Mary Eva Tredway writes:
In 1919, WWI ended, prohibition began, women were given the vote, and the newly formed Georgia Literacy Commission reported that since the end of the Civil War in 1865, illiteracy among blacks dropped from 95% to only 29%
In less than two generations since the war, African Americans in Georgia had embraced education. WHY? Because education meant freedom. In 1919, the population of St. Simons Island, Georgia was 75% African American (of Gullah Geechee heritage), dispersed in three distinct neighborhoods across the island, one of them the mid-Island community of Harrington.
The people of this community were so deeply convinced of the vital link between education and freedom, that they founded the Harrington School for the benefit of their children and future generations.
Today, nearly 100 years later, Harrington Graded School is the last schoolhouse standing on St. Simons Island representing the post-war story of the Gullah Geechee heritage -- from freedom to civil rights. It was a one-room building with no running water and outhouses for restrooms, with second-hand books lovingly passed down from class to class and year to year.
The friends of Harrington School, Inc. have just announced a challenge grant from the Watson-Brown Foundation, and are hoping that anyone interested in helping with the restoration of this historic and educational building can do so before December 31 since all donations are tax-deductible and are hoping you might be interested in sharing this information with your readers.
FRIENDS OF HARRINGTON SCHOOL, INC.
Restoring Our Island’s African American Heritage
DONATIONS TO HISTORIC GULLAH GEECHEE SCHOOLHOUSE
COUNT TWICE BEFORE DECEMBER 31
The Friends of Harrington School, Inc. announced that they have received a $25,000 challenge grant from the Watson-Brown Foundation to help them complete the interior restoration of the historic African American schoolhouse on St. Simons Island, Georgia. All tax- deductible donations received by December 31 will be matched by this grant and the combined funds will be used to finish the interior restoration and open for tours and programs in February 2017.
A key site on the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, The Historic Harrington School Cultural Center will fill in the gaps in local history. “Education meant freedom in a Gullah Geechee community so it is appropriate that this schoolhouse will be the place where anyone can learn about the contributions made by African American families over the 150 years from emancipation through the civil rights era, “stated Amy Roberts, Executive Director of the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition and a recipient of the Governors Award in the Humanities for her work saving and sharing local African American heritage.
In the 1930s the Father of Gullah studies Lorenzo Dow Turner came to Harrington to make cultural and linguistic links between Africa and the coastal barrier islands. In 1959 famed folklorist Alan Lomax recorded Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers inside the schoolhouse.
Jones took their songs to the freedom workshops in the early 1960s and taught civil rights leaders such as Andrew Young that “the old songs,” not new songs, best expressed the people’s cry for civil rights.
While other historic sites focus on slavery, programs at the Harrington Cultural Center will describe how the “Couper’s people” at Cannons Point built homes and businesses in Harrington the largest of the island’s three African American communities and how the families of those who came on the last slave ship The Wanderer went on to have impactful lives contributing to the thriving success of this local community and beyond.
“Our people are so connected to the history of the islands, but only a small part of their history is told,” stated Dannie Davis who counts among her ancestors Wesley Lee, a Union soldier in the 33rd US Colored Unit stationed on St. Simons Island, and Mrs. Isadora Hunter a Harrington student in 1928 who recruited church members to join the NAACP and who donated her heirs property to save the schoolhouse.
Today their descendants are members of the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition, the organization that maintains and operates the schoolhouse under a 99- year lease from the St. Simons Land Trust. “We are very excited to be able to bring visitors and school children to the Harrington School and help them learn about the lessons taught and lessons learned in a one-room segregated schoolhouse,” Berthenia Gibson, a Harrington student who taught school for over 35 years.
The Watson Brown Foundation grant is a real tribute to all the people who have worked so hard to restore this historic schoolhouse. “Ninety-one percent (91.1%) of all donations have gone straight into repairs to the structure,” reported Patty Deveau, President of The Friends of Harrington School, Inc. This grant and any matching funds raised will provide money to install electricity, repair the original bead-board walls, paint the interior, sand and finish the floors, and the blackboards. HVAC will come later as more funds are raised. An ADA ramp will connect to the trails and parking at the new Harrington Community Park.
The Harrington School is located on St. Simons Island at 291 South Harrington Road between Bennie’s Red Barn and Village Creek Landing.
Tax-deductible donations towards matching the challenge grant may be made by check payable to “Friends of Harrington School, Inc.” and mailed to P.O. Box 20496, St. Simons Island, GA 31522, or by credit card via PayPal at the website www.ssiheritagecoalition.org. The Friends of Harrington School, Inc. and the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition are both 501 c-3 non-profit organizations.
For more information go to www.ssiheritagecoalition.org or call 912-634-0330.