Hilarious, well-versed Ladson opened with the historical journey.
Still, she related accessing an island tour and carving a way to enjoy lunch at the Ole Times Country Buffet.
The First Church Men’s Ministry of Palm Coast – under Pastor Gillard S. Glover – carried a busload to Georgia.
“The African Americans who built this schoolhouse knew from experience not to put any windows on the right (east) side of the building (due to hurricanes). That’s what we call Afro-ingenuity,” said Ladson.
The island was inhabited by three African American communities – Harrington, South End, and Jew Town – and the school had served each community. Harrington is the only community that remains.
Examining the island’s history, enslaved people came from the ancestral home of West Africa, by way of the Caribbean.
They were brought to what is now called the Golden Isles – the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor – taking in the coastlines of North and South Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. And, the descendants of these African tribes have maintained their culture and traditions.
The Harrington Graded School, built in the 1920s, remained open until 1954 as a public school for African Americans.
As a result of the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown vs. the Board of Education, “full integration in Glynn County did not happen until 1970,” affirmed Ladson.
“The African American students were bused to Brunswick, which was an-hour commute there, and an-hour commute back,” Ladson said.
The students attended Colored Memorial School, Risley Middle School and Risley High School.
Meeting hall, center
The Harrington Graded School reopened as a daycare facility in 1968 and remained open until 1970.
“The school has served as a meeting hall, a reception hall, a recruitment center.
“Miss Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers rehearsed and were recorded here by (both) Mr. Alan Lomax Sr. and Jr. (in the 1960s). And, Miss Zora Neale Hurston visited in 1935,” said Ladson.
Gaining everybody’s attention to the Sea Island of St. Simons is the mission of the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition, representing property owners and concerned citizens.
‘Taxed out, sold out’
With Isadora Hunter founding the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition on Oct. 11, 2000, at the First African Baptist Church on the island, the coalition’s three-focus, improvement elements are based on preserving, educating and revitalizing the St. Simons Island African American Communities.
Through tour guides/volunteers like Ladson, the coalition calibrates the rational, “Don’t ask us. We are not selling our property. Thank you, and please do not come again,” said Ladson.
Before the 1930s, the island was 90 to 95% African American.
“We are now down to about 5 to 6% of African Americans here on our island,” she said.
“After 1930, the African Americans began to be bought out, taxed out, sold out, and bullied out of their places of residence,” Ladson reflected.
The schoolhouse itself has withstood a test: In 2010, the building was put on the “places of peril’’ list for demolition. The money raised by the coalition was not enough.
Patricia “Patti’’ Deveau of Atlanta saved the building, raising over $300,000, founding the Friends of Harrington School, the fund-raising arm of the coalition.
“And, we reopened in 2017 as a cultural center,” Ladson added. Emphasizing the state of affairs, Ladson said, “What we do here is we raise awareness, and we also raise funds.”
The upcoming Third Annual Memorial Day Celebration: When They See Us, and the 43rd Georgia Sea Islands Festival of June 5 and 6 have both been canceled due to COVID-19.
So, if you desire to make a donation to the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition, the contact address is P.O. Box 20145, St. Simons Island, Georgia 31522, or call 912-634-0330.
As always, remember our prayers for the sick, afflicted, the prodigal son, or daughter, and the bereaved.
Belated birthday wishes to Kevin Senior, April 23; Carolyn Able, Joan Bennett-Walker, April 24; Carolyn Bridges, Dorothy “Boobi” Robinson, April 26; and Jimmy Morrison, April 28.
Birthday wishes to Les Town, April 30; David Eurie, May 1; Joy Ragoonan, May 2; Carl Davis, May 3; Shirley Day and Gloria Benjamin, May 4.