Over the past few weeks I’ve been working on a project to document the history of the Coffee County Training School. This school, located in Enterprise, Ala., was once the only high school for black students. While researching, I found out that this school was in fact a Rosenwald School. At the urging of an employee from the Alabama Historical Commission, I submitted a proposal for a presentation at the National Rosenwald Schools Conference next June.
I have learned so much, namely how firmly entrenched my family was in education and in Coffee County.
The school opened in 1918 and my cousin, Elijah Tindel, was its first
principal. When the school burned down in 1938, my great-grandfather, J.E. Nance, sold the school board land so that the school could be rebuilt.
Interestingly enough, everyone I’ve talked to to get information about the school is related to to me. There was Burnice Brooks, who gave me a lot of context about the education of blacks in Coffee County. Right before we ended our conversation, he said to me, “Oh, we’re related too.” It turns out, his mother was a sister to Bud and Charley Brown, the two brothers of my great-great-grandmother, Flora Brown Gilley.
I later spoke with the president of the Coffee County Training School Alumni Association. She said her name was Dorothy Richardson. I didn’t find out until later that her name is Dorothy Whitehurst Richardson. Her father was my paternal grandmother’s older brother.
Dorothy showed me old photos of the school and I spotted my uncle, James Nance, my paternal grandfather’s youngest brother, suited up as a player on the school’s 1948 football team. She told me how the school’s teachers often boarded at my great-grandparents’ home, which was across the street from the school.
In a way, I feel like I’m picking up where my relatives left off. The information Dorothy gave to me was compiled by a committee that included my aunt, Myra Nance Riley, my paternal grandfather’s youngest sister, and Vernetta Clark DeRamus, whose grandmother–Henrietta Nance Clark— was my great-grandfather’s (J.E. Nance) older sister.
I don’t want their legwork to have been done in vain. This part of Enterprise’s history is important, but lives mostly in the fond memories and file cabinets of the people who lived it. It’s time for that to change.