Alumni Recall Teachers and Community at First Reunion of Historic Black School in Madison County, Kentucky

Sharyn Mitchell, a Berea College archivist and former student at Middletown Consolidated School who organized Saturday's reunion, talks about the school's history and shows a bell that the school's only principal, her great-uncle Robert Henry Clay Mitchell Blythe, used to get students' attention. Tom Eblen teblen@herald-leader.com BY TOM EBLEN
Sharyn Mitchell, a Berea College archivist and former student at Middletown Consolidated School who organized Saturday’s reunion, talks about the school’s history and shows a bell that the school’s only principal, her great-uncle Robert Henry Clay Mitchell Blythe, used to get students’ attention. Tom Eblen teblen@herald-leader.com
BY TOM EBLEN

People old enough to remember segregated public schools recall the irony of the legal concept “separate but equal” that created them: They were always separate, but rarely equal.

From the day it opened in 1927 until it closed in 1963 when Madison County Schools were desegregated, Middletown Consolidated School was nicer than most black primary schools in rural Kentucky, if not equal to many white ones.

But the education received there was first-class, according to many of the more than 50 graduates and former students who attended Middletown’s first reunion Saturday.

“The teachers were fabulous; absolutely the best,” said Sandra Ballard Price, who came to the reunion carrying her eighth-grade diploma from 1957 and a newspaper photograph of her and classmates wearing caps and gowns.

“The things those teachers introduced us to; the expectations they had for us,” Price said. “The things they did with what they had.”

Price went on to graduate from Berea College and teach in public schools around the country where her husband was stationed in the military.

“The lessons I learned here really stuck with me,” she said. “The school was a major part in forming the foundation of my life.”

Pat Ballard, a 1959 graduate who also went on to Berea College, agreed. She recalled a strong sense of community — where school, church and family fostered expectations of success and inspired her to pursue a long career in social work.

“They were some of the best teachers I ever had,” she said. “Such loving and caring people.”

Michael White, who came back for the reunion from New Jersey, recalled the school’s strong sense of family. For him, it was literal: when he attended Middletown in the 1950s, all three teachers were related to him.

“I wasn’t able to get away with anything,” White said with a laugh, then fondly recalled how students helped oil the floors and bring coal up from the basement to feed the potbelly stoves.

“The education was tough, but I enjoyed coming here,” he said. “Classes were small, so you could observe the older students. It was individualized education.”

 

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Source: Kentucky.com | TOM EBLEN
teblen@herald-leader.com

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