As a consequence of trying to discern the photographer(s) of a collection of photographs of every school in Wilson County in the 1920’s and the reasoning behind why someone made such a complete photographic record, I fortuitously came upon a detailed report on the Wilson County school system during the same period with copies of the same photographs in the report.
In 1924 the Wilson County Board of Education published a report on the progress of the preceding ten years of the educational system in Wilson County entitled, The Public Schools of Wilson County. If the stats were accurate it looked like the educational system was doing extraordinarily well under the dynamic leadership of the school superintendent Charles L. Coon, who had been superintendent since 1907. The stats show exponential increases in all areas from the value of school property ($128,000 in 1913 to $1,482,330 in 1924) to an increase in enrollment by 68% and an increase in attendance by 82%. Also, four new high schools were built during the period and the county’s first school buses were implemented carrying 2,200 children daily.
All of these achievements would be considered remarkable in any decade. But the fact that they were achieved in the early 1900’s in a mostly rural, agricultural county makes it all the more impressive. The driving force behind the positive changes was Coon’s method of consolidating schools, creating school transportation, implementing a county-wide school tax, issuing bonds for school construction, implementing strict discipline for students and teachers and being very selective in hiring the very best teachers available while paying them the highest salaries in the state. All of these policies together brought about the blooming of education in Wilson County.
However, not all was rosey. African American teacher’s pay, at $383.00, was still strikingly lower than the white teacher’s pay, $1,031.00, even though it had been increased 100 percent in the preceding ten years. This is evidence of the long road that was yet to be travelled to true universal education for all students, especially since Charles L. Coon was the leading advocate in North Carolina for equal education for African American children, a stance that made him not a few enemies in some southern states. (Contrarily, Charles Coon had caused an uproar in the African American community in Wilson County after he slapped a black teacher when she argued with him about the performance of her students. The enraged black community took their children out of the county schools for a period of time. So Charles, despite his work for equality, still exhibited some decidedly non-modern traits.)
Some of Coon’s tough policies had their detractors, especially the strict requirements for teachers written into their contracts, which many of the newspapers in North Carolina jumped on and ridiculed as absurd once they got wind of it.
Here is an extract of the contract and it is a wee bit puritanical:
I will take a vital interest in church and Sunday School work and other community activities; that I will not entertain company until late hours at night and thus render my school work next day inefficient; that I will not attend sorry moving picture and vaudeville shows; that I will not fall in love or become familiar with high school pupils; that I will not attend card and dancing parties; that I will not fail to use good sense and discretion in the company I keep; that I will use the best endeavors during the year to improve my work as a teacher; and that I will do nothing to bring disrepute on the home in which I live or to cause right thinking people to speak disparagingly of me and of my work (Willard, 1966).
But the overall great success of the policies that Coon had introduced caused other counties in North Carolina to adopt some of his methodologies, especially in the areas of school consolidation and school transportation.
Now all of the pictures produced for this report can be found on our Flickr page. Many of the images are of the one room school houses that were abolished by Charles L. Coon in his school consolidation, so ironically some of the only photographic records of these historic buildings are from his survey for the The Public Schools of Wilson County report.
Also, I never found out who the photographers were.
Willard, George-Anne (1968). Charles Lee Coon: North Carolina Crusader for Social Justice. Unpublished Master’s thesis. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The Public Schools of Wilson County (1924).