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C.E. Hanna School Hobson city, AL

C.E. Hanna School wears the name of a rich history
By Amanda M. DeWald
Star Staff Writer

The school known in recent years as C.E. Hanna Elementary was once the only Calhoun County school where black students could learn industrial trades.

HOBSON CITY - The black vote was stirring local elections in the late 1890s, when Oxford redrew its city limits and chopped out Mooree Quarters. The nation's first black municipality was incorporated in 1899, when the displaced residents formed Hobson City.

Education soon became a priority for the new town's leadership. Twenty miles to the northeast, in White Plains, Professor C. Edgar Hanna ran an elementary school. The city sent a committee there to recruit him to help them found a new school.

Like the subjects in most turn-of-the-century photographs, C.E. Hanna is not smiling in his portrait. For Almeta Jackson - now 81 and still of Hobson City - Principal Hanna impressed other images into her mind as a young student at his school.

"He lived second house up from us on Washington Street," she remembers. "He always had some change rattling in his pocket, and when he talked to you, you had to look at him.

"Some people, when they're talking, they really know how to look at you."

Built in 1905, the school was on Lincoln Street. The Hobson City and Oxford Academy had one teacher, paid $25 a month.

"People from Heflin, Bynum, Ohatchee, White Plains sent their children to that school to board at the county's only high school for blacks," says William Hutchings, current principal of what is now C.E. Hanna Elementary School.

Calhoun County Commissioner James "Pappy" Dunn recalls that Hobson City's mayor, who lived across the street from the school, boarded three or four students in his own home on an average week.

After fire destroyed the original Lincoln Street school, a proposal for a new building came from the North through the Rosenwald Initiative, a program begun in 1917 by Sears Roebuck's President Julius Rosenwald to build schools for black Americans across the South.

To match Rosenwald's offer of $2,900, Hanna raised $2,500 for the school in increments of $5 to $25. His public appeal petitioned "each man and woman, boy or girl . for one day's earning of each month."

Local organizations like the Masons and the women's clubs, churches and the baseball team all contributed. The Town of Hobson City was the biggest investor, donating $75. Private citizens gave shingles, nails, lumber, lime, or glass.

Named Calhoun County Training School, the new structure went up in 1923 on Park Avenue, now Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

Today many Rosenwald schools are gone, but campaigns to preserve the historic structures are under way in Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina and Arkansas. Although greatly modified, Hobson City's Rosenwald school still was holding classes in 2006.

"Hanna believed in industrial education," Dunn says. In a small shop on the school's grounds, Hanna taught boys the trades - when he wasn't being principal.

The school gained recognition from the state and county for its teaching of manual trades: bricklaying, carpentry, sewing and bicycle mechanics.

"Those were black trades," Hutchings says. "People knew them from the experience of slavery, and the school passed them on."

A devoutly religious man, Hanna also was the Sunday school superintendent at New Hope Baptist Church.

Hutchings, then a young boy at New Hope, recalls, "He used to love 'What a Friend We Have in Jesus,' and he used to yell 'Sing, children, sing!' and, boy, we'd be getting' down."

Hanna believed in discipline, but rather than demanding, he commanded respect. According to Dunn, who taught at the school for more than 25 years, the students felt Hanna's support and responded with deference.

Hanna believed in the development of the whole child. Although the school had no gymnasium or no lunchroom, he did a lot with the little he had. He made sure the community pulled together at events like Fall Festival, and he gave Dunn the mandate to build a football team.

"I went to Fort McClellan and talked to the captain of their team," Dunn remembers. "Next day, the captain came down to the school in a GI truck loaded down with uniforms."

Although the biggest of Dunn's boys was a good 50 pounds too skinny for the uniform of any well-built Army sergeant, they wrapped those uniforms twice around and made do. Down at the 10th Street shoe shop, the shoemaker improvised cleats.

Coach Dunn gave the boys his own football with which to play - although he never told them it was the same ball he had been given in his senior year, when he was Alabama State's captain and his team defeated rival Tuskegee.

That was in 1936, the same year Professor Hanna had come to Montgomery in person to bring James Dunn back as a math and science teacher for his school.

More than 30 years after the first classes had been held on "The Hill" at the original Lincoln Street site, black students still traveled from distant towns to attend the Calhoun County Training School.

"Our students from Wellington and Branchville never did see the daylight in the winter," recalls Dunn, now 88, as he sits behind his desk in the County Administration Building. "They started the journey before daybreak and would not leave the school before dark."

With many of its teachers overseas fighting World War II, Hobson City again watched its school burn in 1942.

Principal Hanna's students did not miss a day of school.

The following morning, classes were held in New Hope Baptist Church's basement, and there they continued for the rest of the year until the school reopened in 1943.

"Always carry an umbrella," Hanna used to say. "Be prepared at all times."

Hanna died in 1960, before desegregation and before he became the school's namesake. When CCTS desegregated under federal court mandate in 1972, it was paired with the schools in Oxford.

It was changed to an elementary school serving grades K-3. Oxford's white students in those grades were bused to Hobson City. Hobson City's older elementary and secondary students were bused to Oxford.

Oxford City Schools bought CCTS from the Calhoun County school system in 1987. William Hutchings had been principal for only one year.

That's when a lot of big changes took place, according to Hobson City's current mayor, Ralph Woods. Central air and heat were installed. The school was given Hanna's name.

This August, a new C.E. Hanna Elementary School opens behind Oxford Middle School. The old building will house Hobson City's municipal offices, the council chamber and courtroom.

Some organizations, like World Changers, have been housed in the old school temporarily. Much of the remaining space is available, and Woods hopes to fill some community needs with businesses willing to take a chance on Hobson City.

"Right now, we have to go outside for everything," he said. "Whether we want milk and eggs, a place to grab a hamburger, or a doctor, we have to leave Hobson City."

Woods said one major reason businesses have not moved to Hobson City is lack of available space. The old C.E. Hanna building presents a new type of opportunity - a chance to revitalize the town.

"The building is a part of the community," says Katie Ruth Pyles, wife of former Mayor Robert Pyles.

Mrs. Pyles is the secretary of the Calhoun County Training School reunion, which brings together CCTS students dating to 1923, when it broke ground to create early generations of educated black Americans.

Over the years, the school has graduated many who went on to success in their fields, including Dr. David Satcher, the U.S. Surgeon General under President Clinton.

"My father was to (the school) what Booker T. Washington was to Tuskegee," says Hanna's son, Edgar. "This school is to Hobson City what Tuskegee Institute is to Tuskegee."

Oxford has honored that sentiment, and although the new elementary school sits directly behind Oxford Middle School, the site is in Hobson City. The $7.2 million school is a far cry from the wooden structure built with the $2,500 Hanna raised to match Rosenwald's offer.

Principal Hutchings has high hopes the facility can serve the children of Oxford and Hobson City in ways that the old building couldn't. He will retire next year, ushering in more change.

"I promised the parents and the teachers - I said 'I'm gonna take you to the Promised Land,' and I did," Hutchings says. "Now it's time to turn me loose."

About Amanda M. DeWald Amanda M. DeWald is a staff writer for The Anniston Star. She is also a Knight Fellow.
Contact Amanda M. DeWald Phone:


256- 235-3552.

Messages In This Thread

C.E. Hanna School Hobson city, AL
Re: C.E. Hanna School Hobson city, AL

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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