Gartrell Agee remembers learning to make bread and sew in this kitchen. In 1946 she was a first grader here at the Baldwin County Training School in Daphne, created in 1889 as a place for African American children to finish their education – the only place in Baldwin County they were allowed to attend.
She remembers the sights and sounds of the school with precision and clarity. Today, after serving for decades as a principal and teacher in Baldwin County Schools she strives to make sure her alma mater, now a museum, keeps the spirit and memory of its founders alive.
“They had the foresight to know the importance of education and made so many sacrifices so we could become educated,” she said.
The school was built after the Eastern Shore Missionary Baptist Association, a collection of African American churches in the area, voted in 1892 to purchase 18 acres of land and create a school. At the time schools were segregated in the Daphne community. They were left to hold classes in churches and private homes with only the supplies they could gather.
A dormitory was built quickly after to accommodate students coming from across the county. Eventually about 10 buildings came and went on the property.
Bailey Yeldon Jr., the first black mayor of Daphne attended here. So did Vice Admiral Regina M. Benjamin, 18th surgeon general of the United States, during second grade.
By 1915 the churches had difficulty keeping up with the cost of the growing student body and sold the land and buildings to the board of education for $300. Even after the purchase, students here only received the hand-me-downs of other county schools, receiving books that were being discarded when the white schools received their new editions.
The school remained segregated and underwent several name changes until 1970 when it became desegregated as Daphne Junior High. The school would continue to serve students until a new intermediate school was built on the property in 2008. Its name – W.J. Carroll Intermediate, named for the man who served 32 years as Baldwin County Training School’s principal.
Now, the interior functions as a museum. There are rooms dedicated to the tools students used to learn field work, dormitory rooms that house typewriters and sewing machines donated by former students, an athletic hall to hail the school’s student athletes, a music room and of course the kitchen Agee fondly remembers.
Another room features news clippings, awards and photos of the school’s most successful students.
“We laugh and say they called it a training school because they thought they could only train us to pick cotton. We fooled them,” Agee said. “We do not want the spirit and values instilled in us by this school and our community and the people who made sacrifices to build this to ever be forgotten.”
The Baldwin County Training School Heritage Fest 91 Foundation operates an endowment fund to help keep the aging building in shape. The group also awards scholarships to descendants of early students.
Currently the organization is selling bricks in a newly minted brick walkway and patio. For $75 donors can inscribe names and graduation years in the bricks to help create a walkway of memories around the school. To purchase a brick or tour the museum, contact Agee at 510-0355.