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Webb School Alumni Hosts 52nd Homecoming

Posted 8/30/22

McKENZIE — Webb School Alumni Association is hosting its 52nd anniversary this Labor Day weekend at the historic black school on Walnut Avenue in McKenzie.

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Webb School Alumni Hosts 52nd Homecoming

Posted
McKENZIE — Webb School Alumni Association is hosting its 52nd anniversary this Labor Day weekend at the historic black school on Walnut Avenue in McKenzie. The event includes a meet and greet, extended hours of the Webb School Museum, music and a dance, fashion show, annual picnic, and a dance.
 
Saturday’s activities include the opening of the museum, 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.; the annual dance, 6 to 10 p.m. and a meet and greet.
 
Sunday is the fashion show, 3 to 5 p.m.
 
Monday is the annual homecoming picnic, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., food trucks will provide BBQ sandwiches, grilled chicken, hot dogs. 
 
Webb School, an African-American school, located on Walnut Avenue in McKenzie, closed in the mid-1960s after a federal law requiring desegregation. 
 
The alumni of the school held their closed school in high esteem and choose to create an alumni association.
 
The first Alumni weekend was Labor Day, September 4, 1970. Acting General Chairman Roscoe McKenzie became the first National President, an office he held for 22 years. The group organized a General Assembly, wrote and adopted a National Constitution for the organization and obtained a charter from the State of Indiana on August 28, 1972, later acquiring a Certificate of Authorization from the Tennessee Secretary of State, which registered the organization to conduct business in Tennessee.
 
Many of the historically black high schools in the south were razed through the years. Only a few have the vibrant alumni association to maintain the history and memories. 
 
The Jim Crow rules in the South created separate but equal schools, segregating the blacks and whites during their educational experience. Webb School was the lone ‘black’ high school in the county. During the Jim Crow days, up to the mid-1960s, blacks had separate restrooms, separate entrances to buildings, and separate educational facilities.
 
Webb School served black students in first to 12th grade, however, there were primary and middle schools for blacks in Wingo, McLemoresville (Dunbar School), Atwood (Barker School), Huntingdon (Hale) and Trezevant (Clay School). The schools in Wingo, McLemoresville, Trezevant and Atwood were consolidated to MTA (McLemoresville, Trezevant, Atwood) in Atwood in the former West Carroll High School adjacent to West Carroll Schools’ central office.
 
Through Webb’s history in McKenzie, it had a farm for students to work and dorms for some of the teachers and students. The youngest alumni of the school are now in the early 60s. There are no new true alumni, just new honorary members.
 
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 the late 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 the 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, this allowed students to attend from outside the McKenzie area 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.
 
As school began in 1936, Webb School temporarily moved into the old Masonic Hall which was in need of repairs. Students and faculty made needed improvements as school was conducted for that academic year. Graduation took place at Enon Baptist Church.
 
While 1936 played out, Professor J.L. Seets and McKenzie Mayor Glen A. King worked behind the scenes to procure the abandoned McTyeire College grounds for the county school.
 
The former white college preparatory school included five brick buildings on a thirty-acre spread.
 
Professor Seets, with the help of Z.D. Atkins, used the federally funded National Youth Administration (NYA) program to make the school’s needed repairs.

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