THE ABANDONED WEST BROAD STREET SCHOOL BEFORE FIRST RESTORATION.
(COURTESY OF HISTORIC SAVANNAH FOUNDATION)
SUSIE KING TAYLOR:
Susie King Taylor was born in 1848 in Liberty County, Georgia, and moved to Savannah when she was seven years old to live with her grandmother. During the early stages of the Civil War, Taylor and several members of her family escaped to Union-occupied St. Simons Island. They were subsequently transported to Fort Saxon at Beaufort, South Carolina, where she served as nurse, teamster, laundress, and teacher to the First South Carolina Volunteers, America's first black military regment. The story of her early education and Civil War experiences, "Reminscences of My Life in Camp with the 33rd United States Colored Troops, Late 1st S.C. Volunteers," is the only wartime memoir published by an African American woman.
THE SISTERS OF ST. JOSEPH:
On April 23, 1867, the first Georgia foundation of the Sisters of St. Joseph was established in Savannah, Georgia. The original band consisted of three Sisters and two Postulants. The Sisters were Sister Julia, Sister Josephine and Sister Mary Joseph. In December 1867, mother Clemence and Sister St. Peter joined the group in Savannah. The Bishop placed the Sisters in charge of the Barry Male Orphan Asylum.
EARLY YEARS AT THE WEST BROAD STREET SCHOOL:
The following article describing the two-year-old school appeared in the Savannah Morning News on July 17, 1875:
The West Broad Street Colored School
We visited this building yesterday, and had the pleasure of witnessing some of the closing exercises, which were very creditable indeed.
The examination was in writing, and has been in progress daily for one week. Fifty test words in spelling, ten questions each in geography, grammar and arithmetic, were submitted by the Superintendent to these scholars which they were required to answer in writing, and we are pleased to say that about ninety percent were obtained in each. This argues well for a class of children, many of whom but a few years ago were ignorant of the English alphabet.
Many of the questions were very difficult of solution, especially those of arithmetic, which extended from common and decimal fractions to percentage. But they were, with scarcely an exception, satisfactorily answered.
Two hundred and thirty-one boys have been enrolled to date, of which number two hundred and twenty-nine still remain.
The attendance has been very good, with but little sickness, averaging scarcely three per cent, and no deaths during the whole term, which fact shows that good, wholesome school exercises rather improve than injure the health of children.
Rev. James Porter is still principal and has as assistants Eliza A. Pollard, Laura F. Porter and Mattie A. Upshaw.
Adrienne Herndon was born in Augusta, Georgia, on July 22, 1869. She taught at Gray Street Public School in Atlanta and was one of the founders of the Gate City Free Kindergarten Association, which is still in existence. In the early 1900s she was also well known for performing dramatic readings to raise funds for social, civic and educational organizations in Savannah, Atlanta, Augusta and Chattanooga.
Far ahead of her time as an African American woman, Adrienne Herndon achieved notoriety in drama, education and architecture in turn-of-the-century Georgia. Head of the drama department at Atlanta University, she presented the University's first Shakespearean production, "The Merchant of Venice," in 1905, directed their theatre offerings and gave Atlanta's African American community access to serious drama with professional stage sets and costumes. A gifted dramatic artist and architect of what would be designated a National Historic Landmark, Herndon had her own standards and fought for racial equaliy and women's rights in every arena available to her.
CHALLENGES TO THE BOARD OF EDUCATION:
The West Broad Street School was showing serious signs of neglect again by the early 1920s, and the grandchildren of G.W.J. DeRenne brought concerns over the issue to the board of education's president, Lee Roy Myers. In a letter dated on January 28, 1925, Wymberly W. DeRenne reminded Mr. Myers of his grandfather's charitable contribution to the City of Savannah:
Without doubt you are familiar with the provisions of the deed of gift from G.W.J. DeRenne to John Stoddard and William Hunter, trustees for the Board of Education dated April 20, 1878 (4-B's Folios 172-175) of the Scarbrough House, now the West Broad Street School.
My sisters, Mrs. Craig Barrow and Mrs. F.H. Coerr, and myself feel that our grandfather's wishes in regard to this fight should be observed. It is not only our duty to see them carried out but it is also our very earnest and lively desire from a sense of historic interest and civic pride to have the building preserved exactly as our grandfather directed.
Even the most casual inspection will show the terrible and dilapidated state of the building. Its condition is a mock to Mr. DeRenne's desire that the building be preserved so as to be 'sightly in the eyes of man and creditable to the city.'
Will you kindly inform me at your earliest convenience how soon you can remedy the dilapidated condition of the structure and restore it to a condition conforming with the conditions of the gift.
Yours very truly,
In a brief note responding to Mr. DeRenne's letter dated January 31, 1925 Mr. Myers wrote:
I visited the West Broad Street School in company with the Superintendent Carleton B. Gibson. He arrogantly claimed that repairs were made prior to the letter that Mr. W.W. DeRenne wrote, but admitted there were other problems wth the building. He further explained that the reasons for not correcting the issues were based on the cost and age of the property.
An agitated W.W. DeRenne wrote back to Mr. Myers on February 7, 1925:
Mrs. Barrow and I recently visited the school and we wish to call especial attention to the following conditions, which are not, however, a complete list of those which need to be remedied:
1. The Water Gate which stood North of the School and of which we have a photograph has been destroyed.
2. All the iron work and iron grilling is neglected and much of it is missing. This iron work besides being essentially a part of the building is of much artistic and intrinsic value.
3. Parts of the stone railing and supports on each side of the entrance are missing and damaged.
4. The beautiful fan window immediately above the entrance is in very bad repair, the glass door even having been replaced by a roughly made wooden one.
5. The basement is in terrible condition in every way.
6. The coping of the wall running east of the school is practically all gone.
7. The entire building is in a neglected and woeful condition. The plaster is cracked or fallen; the woodwork is mutilated and in need of paint or varnish; the walls are faded and dirty; and throughout the building the windows are minus panes and in bad repair.
According to the terms of the deed we believe that the Board of Education has forfeited its right to the building. My sisters and I have no intention or desire to benefit personally through this failure of the Board's to meet the conditions of the gift. We are determined, however, to have the building restored and maintained in the condition contemplated by our Grandfather. His desire was to forward the education of the colored race but in making the gift his wish was also to insure the preservation, intact and in its finest state, of one of Savannah's historic residences.
In case, therefore, you find it impracticable to make the necessary restorations, we would wish to transfer the building to some other agency which would insure its proper care. If this step were necessary we would wish to take it with as little harm to the education of the colored children as possible. We believe it would be possible for the Board and us to come to some conclusion satisfactory to both.
Awaiting your decision in this matter, I am,
Yours very truly,
WEST BROAD STREET SCHOOL IN 1930:
On September 18, 1930, The Savannah Tribune published a brief article on public school enrollment for the new school year. It noted that West Broad Street School enrollment had increased from 321 students in 1921 to 380 in 1930.