Written by Joy Melton
What usually has a flat roof, large banks of windows and is clad in bricks? The answer: an equalization school. Equalization schools were built in Georgia during the 1950s and 1960s to create school facilities that were “separate but equal” for whites and blacks. As an intern for African American Programs at the State Historic Preservation Office in Georgia, I - along with my supervisor (and National Trust Board of Advisors member) Jeanne Cyriaque - have surveyed numerous equalization schools. This project is of particular interest because nearly 400 new schools were built and additions were made to over 100 existing equalization schools for African Americans in Georgia alone. In a state as geographically diverse as Georgia, Jeanne and I have studied a wide variety of adaptive uses for these historic school buildings.
I begin each assignment by researching possible addresses for each school and mapping out directions. The research of Reuben Acosta, a former intern in the office, has been invaluable in helping me locate the schools. Reuben prepared a school list that identifies information such as the county and city of each school that he researched at the Georgia Archives. Information, gathered by my co-workers, on equalization schools from Section 106 and environmental review has also been helpful. Additionally, during Jeanne’s frequent travels across the state for speaking engagements and meetings about African American resources, we learn of and document equalization schools in the area.
In the field, Jeanne and I have traveled to over 80 equalization schools in 45 counties. Today, many equalization schools are still in use as schools, some are vacant while many others boast creative adaptive uses such as a homeless shelter in Morven, a church in Pearson, and an assisted living facility in Valdosta. The most highly used example is a community center such as the one located in Woodbine which houses a Head Start/daycare, senior center, health department, cooperative extension program and alumni meeting place. Many alumni of the equalization schools are still living and have been a tremendous help with preservation efforts.
Several equalization schools also have Rosenwald schools on their campuses. These include the Colored Memorial Rosenwald School/ Risley School in Brunswick, the Eleanor Roosevelt Rosenwald School in Warm Springs and the Vienna High and Industrial School in Vienna. Rosenwald schools, funded in part by the philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, represent another large construction boom in schools for African Americans in the early 20th century. One of our recent equalization school discoveries is Fairmont High also known as Griffin Vocational, the 50th Rosenwald school discovery in Georgia.
Along the journey, Jeanne and I have encountered amazing success stories and incredible people who work to preserve and find new uses for these endangered yet historic treasures. Within our office, architectural historian Steven Moffson is researching and documenting equalization schools. Steven will speak on equalization schools at the Georgia Statewide Preservation Conference in Macon, March 31st - April 1st 2011.
Joy Melton is a graduate student in the Heritage Preservation Program, Historic Preservation Track at Georgia State University and an intern in African American Programs at the Georgia State Historic Preservation Office. She attended the National Preservation Conference as a member of the Diversity Scholarship Program in 2009 and 2010.
Would you like to attend the National Preservation Conference as a member of the 2011 Diversity Scholarship Program? We are now accepting applications for this year’s conference, which will take place in Buffalo, New York from October 19-22. The deadline to apply online is June 1, 2011.