“This is the Alabama Education Retirees Association and this is made up of retired personnel throughout the systems, both Jasper City and Walker County. It includes teachers, support workers, lunchroom workers, janitors, bus drivers; it’s the whole education family that’s retired comes together every other month to meet,” said the association’s vice president Jane Roberts. “We have some good programs, camaraderie, fellowship, and of course continue to talk about education in Alabama, Walker County and the nation.”
After attendees said the collect and pledge, Morrison began his presentation and led members on an interesting journey spanning nearly two centuries in education from the mid-1800s up to the present. Morrison is a local historian, published author and retired educator after teaching for 34 years.
“First of all, let me thank y’all for inviting me to come and speak about something that I absolutely love and that’s the history of Walker County, and today I’ll be talking about the history of Walker County schools,” Morrison said. “If you go back as far as we can go with education in Walker County, it would be the early settlers who first came into the county here, and most of them did not have any education.”
Morrison spoke on how some of the first school houses were constructed. Dr. Edward Musgrove came to Jasper in 1826, built a log cabin where the First United Methodist Church of Jasper is now and used it as a court house, meeting house, church house and a school house, so to speak — meaning the school was only open when weather allowed, when they could find a decent teacher or when they weren’t working in the fields.
“There wasn’t much education going on at all at that period of time,” Morrison said. “But, in 1857 they hired this guy named David Manasco ... to head up education for all of Walker County.”
The very first educational institution in the county was “the Old Academy that was on Academy Hill, which is the highest point in Jasper,” Morrison commented. The school was established in 1859 and closed during the Civil War, where tuition was $2.50 per term. It reopened in 1886, a year when the area prospered and grew, along with three other high schools in Jasper — the Jasper Boys and Girls School, the Oakman Boys and Girls School and the Corona Boys and Girls School.
The Corona school was created due to the vast population coming into the town to work for the Corona Coal and Coke Company. That company produced one of the biggest mines in the country during that era, and it was definitely the most prominent in the South, according to Morrison.
Many of the schools in Walker County started as colleges, such as the school in Eldridge in 1890. It took seven years to construct the building because everything, including land, labor and building materials, was donated. The history tells how the county flourished and progressed from the number of affluent millionaires the area housed during the early 1900s.
The Patton School was the first African American institution built in Walker County where students would attend until the eighth grade.
“At that time, and just a few years before this was built, blacks — and this was the first black school in Walker County — were not even allowed to have education. They couldn’t even learn to read; it was against the law for them to learn how to read,” Morrison said. “... How this school got developed and started, L.B. Musgrove, Booker T. Washington [and] R.L. Nall combined and decided that they needed a college for blacks in Walker County.”
The school in Patton, which is near Oakman, was closed and then moved during the Great Depression to the Frisco area, and it became the first Walker County Training School. The training school later moved again to the community of Coke Oven. There was a huge push for schools around 1903, which included building schools in Cordova, Dora, Sipsey, Townley, Empire and Carbon Hill. Schools in Parrish and Curry were built later on.
Morrison ended the meeting by telling members how Walker College, which is now Bevill State Community College, was orchestrated.
“Dr. Carl Jesse, when he first came to Jasper he was an actor, and an actor in those days would do one-man shows, skits, dramatic readings, play instruments, sing and do a lot of things. He came to Jasper just to do that, but when he got here a lady named R.L. Cheatham decided, ‘Hey! Here’s a guy we could really use in Walker County,’” Morrison said. “So she hired him as the dean of Cheatham Conservatory ... He became the dean of that and that was the forerunner of Walker College.”
The WCERA meets every other month. The next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 5 at 10 a.m. where members will hear from the Bevill State Community College Choir.