-great-grandfather, MosesWalker gave land to each of his thirteen children in the northwest section of Burke County, near Waynesboro, Georgia. This section became known as “The Walker Settlement.” Each of the thirteen children received land involving three and a half acres, divided by Beaver Dam Creek. Over the years, the land in the Walker family passed through successive generations: the “Walker Settlement” is still intact.
MorganWalker was the son of MosesWalker (white) and ElizabethWalker (black). As the generations developed, RodneyWalker, the son of Ryas Walker (known in family history as the first black Walker) became the grandfather of PhinazeeWalker, and MorganWalker, the brother of Ryas Walker, became the great-great-uncle of Phinazee.
PhinazeeWalker relates that the Reverend John Lawrence Phelps, the founder of Boggs came to the area for the purpose of establishing a school built on Christian principles, which would educate African American youth. Phelps approached member of the Walker family, described his vision of a school, and successfully persuaded RodneyWalker and MorganWalker to give two acres of land so that the first building could be erected. The tradition in the Walker family is that the land, through a “gentlemen’s agreement,” would never be sold and would always be kept available for the welfare of African Americans in the county.
The first structures on the Boggs campus were the school and a chapel. The school was named Boggs in honor of Mrs.VirginiaBoggs, who was the corresponding secretary of the Board of Missions for Freedmen. The chapel was name Morgan Grove Presbyterian Church in honor of MorganWalker. PhinazeeWalker’s brother, Frank, left a historic note in which he says that the building of the church was completed in October 1909 and he (Frank) was the first infant baptized in the edifice, on Christmas Day 1909. Later in 1930, the original church was destroyed by fire and another building was erected through the generosity of the Blackburn family of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The new chapel, which is still standing on the Boggs campus, was named the Blackburn Presbyterian Church. PhinazeeWalker was baptized there in 1931.
PhinazeeWalker and his brother, the late FrankWalker, both attended Boggs Academy. Frank graduated from Boggs in 1928 as valedictorian of his class. Phinazee, who was younger, attended Boggs from 1927 to 1934, but did not graduate. He and a third brother, AlbertWalker, reside in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Today, the campus of Boggs Academy has been converted to the Boggs Rural Life Center through an agreement, “A Covenant Between Boggs Rural Life Center, Inc. and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).” Under this agreement, the mission of the center is to implement a wide variety of human and community development projects over a twenty county target area. The center, in partnership with local and national organizations, is conducting conferences and retreats, providing health screenings, prenatal and nutritional counseling, and is working with area school systems and several state institutions of higher education. The center is managed by a twenty-nine member board of directors and is administered by an executive director.”
Durham, Joseph T
Mention the names of New England's private schools and a large number of Americans will recognize them. Recent news articles, for example, note that both John E Kennedy Jr. and presidential hopeful George W Bush attended Phillips Academy in Massachusetts. Schools such as Phillips and Exeter have educated the children of generations of America's first families.
Less well known, however, are AfricanAmerican private schools, often designated as academies, whose existence has been virtually ignored.
Prior to 1920, over 200 AfricanAmerican academies operated in the South, and black children depended on them for a high school education. Secondary schools in the South during this time were few and far between, and the few that existed were in the major cities.
In 1916, for example, four southern states did not have a single public high school for blacks, and half of all black students at the secondary level were enrolled in private academies. Georgia had one public black high school but closed it to direct funds to the education of white children. A court battle ensued and Georgia was forced to reopen the black school.
The alarming lack of public secondary education provided for black students reflected the prevailing philosophy in the South, which did not make public education - indeed, any education - a high political and social item for African Americans.
In the midst of this educational failure and because of the insatiable desire for an education, blacks found ways to establish their own schools. They were aided in their quest by religious groups and by philanthropists. John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Julius Rosenwald gave generous amounts of money to build schools in black communities, to improve instruction, and to establish libraries. These philanthropists often directed that their largesse should fund "industrial education" favored by Booker T. Washington, who had counseled blacks against pressing for social equality and urged them to train themselves as useful workers for the southern economy.
The Washington concept of industrial education, however, was not embraced by all African Americans. Dr. William Edward Burghardt DuBois, the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard, actively opposed Washington's ideas. DuBois urged blacks to pursue collegiate courses and a classical education.
DuBois wrote: "The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth..."
The DuBois philosophy resonated well with AfricanAmerican academies, many of which offered industrial education that was less emphasized than academic subjects. In reality, the competing Washington-DuBois concepts ultimately led to two types of schools for blacks: County training schools largely emphasized industrial education and some teacher training, while academies largely emphasized college preparatory subjects and some teacher training.
Religious denominations also founded African-American academies in the South. Notable were the efforts of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (after 1870, the United Presbyterian Church U.S.A.), which established over 75 private schools in the South. In South Carolina alone, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. established 25 schools. In Georgia, Boggs Academy at Keysville was the first boarding school established by the Presbyterians.
Shortly before it closed in 1986, Boggs was said to be the only predominantly black accredited boarding school in the U.S. Today, the former academy continues as the Boggs Rural Life Center.
Other denominations also established private academies. The Baptists founded Fredericksburg Normal and Industrial Academy in Virginia in 1905 and Bettis Academy in Trenton, S.C., in 1881. The Methodist Episcopal Church founded Mather Academy in Camden, S.C., in 1887. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church established Clinton Normal and Industrial Institute in Rock Hill, S.C., in 1896.
The American Missionary Association (AMA) established academies as well as some private black colleges. Avery Institute in Charleston, S.C., was established by the AMA in 1865. Avery was a grade and high school with a small normal department, which trained elementary teachers and was known for its high academic and moral standards. It closed in 1954, and its successor is known as the Avery Museum and Research Center of African American Culture.
Taken as a whole, African-American academies provided a high quality of education for black youth in an inhospitable time, when the typical southern view of prejudice and a low view of black intelligence denied educational opportunity to African Americans.
The programs of these academies varied, but there were characteristics that were common to most, especially boarding schools. Because large numbers of academies were affiliated with church denominations, a religious orientation and attendance at weekly chapel and Sunday services was obligatory. Social activities among students and between men and women were strictly monitored.
Boggs Academy, for example, required its students to be in their dormitories by 9:30 p.m. and in bed by 10 p.m. Social graces were stressed. At Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, N.C., the redoubtable Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown required the students to dress up for the evening meal at which the rules of manners and table etiquette were strictly observed. In 1941, Dr. Brown wrote a book on etiquette, The Correct Thing To Do, To Say, To Wear. It was reprinted four times and detailed a wide range of social behaviors.
The instruction in academies was highly structured and heavily inclined towards college preparation. In fact, one of the touted values was that this schooling led easily to college admission.
While the typical academy did not emphasize industrial education as conceived by Booker T. Washington, its students were taught to respect the dignity of labor. Students frequently were assigned chores at their schools, such as trimming shrubs or cleaning floors. Courses focused on clerical and business subjects, even home economics.
Boggs Academy defined its program as having four parts: study, workshop, work, and play The play aspect centered on ath letics and the arts. Boggs had outstanding football and basketball teams. Its a capella choir frequently toured the country giving concerts to raise funds for the school, as well as to provide experiences for the students to visit famous historical and cultural sites.
Perhaps the best testimonials to the excellence of the African-American academies were supplied by their graduates, who distinguished themselves in many fields of endeavor. The long list of accomplished graduates includes:
Famed jazz musician Dizzy Gilespie, a graduate of Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina; Judge H. Carl Moultrie, a graduate of Avery Institute in Charleston, S.C., who presided over the trial of the eleven Hanafi gunmen who seized 134 hostages in Washington, D.C., in 1977; Dr. Frank DeCosta, former dean of the Graduate School, Morgan State University, was a 1927 graduate of Avery Institute; Ms. Cathy Hughes, businesswoman and owner of several radio stations in the Washington, D.C., area, graduate of Piney Woods Country Life School in Piney Woods, Miss.; and Alice B. Bullock, dean of the Howard University Law School, a graduate of Boggs Academy.
The heyday of most African-American academies ended as church groups cut back on their support and as public school education, though segregated, became more available. There are today a half dozen private schools for African Americans still in operation, which comprise the Association of African American Boarding Schools. The schools are: Laurinburg Institute, Laurinburg, N.C.; Piney Woods Country Life School, Piney Woods, Miss.; Southern Normal School, Brewton, Ala.; Pine Forge Academy, Pine Forge, Pa.; and Redemption Christian Academy, Troy, N.Y.
The African-American academies, which were established just after the Civil War, constituted a "golden era" in the education of blacks in this country. The accomplishments of these schools provide eloquent documentation that blacks have had a long and historic interest in intellectual development, and they did what they could, in spite of severe hardships, to achieve their educational goals.
Dr. Joseph T. Durham is a professor of education at Coppin State College in Baltimore, Md.
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