Friday, January 30, 2009

Black History Month: Lincoln School of Marion, Alabama (1867-1970)

Lincoln Normal School (Lincoln School) here in Marion, Alabama, operated from 1867 until 1970, when it was closed due to school consolidation following court-ordered desegregation in Marion and Perry County.

The school was incorporated in 1867 as “The Lincoln School of Marion” by recently-freed African Americans in Marion and Perry County. The school later entered into an agreement (1868) with the American Missionary Association (A.M.A.), which was affiliated with the Congregational Church. The associated Lincoln Normal University for Teachers, a state venture by 1874, moved to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1887, and later became Alabama State University. The primary department of the school eventually went public and became state by about 1960.

Every successful institution has at least someone who came, led, and sacrificed everything – including their lives - for the benefit of the institution. That someone for the Lincoln School appears to have been Mary E. Phillips (later, Thompson), a Pennsylvanian, who came as Lincoln’s sixth principal in 1896, and who stayed and served under the most trying circumstances until her death in 1927. Phillips Memorial Auditorium was dedicated in her honor in 1939.

Mary Elizabeth Phillips Thompson (1855-1927), a member of the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame at Judson College. (Credit: Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame)

Phillips Memorial Auditorium was dedicated in 1939 in honor of Mary E. Phillips (Thompson), who served Lincoln School from 1896 until her death in 1927. (Credit: The City of Marion, Alabama)

The Lincoln School, which was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, was noted for its high percentage of graduates over the years, and for the remarkable number of its alumni who went on to complete advanced degrees, including a goodly number of doctorates. Among its many graduates who have distinguished themselves in all walks of life, perhaps their most famous graduate is the late Coretta Scott King (1927-2006), wife of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, the slain Civil Rights leader.

Coretta Scott (far left, front) as a new member of Lincoln School’s Little Chorus, 1942-1943. (Credit: Marion Chapter, Lincolnite Club, Inc.)

Coretta Scott, who was born and raised in Perry County some nine miles from Marion in North Perry, attended the one-room Crossroad School (a daily five-mile walk) before entering the Lincoln Normal School. She graduated in the Class of 1945 as the Valedictorian, and attended Antioch College in Ohio. Later, while studying voice at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA, she met a young doctoral student in theology at Boston University, Martin Luther King. They were married at her family’s home outside of Marion in 1953.

The home of Obadiah and Bernice Scott near North Perry, some nine miles from Marion. (Credit: Terry Barkley, MMI Archives)

All that is left of the Cross Road School (1896-1969) at Mt. Nebo AME Zion Church where Coretta Scott attended. (Credit: Terry Barkley, MMI Archives)

Coretta Scott King, with family and friends, attending the funeral of her father, Obie Scott, at the Mt. Tabor AME Church in North Perry in 1998. Mayor Ed Daniel of Marion is presenting Mrs. King with a proclamation honoring her father for his prolonged service to Marion and Perry County. (Credit: The City of Marion, Alabama)

Coretta Scott sang in a jewel of Lincoln School, the Little Chorus, a musical group which toured many Northern states. Here is a playbill from Cincinnati, Ohio. (Credit: Marion Chapter, Lincolnite Club, Inc.)

The Lincoln School was closed in May, 1970 – after 103 years - when its high school students were consolidated in the newly-built and racially-integrated Francis Marion High School. The 100th Anniversary of Lincoln School had been celebrated on May 7, 1967.

One of the few buildings not demolished on the campus – Phillips Memorial Auditorium – is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Lincoln Memorial Museum opened in 2002 and is operated by the Lincolnite Club, Inc., which maintains both the auditorium and the museum.

The Lincolnite Club, Inc., also oversees the school’s national alumni chapters and the biennial reunions of students; the 17th Biennial Reunion was held in Marion in 2008.

State historical marker for the Lincoln School (behind a high security fence). (Credit: Terry Barkley, MMI Archives)