ActivePaper Archive Lincoln School on minds of alumni - Chattanooga, 8/24/2007

Lincoln School on minds of alumni

Staff Photo by John Rawlston

The Rev. James A. Bridgeman talks Thursday about his memories of attending classes at Lincoln School in Pikeville, Tenn. On his first day of class in this room, he was paddled for carving his name into his desk, he said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For audio with this story, go to

PIKEVILLE, Tenn. — The number of Lincoln School alumni who return to Bledsoe County for their annual reunion shrinks every year, a former student said.

The dwindling number means the school must depend more on the community for support, said Joline Vernon, a student in the mid-1930s and mid-1940s.

“Our big support comes from the community because our alumni are just so few and far away,” Mrs. Vernon said Thursday, taking a break from preparations for the reunion set for Saturday.

The school served black children from the mid-1920s to 1965, the end of segregation, she said.

“They’re not babies anymore,” Mrs. Vernon said.

But the school’s history belongs to the whole community, she said.

On Saturday, alumni and visitors will hear a presentation called “Building an Ideal: The Rosenwald Schools of Tennessee,” by Dr. Mary S. Hoffschwelle.

Dr. Hoffschwelle, a history professor from Middle Tennessee State University, said she is interested in preserving the school because “it’s critical to keep those kinds of buildings as a reminder of a long community history.”

Lincoln School, now on the National Register of Historic Places, was one of more than 5,300 schools the Rosenwald Foundation built for black children in the early 1900s, according to the foundation’s Web site. Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Co., created the foundation and started a school building program in 1917.

A contemporary of Mrs. Vernon, Hannah T. Schoolfield, didn’t attend Lincoln School. She’s white.

But Mrs. Schoolfield, nodding to Mrs. Vernon, said she helps with preservation efforts and the yearly reunion “because it’s their heritage.”

“It’s our heritage,” she amended.

“It was this kind of support” that kept the school’s history alive, Mrs. Vernon said.

Paul Archambault, historic preservation planner with the Southeast Tennessee Development District, said focusing local attention on the school is vital to restoration efforts.

The alumni association has gotten a few grants to improve the building, but donations from the public make the difference in competition for matchingfund grants, Mr. Archambault said.

Delois Butler, of Elyria, Ohio, attended Lincoln briefly, but she said she returns every year for the reunion.

“To me, this school is the only thing I can remember about growing up here,” Ms. Butler said.

She said she was surprised to learn a few years ago that the school still stood in nearly original condition.

“It’s a big accomplishment for just a handful of people,” she said.

The Rev. James Bridgeman, who started at Lincoln in 1931, said there is growing interest and support in the community.

Churches and other historical organizations “have been really good helping us,” Mr. Bridgeman said Thursday.

“I get to thinking about this place ... it brings tears to my eyes,” he said as he cooled off on a piano bench inside the school.

“You know, I only had one ‘suit’ for school and church, a pair of overalls and a shirt,” he recalled.

But then he laughed at the memory of getting caught carving his name in his desk.

Keeping the old school in shape doesn’t just preserve local heritage, it preserves memories, he said. E-mail NOTE: Also ran in SET edition