the beebe school (beebe, Arkansas)

IMG_3473-4.jpg

Built: 1944

Property Owner: City of Beebe

GPS Location: 35.074544, -91.872990

Interests: Black History, Education History, Church History

Project Details: Replace Roof, Interior Restoration

Photo donated to the WCHS by Jennifer McDonough.

Or you can send a check to PO Box 537, Searcy, Arkansas 72145 with "Beebe School" as the memo

History of the Beebe school

European settlement in the area that is now White County began around the 1820s, “and by the date of the organization of the county, 1836, all parts of the territory composing it were more or less sparsely settled.”  The act for the creation of White County was approved by the Territorial Legislature on October 23, 1835, and the organization of the county was completed early in 1836.  The first session of the county court was held at David Crise’s house, which was located three and a half miles east of Searcy.  However, within a couple years, the county seat was moved to Searcy and the first session of the court was held there in November 1838.  By 1840, the county’s population was 920 people, and it grew to 2,619 people in 1850, 8,316 people in 1860, 10,347 people in 1870, and 17,794 people in 1880.

The construction of the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad through White County in the early 1870s led to development of new towns in the county, including Beebe.  Goodspeed noted that Beebe “began to build in the spring of 1872 (upon the completion of the railroad), but did not improve much until 1880, when it had reached a population of 428, and since then it has more than doubled in population.”  By the early 1890s, Beebe had grown substantially, and Goodspeed reported that:

 

It has ten general, four grocery, three drug, two hardware, one furniture, two millinery and one notion store; also the White County Bank, two hotels, several boarding houses, two meat markets, two blacksmith and wagon shops, one saw and grist mill combined, two cotton-gins, two livery stables, railroad depot, postoffice [sic.], one photograph gallery, a fruit evaporator, five church edifices for the white and two for the colored people, a public school-house, five physicians, a dentist, two weekly newspapers, etc., etc.  …  It is incorporated and has a full line of corporate officers.  It also has lodges of the Masonic and Odd Fellow fraternities.

By the late 1880s, White County already had an African-American student population, although it was small in size compared to the white students.  According to Goodspeed’s Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Eastern Arkansas, the student population in White County was “White, males 3,384, females 3,173, total 6,557; colored, males 410, females 404, total 814.  Number of pupils taught in the public schools:  White, males 2,159, females 1,971, total 4,150; colored, males 295, females 283, total 578.” Goodspeed further noted that “Assuming these statistics to be correct, only 63 per cent of the white and 71 per cent of the colored scholastic population were taught in the public schools.” By 1891, there were 124 white teachers and 21 black teachers in White County.

 

Little is known about the buildings that would have been used for the education of African Americans during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  However, it is known that in the late 1920s, three schools for African-American students were built in White County with assistance from the Julius Rosenwald Fund.  The White County Training School, a four-teacher school, and the Mountain View School, a one-teacher school, were both funded with grants during the Rosenwald Fund’s 1928-1929 budget year, while the West Point School, a two-teacher school, was funded during the Rosenwald Fund’s 1929-1930 budget year. Even though the Rosenwald Fund only built three schools in White County, and over a short period of time, other African-American schools were built in the county, specifically the Beebe Colored School, which was built in 1944.

 

The Beebe School, located at 802 East Idaho Street, was built on August 24, 1944 by Gilbreath & Swann at the intersection of South Apple and East Idaho streets facing the Missouri Pacific Railroad tracks. The property is significant because it served as a school for African American students during the era of “separate but equal,” and it later served the community as a church. Before 1944, a larger one-room black schoolhouse stood on this property, but that was torn down to be replaced by the current building.  From 1944 to 1956, black students attended grades 1 through 7 at the Beebe School. Once they finished the 7th grade, students moved on to either Searcy or Little Rock to complete school.  Mrs. Alsie Smith and Mrs. Rachel B. Smith were two teachers known to have taught at the school. In 1956, the Beebe School was shut down and black students were picked up at the Abington House located across the street from the school and bussed by Mr. Oliver to the White County Training School in Searcy, which was the black school of Searcy, until Searcy schools were integrated in 1964.

 

On July 29th, 1961, Ozier Moore was awarded the property by the Beebe Special School District after he provided the winning bid of $777.00. The building was then used in the following years by a church. By 1987, the building had fallen in disrepair and was being used by Les Cossey as storage for his backhoe business. Beginning in the early 2000s, Beebe historian Richard White (now deceased) advocated for the rehabilitation of the Beebe Colored School, ultimately nominating it to Preserve Arkansas’s Most Endangered Places List in 2010. In December of 2019, the Moore family sold the property to the City of Beebe for $1.00 in the hopes that the building could be saved. On August 27, 2021, the White County Historical Society voted to restore the building and begin fundraising.

 

The Beebe School building is the last example of a segregated school for black students in White County. This makes the landmark extremely valuable for the local African-American community as well as the entire county.

- Taken from the Arkansas Register of Historic Places form (Beebe Colored School (arkansasheritage.com))

Project Updates

June 26, 2021

Beebe City Council votes to demolish the Beebe Schoolhouse.

August 23, 2021

Beebe City Council voted to retain ownership of the property and to stop the demolition of the building. WCHS fundraising has officially started!

August 2, 2022

Arkansas Craftsman Building and Management Inc began repairs to the roof.

August 3, 2022

The Beebe Colored School was added to the Arkansas Register of Historic Places.

 
 

the beebe school (beebe, Arkansas)