Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.


Morning Star, July 24, 2005 pg. 5

It is interesting to see the how the mural project is progressing in Holland Park, near the site of the West Ward elementary school which was in use until 1953. This is an imaginative way of perpetuating the rich heritage of the families that grew up and went to school there in the neighborhood.

Shortly after the Albion Public Schools was organized (1867), there were three elementary schools that were erected in three of the four wards in town in 1869: North, East, and South. Back then, our town was divided into wards, rather than precincts like they are today. By the early 1870s, Albion experienced an influx of immigrants and workers who settled on the western side of the city. Many of these were of German ancestry who worked at the Gale Manufacturing Company downtown, which later located itself across the street from the school. Neighborhood residents circulated a petition which put the question of erecting a schoolhouse in their area to the voters. The proposal was approved by just 15 votes.

West Ward School was constructed in the summer of 1873 at a cost of $2,000. This two-room schoolhouse was erected on N. Albion Street between Cass and Washington Sts. A look at a list of student names in the late 1880s reveals the German ethnic background of the students, with surnames such as: Boldt, Kopp, Frederick, Beilfuss, Grundeman, Braden, Hoffman, Porr, Bearman, Hahn, and others attending there.

By World War I, the population on the western side of town had grown to a point to where a larger elementary school was needed. Ground was broken in 1916 for a new elementary school on the property of the late Charles W. Dalrymple between Ann St. and Dalrymple Boulevard. Due to various delays however, that school was not completed for two years, and finally opened on January 2, 1918.

In the meantime, the Albion Malleable Iron Company had recruited numerous African-American men beginning in November, 1916, and throughout 1917. As their families eventually came to live here, their children were sent to the “Colored Church” on W. Cass St. at Culver St. for schooling. The teacher was Mrs. Lena Cable, who was hired on October 3, 1917. The white children who had been attending West Ward that fall were transferred to the new Dalrymple School when it opened on January 2, 1918. The children at the Colored Church were thereby transferred to West Ward School, and thus it became an all-black facility. A two-room addition was built onto West Ward School in 1919 at a cost of $7,500 in order to accommodate the increased number of students.

Mrs. Cable taught grades 1 and 2, and Angel Ferguson taught grades 3-4. The school board hired Mrs. Cable’s husband Robert as principal in 1920, and he taught grades 5-6. He was Albion’s first official black school administrator.

The segregation of the school created problems as the years progressed. One source states, “West Ward School was described as being dark, damp, small and cheerless. In one teacher’s opinion the limited supplies and equipment that were available to the school were discarded from the other elementary schools.” The issue came to a head when Lena Cable Holmes retired in June, 1953, and black parents demanded that the school be closed. At the beginning of the 1953-54 school year, area parents, led by Rev. Marion Wheeler and Robert Holland, Sr., and others, staged a boycott of classes which lasted several weeks. Finally, on October 20, the school board voted to close West Ward School and send students elsewhere.

The schoolhouse was demolished in March, 1958, and the property was sold to the City of Albion for $1.00 on February 11, 1969. The site was developed into Holland Park, named in honor of Mr. Holland who was one of the persons who led the drive to get West Ward School closed. The painting of the mural in Holland Park will serve as a reminder to those of the present generation of the struggle for racial equality here in Albion and of some specific leaders from past generations who were a part of that quest.

From our Historical Notebook this week we present a scene from that October, 1935 16 mm. black and white silent film of the Albion Public Schools, featuring the 4th grade class at West Ward School. The teacher in the center is Ruth Ferguson (1900-1971), who began her career at West Ward in 1926, and taught there until it closed. She continued her career at Crowell School, where she retired in 1965. On the left is Donald Moody (1926-1946), who is looking up while reading a book. He went into the service in 1943 during World War II and died near Bremen, Germany at the age of 20 in October, 1946. He is buried in Riverside Cemetery. The boy on the right is James Johnson, who is helping to hold some cloth which the girl students were using to sew that day, as seen in the rest of this film clip. How many of our readers remember West Ward School?

In the 4th grade class at West Ward School, teacher Ruth Ferguson with students Donald Moody and James Johnson

More about the WEST WARD SCHOOL


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