Historical marker honors pivotal legacy

Published 12:07 am Monday, August 7, 2023

By Haley Mitchell Godwin

On Saturday, members of the community and beyond gathered to dedicate a historical marker honoring the legacy of the Crenshaw County Training School and Woodford Avenue High School.  The event paid homage to the pivotal role these educational institutions played in the African American community and served as a heartfelt tribute to the rich history and contributions of the school.

Over 60 people gathered for the unveiling ceremony, including alumni and other members of the community. Larry Robinson of Faith Baptist Church in Dozier opened the program, welcoming guests before John F. Harris, graduate of the Class of 1966, led the group in prayer. 

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Luverne Mayor Ed Beasley, and Crenshaw County Schools Superintendent Dodd Hawthorne, emphasized the historical importance of educating youth and acknowledging the school’s strong role in shaping the community.

“Crenshaw County Training School and Woodford Avenue High School educated many children that have gone on to accomplish great things, many having done so right here in the city of Luverne,” Beasley said. “The friendliest city would not be the place it is today without the contributions of many that were educated right here.”

Hawthorne’s affirmed that the day was intended to pay tribute to the past and embrace the present, and look forward to a promising future for the county.

“This is a special day,” Hawthorne said. “It is a big deal, and great for the county moving forward and for this site to be known as a historical site in the state of Alabama. I talk a lot about being difference makers and I thought about how many people in this facility made this place great, and really made a difference, differences in the lives of many of you..”

Crenshaw County Emergency Management Agency Director Elliot Jones emphasized the school’s legacy as a beacon of education and inspiration for all, despite the adversities staff and students faced.

“This magnificent school symbolizes our collective strength, our resilience, and our past that charted the course for a transformative future,” Jones said. “As we stand at the cusp of a historic moment cementing its place in our community’s history, let us not forget the monumental strides taken by the African American community following the era of desegregation. It is in the spirit of empowerment and equality that the desegregation laws were put into place, the first step to liberate our society from discriminatory walls.”

Several alumni reflected on their experiences at the school, recalling teachers and administrators who imparted life lessons along with arithmetic and grammar.

“We had so many great teachers and administrators, like Mr. John Wesley Williams, Mr. Rogers, Mrs. Lowery, Mr. Campbell, that taught me things like how important it is to be on time and be where you were supposed to be and do what you’re supposed to do, regardless of whether somebody is watching you or not,” said Ned Salter. “They taught me to always be responsible and that really paid off for me in the military. I walked off this property in 1959, 64 years ago, as a 16-year-old high school student with a solid educational background and the determination to improve my life. I always carried with me the things l learned here.” 

Betty Dawson, the city councilperson for District 1, played a vital role in championing the historical marker project. Dawson mentioned the idea to fellow councilperson Kathy Smith and, with Smith’s encouragement, Dawson spearheaded the project. In August 2022, the site was added to the register of historical sites in Alabama. 

“The information we needed was not on any computers so a lot of it was hard to get my hands on but so many were willing to help,” Dawson said. “This could not have happened without the love and support of the community and our donors. The reunion committee worked so very hard to raise the money needed to purchase the marker and the committee is so thankful for everyone that purchased ads and made donations.”

Dawson thanked others who were an integral part of the process. 

“I [want to] thank them all for what they did to make this happen and I especially want to thank my mentor, Yvonne Noble for always being there for me and for her community,” Dawson said.

The Crenshaw County Training School and Woodford Avenue High School was established in 1931 near Brookwood Street in Luverne. The school continued to serve the community until 1970 when statewide integration led to its closure, but its impact and cherished memories live on in the hearts of those who once walked its halls.