Historic Harrington School: A Gem of African American History In A Beautiful Landscape

 

As Black History Month comes to a close, we wanted to highlight places like the Historic Harrington School that conserves an important piece of African American history on St.Simons Island, Georgia.  It was built in 1925 for the African-American community on the island and likely was part of a massive 1920s philanthropic movement to help such communities across the South establish schools so that black children could get an education.  Fortunately for the community, the School sits adjacent to the Harrington Community Park, which conserves ecologically sensitive wetlands, ponds that provide habitat for federally endangered wood storks and other native wildlife that are important to the region, providing another wonderful space for residents and visitors to enjoy.  

Why This Matters:  Local parks can and should celebrate the natural world and our history — both are an important part of the heritage that we want to pass down to future generations.  But it takes a committed community to preserve special places like the Historic Harrington School and the Harrington Community Park.  The schoolhouse eventually fell into disrepair after it was closed due to the Supreme Court’s decision requiring school integration.  In this case, a coalition of local groups — the St. Simons Land Trust (SSLT), Supporters of the Park at Harrington, St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition, and the Glynn County Commission, as well as several determined St. Simons residents, fought to save it.   This is the type of community-based conservation that we will need much more of going forward and it is a testament to this community that they have preserved both sites so well together.

The Harrington Community’s Rich History

According to the African American Heritage Coalition’s web site, the Harrington community used the school as a gathering place for Halloween apple-bobbing parties in the fall, plays and covered-dish dinners, and visits by Santa and Christmas exchanges. The community was settled by emancipated slaves who had worked on the plantations on St. Simons Island.  Census data from 1900, 1910 and 1920, stated that Harrison was at that time a vibrant community of sawmill workers and carpenters.  In July 1919, the County Board of Education approved the building of a “Rosenwald School” there — thousands of schools across the South were funded in part by Sears Chairman Julius Rosenwald. In the 1930s interviewers from the Georgia Writers Unit of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) came to St. Simons Island and published a report called “Drums and Shadow” that describe Harrington’s homes and residents. Lorenzo Dow Turner interviewed Harrington resident Belle Murray for his study of Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect (1949) and he recorded several songs for Lydia Parrish, author of Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands. In 1961 Alan Lomax filmed the original Georgia Sea Island Singers at the Camp located between North and South Harrington Road. These recordings are part of the Library of Congress and Smithsonian Folkways collection.

To Go Deeper:  You can read much more about the school and the efforts to restore it on the SSLT web site here.  And check out this podcast entitled “Been All Around This World” exploring folklorist Alan Lomax’s seven decades of field recordings through the American South with his father, John A. Lomax, beginning in 1933, to his last documentary work in the early 1990s.

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