Historical marker

Participating in the unveiling of the Randolph County Training School historical marker are (from left) Gene Thornton, Councilwoman Tammi T. Holley, Roy Terry and Councilman Mack Arthur Bell.

In the autumn sun those remembering Randolph County Training School attended a ceremony unveiling the Alabama Historical Association marker Tuesday afternoon.

The school that had a major influence on thousands was remembered as an idea more than a building. RCTS was chartered on Sept. 15, 1919. It opened in autumn of 1920 with 73 students enrolled.

Gene Thornton, who came back to Randolph County after retirement to farm his father's old homeplace, spoke since his brother, Dr. Alvin Thornton of the class of 1967, was held up at Howard University. Gene said his brother, senior academic advisor to the president of Howard University, had just returned from China and had to attend an annual meeting.

Gene gave a history of the two-story wooden school building that cost $14,700, a significant amount in that time. It was one of 12 Rosenwald schools. He said in the wake of slavery many African-Americans were illiterate and people knew they had to be educated. That is why some of the government organizations contributed.

Matching funds were needed and parents sold cattle and cotton and worked to raise funds to contribute.

Negroes gave $5,000; whites gave $2,000, city and county government contributed $5,900 and the famed Rosenwald School Foundation gave $1,800. Some families contributed as much as $5,000, he said, rolling off names of the families such as Bailey, Bell, Cofield, Coleman, Doye, Dozier, Gates, Johnson, Riley, Pool, Phillips, Rosser, Shealey, Thompson and Zachery, among many others.

Booker T. Washington's wife ran the program that built the early Rosenwald schools, 5,000 schools, from 1912 to 1932, he said. It was built under the supervision of Tuskegee University. The architecture school there designed the building.

In 1943 the original wood building burned and another was built to replace it in 1948. African-Americans built the school, donating their time and materials.

Thornton is a graduate of 1962, one of ten Thorntons and their mother who attended the school. His father was a school bus driver for the school. "We are heavily involved in this school. The building was never the school. The school was the spirit of the students, the teachers, the administrators, and the lives of the descendants of those who attended RCTS," he said.

Councilwoman Tammi T. Holley said ctually unveiling the marker "feels wonderful. I'm a part of this history in two ways: I attended school here in the first grade. Then I am part of the historic unveiling and dedicating of the marker today."

Also part of the ceremony was Councilman Mack Arthur Bell, who said he attended first through third grade at the school. "This is a wonderful moment, a historic moment not just for the people who attended but for the county as a whole," he said.

The school closed in 1970 due to a federal court order saying Brown versus Board of Education had not been implemented. This was the school's last class and the building was out of date. It became part of the Terry Manufacturing facility.

Alumni, teachers, administrators, students and descendants of those try to get together every two years, and there is never a cross word between Bulldogs, he said. They are marking the private legacy of the school and want to make sure the kids of Randolph County know they care about them and give scholarships to graduates every year.

Anyone wanting more information can find the history in "Behind These Silent Walls" which RCTS alumni put together or to get one of the CDs available or go to the rctsfoundation.org website. Events and history is listed there, he said.

Holley and Roy Terry unveiled the historical marker, and she introduced Randolph County School Superintendent Rance Kirby, who spoke.

"Randolph County Training School was a beacon of light in Randolph County at a time when injustice and unfairness was prevalent in the South, and much of the nation," Kirby said.

"So many people rose above the oppression of the times because of Randolph County Training School. Many local leaders and leaders in other parts of the country and world attained their knowledge and leadership skills at RCTS… or are direct descendants of RCTS alumni. Many of these descendants may not even realize this, and that is one reason we are here today."

He thanked the Alabama Historical Society, the city of Roanoke, and Randolph County for realizing the important contribution that Randolph County Training School made, and continues to make, to education in Randolph county. He said the leaders in Randolph County are working together better than they have ever before.

Mayor Mike Fisher said, "It's something we all worked on as a council together. It is respectful of RCTS. I am very proud of it."

People who went there still live in Roanoke and many who went there return to Roanoke for reunions and other activities, he said.

Holley recognized Roanoke Superintendent Chuck Marcum and Donna Hodges and Kim Hendon of Roanoke City Schools and thanked them for coming.

She expressed her thanks to Dr. Alvin Thornton and Roy Terry for their help with the history on the marker.

Program participants included the invocation by the Rev. L.B. Houston and the benediction delivered by the Rev. B.J. Jackson.

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