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Weekly 150

Webb School and Professor J.L. Seets

The Leading Force in African-American Fortitude in McKenzie

Posted 2/5/19

In honor of Black History Month, I felt it was only fitting to do a piece on Webb School. I soon realized 500 words was no where near enough to discuss the history and impact of Webb School and those …

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Weekly 150

Webb School and Professor J.L. Seets

The Leading Force in African-American Fortitude in McKenzie

Posted

In honor of Black History Month, I felt it was only fitting to do a piece on Webb School. I soon realized 500 words was no where near enough to discuss the history and impact of Webb School and those who helped form the school. The rich history of Webb School and the influence of Professor J.L. Seets are as much a part of McKenzie as any institution or individual in the city’s 150 years of existence. Much of what you are reading in this article and additional articles on Webb School come directly from documents available at Webb School, the Gordon Browning Museum and writings of Professor Seets.

Prior to 1898, very few records exist on African-American education in the McKenzie area. It is theorized local churches provided the basis of what qualified as an “adequate” education through the segregation laws of Jim Crow and the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) “separate but equal.”

Near the turn of the 20th Century with the introduction of the public school system, a rudimentary one-room school house was constructed on the outskirts of town for “Negro Education.” One teacher was responsible for teaching all the students and the subjects.

The little one-room building evolved into a two-room school about 1900 and provided education from first grade through eighth grade. This addition allowed for an additional teacher. This was the earliest beginnings of formalized African-American education in McKenzie. The building complex was named Booker T. Washington High School. Things would not change considerably for the next 15 to 20 years.

According to Professor Seets, “During this period, the following teachers were employed: Bob Coleman, Nelson Love, F.L. Buck and wife Lena Buck, Murray Mitchum, Rev. L.B. Tinsley. Salaries ranged from $15 to $50 per month and in some cases only room and board.”

In 1920, Professor James L. Seets became principal of the Booker T. Washington school. It was in this time period education took a leap forward for African-Americans in the area. The Carroll County Board of Education built the Carroll County Training School in Smyrna Community near Buena Vista. After four years, the training school closed and moved to McKenzie to be under the supervision of Professor Seets.

With the acquisition of the training school, Professor Seets began working on an expansion of the facility through the philanthropic endeavors of Julius Rosenwald. The matching monetary grants donated by Rosenwald (approximately $70 million) were used throughout the rural South to improve educational facilities for African-Americans. The Rosenwald Foundation donated $1,000 to the McKenzie school and the matching $1,000 was quickly raised by authorities and members of the community. The $2,000 grant led to the construction of four additional rooms.

From Professor Seets records, “The first high school class enrolled four students and at the end of the first four high school years, two of the four, Kelcy Bell and Addie M. Broach, graduated and received high school diplomas from the State Department of Education.”

A need for additional buildings and course expansion forced the school to request more money from the Rosenwald Fund. An additional $8,000 was acquired through the grant and donations. The name of the school was changed to Webb High School after John L. Webb. Mr. Webb, an African-American, was a very generous benefactor to the school providing more money than any person of any race or group in McKenzie.

Two school buses were obtained at this point as well since Webb School was the only high school for African-Americans in Carroll County.

Enrollment increased from four to well over one hundred; teachers increased from one to fifteen; the curriculum was enriched by adding new courses based on the needs of the children.

In the summer of 1936, a fire would destroy the school, and a new facility would be constructed. But it would take the African-American community coming together again to raise Webb School from the ashes.

Next week I will tell more of the story of Webb School and Professor Seets. If you have stories you would like to share about Webb School or Mr. Seets feel free to contact me at the Banner. Thank you, God Bless McKenzie, our state, and our great country.

Jason R. Martin

B.S. • M.A.Ed • MLS

Councilman, Ward II

Executive Chairman, McKenzie 150th Celebration

E: jmartin@mckenziebanner.com  P: 731.352.3323

Jason Martin is a life-long resident of McKenzie. He graduated from McKenzie High School in 2000; earned a Bachelor of Science in History from Bethel College in 2004; a Masters in Education from Bethel University in 2009 and a Masters in History and Humanities from Fort Hays State University in 2011.

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