Common Heritage

African American Education

Education is a cornerstone of creating agency, and African American communities emphasized this importance in the aftermath of the American Civil War. Wilkes Flagg, a formerly enslaved blacksmith who purchased freedom for himself, his wife, and his son and became a successful Milledgeville businessman and minister, established a school in the Flagg Chapel Church in 1865. The immediate success of the school attracted the attention of the American Missionary Association (AMA). The AMA, with land donated by Flagg, and the assistance of Freedmen’s Bureau, an organization established by the federal government after the war that attempted to assist the approximately four million displaced formerly enslaved African Americans and the thousands of impoverished white citizens of the South, founded the Eddy School in 1867.

Image: Wilkes Flagg, circa 1870. Georgia College Special Collections.

Milledgeville is distinguished from similar rural Southern communities in that the Eddy School was one of only 14 schools for African Americans established by the AMA before 1876. The organization would found more than 500 across the South, including institutions of higher learning, such as Berea College, Fisk University, and Atlanta University. The AMA provided the Eddy school five white teachers to instruct the 350 students. The school was an inspiration for the parents seeking a better life for their children, and a vibrant community sprung up around the school and Flagg Chapel.

The original three-room Eddy school building was replaced in 1900 by a larger structure, Eddy High School, which housed grades 1st through 11th. The school burned in 1925 and was rebuilt. The school again burned down in 1946. The decision not to rebuild meant its students were in limbo until the Board of Education built a new school, George Washington Carver High School, completed in 1949. Separate buildings for elementary, middle, and high school classes were built for the first time. The elementary school remained unnamed until 1967 when it became the Sallie Ellis Davis Elementary School.

Top Image: Misses Cooke’s School Room, Freedmen’s Bureau, Richmond, Va. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, November 17, 1866, p. 132, Library of Virginia.

Bottom Image: Eddy High School, circa 1930. Sallie Ellis Davis Archive, Georgia College.

Sallie Ellis Davis (1877-1950) dedicated herself to the education and empowerment of the children of Milledgeville’s African American community. Davis grew up in the vibrant community around Flagg Chapel. Attending the original three-room Eddy School as a child, the seeds were planted for her future passion as an educator. Davis enrolled in Atlanta University and graduated in 1899 with a normal (teaching) degree. While at Atlanta University, W.E.B. DuBois was a faculty member and would influence her career as a teacher, remaining a mentor throughout her lifetime. Davis returned to Milledgeville and began her 50-plus year career as an educator, becoming a teacher at the Eddy School. In 1900, the skilled African American tradesmen from the community erected the Eddy High School, replacing the original three-room school building. The school encompassed 1st through 11th grade, and Davis was appointed the school principal. Although known as a strict disciplinarian, students respected Davis for her devotion and encouragement; one of her favorite mottos was, hitch your wagon to a star. Her community leadership and impact as an educator are still remembered to this day. Davis was inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement, in 2000, in honor of her legacy.

Image: Sallie Ellis Davis, circa 1910. Sallie Ellis Davis Archives, Georgia College.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, small schools to serve the rural communities appeared throughout Baldwin County. One of the earliest was the Harrisburg School (pictured right), established in the Harrisburg community in 1871. The three-room schoolhouse and detached kitchen were in operation until 1952.

Other African American Baldwin County schools included: Rocky Creek School (circa 1917), Sandtown School (circa 1896), Spring Hill School (circa 1905), Buck Creek School (circa 1896), Friendship School (circa 1896), Town Creek School (circa 1896), Union School (circa 1896), Walker’s Chapel School (circa 1896), Harper’s Mission School (circa 1903), Jordan’s Crossroads School (circa 1899), Morgan’s Chapel School (circa 1896), Rock Mills School (circa 1896), St. Mary’s School (circa 1896), St. Paul’s School (circa 1896), Vaughn’s Chapel School (circa 1896), Antioch School (circa 1896), Bonner’s School (circa 1896), Brown’s Grove School (circa 1896), Hooper’s Chapel School (circa 1896), Fishing Creek School (circa 1899), Nazarene School (circa 1896), Proctor’s School (circa 1899), Walker’s Grove School (circa 1896), Black Creek School (circa 1896), Freedman’s High School (circa 1869), Hopewell School (circa 1899), Scottsboro School (circa 1896), Shiloh School (circa 1896), Wrights Grove School (circa 1896), County Line School (circa 1899), Mitchell Zion School (circa 1917), and Steven’s Pottery School (circa 1899).

Top Image: The Harrisburg School House. Digitized during Common Heritage Community Harvest Event, March 07,, 2020. Georgia College Special Collections.
Middle Image (left to right): Harrisburg Teachers Annie Phelps Richardson, Lois White Lane, Louise Austin, Mollie Holsey, Raxie Rayford Pendleton, and Thelma Lofton. Digitized during Common Heritage Community Harvest Event, March 07,, 2020. Georgia College Special Collections.
Bottom Image: (standing left to right) Harrisburg Teachers Ms. Anderson, Ms. Giles, Mrs. L.W. Zachary, Charle Phelps, Hazel Bland, Benjamin Clark, Rosalie Lofton, Annie Wright, Sally Ellis Davis, Ann Clark. (seated left to right) Ruth Lee, Abbie Chatman, Edwina Bell, Frances Fountain, Gladys Collier, Rosa Franklin. (front) Ruby Bryant. Digitized during Common Heritage Community Harvest Event, March 07,, 2020. Georgia College Special Collections.

Joseph M. Graham (1914-1969) was a servant leader to the Milledgeville African American community. Graham, a World War Two veteran, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943. He obtained the rank of Technical Sergeant and served in the 360th Port Transportation Company. At the time of his enlistment, Graham was the Scout Master for the Milledgeville African American Boy Scout Troop 103. After returning home, he served as the secretary and treasurer of Slater’s Funeral Home, was on the county’s Selective Service Board, and was a member of the American Red Cross and American Legion. However, his most impactful contribution was as an educator. Graham taught at Eddy High School and became the principal of Carver High School and later J.F. Boddie High School. Graham received his undergraduate degree from Tennessee State University, and later, a master’s degree from Columbia University in New York City. He also was a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Upon returning to Milledgeville, Graham dedicated his life to the African American community. He was known to tirelessly attend to the needs of the students under his charge. Not only did Graham encourage the best from his students, he also stressed the value of giving back to the community. Without a doubt, Graham made an impact in the lives of the African American students of Milledgeville during the 1950s and 1960s.

Image: Joseph M. Graham, principal, Boddie High School, circa 1967. Digitized during Common Heritage Community Harvest Event, March 07, 2020. Georgia College Special Collections.

After the Supreme Court of the United States determined that racially segregated public schools were inherently unequal and unconstitutional with their ruling on Brown v. Board of Education, the J.F. Boddie High School opened in 1958 to serve Milledgeville’s African American students. The school, named after Julian Franklin Boddie, Sr., who for some time was the only African American doctor in Baldwin County, was an extension of Carver High School and for the first time included the 12th grade. The Boddie High School facility contained twenty-six classrooms, a science laboratory, a commercial department, an industrial arts department, a library, a home economics department, and a combination gymnasium/auditorium. Like its predecessors, the Eddy School and the Carver School, Boddie High School hired highly revered African American educators and, at one point, employed 36 teachers, a student counselor, and a full-time librarian. The school served as the African American high school until 1970. That same year, integration of Baldwin County High School was fully implemented, effectively ending segregation in Milledgeville schools.

Image: J. F. Boddie High School mascot, Boddie High School yearbook, 1968. Georgia College Special Collections.