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The Calhoun Colored School was a private boarding and day school that was located around twenty eight miles from Montgomery. It was founded in 1892 by Charlotte Thorn, Mabel Dillingham, and Booker T. Washington. It was first designed to educate African American students from rural settings in the industrial school model. It sponsored a land bank that helped eighty five families buy land, improved the local road with help from the county, so that farmers could their products to the market. As the Calhoun Colored School developed it raised standards, and offered more of an academic curriculum. The only surviving building of the initial school is the Principals Cottage (Calhoun Colored School, 2015).

  • A carpentry class at Calhoun Colored School around 1900
  • A cooking class at Calhoun Colored School around 1900
  • Students in military formation outside of the Calhoun Colored School
  • The principal cottage outside Calhoun Colored School
  • The school staff around 1900
  • Present day Calhoun High
  • Charlotte Thorn, one of the founders of the school.

Around 1891 many African Americans were still working under the sharecropping system, and although the price of cotton continued to drop, Southern Agriculture was still dependent on it. This caused a lot of difficulties for economic progress in that region. Along with that, Southern white democrats made it extremely hard for blacks and poor whites to vote in the region by making the task so complicated. This led parents to desperately want their children to be educated. Booker T Washington spoke at Hampton Institute about the great desire of Calhoun students to learn, hoping to recruit teachers. He did persuade two white teachers from New England, Charlotte Thorn and Mabel Dillingham, they traveled to Calhoun alongside Washington to find a location for the school, build it, and begin operation. They used family, friends, and the Hampton Institute publication The Southern Workman, to raise funds and receive donations (Calhoun Colored School, 2015).

When student began school they would receive a basic elementary education and then as they got older they would receive an industrial education. This would prepare the students for work that was available in the rural setting that they lived in. The highest achieving students were encouraged to become teachers, so that they could help others continue their education. The students were not taught to challenge politics. They were only taught skills that could help them survive. Washington was afraid that if the students were taught to challenge racist politics that white citizens in the county might force them to close the school (Calhoun Colored School, 2015).

Following Mabel Dillingham’s death in 1985, Charlotte Thorn died in 1932. After her death Calhoun continued on as a private school for several years until the Great Depression. The Great Depression reduced the support that the school had, along with mechanization of agriculture. Rural labor was not in high need anymore and African Americans migrated to Midwestern industrial cities for jobs. In 1943 the State of Alabama acquired the school and built a new facility for a public high school. The county is still majority African American (Calhoun Colored School, 2015).

Calhoun Colored School. 10 January 2015. .