By Dana Stubbs – Special to the Navarro County Gazette
In 1871, the twenty-two year old city of Corsicana, Texas boasted a school for the African American community of 100 students. Their teacher/principal was Reverend Z. T. Pardee, who was assisted by several other preachers in the area. Within the next five years this school had grown so much that Reverend Pardee needed full-time help. That help came in the way of a twenty-three year old George W. Jackson. Mr. Jackson had been teaching in the modest log cabin school on the Colbert plantation south of Kerens, Texas at Wadeville.
At this time, the schools in the city were under the leadership of individuals or private schools. In the late 1870s, the State of Texas levied taxes for the support of independent school districts. By 1880, the African American school in Corsicana was overflowing as were the other schools in town. The Corsicana city council met in the summer of 1880 where decisions were made to attempt to take advantage of the new laws and build new public high schools to keep up with the growing population.
Professor J. T. Hand, Brenham, Texas, was elected superintendent for the public schools. For the white student’s high school, the city purchased land from a Mr. Roberts. This land was about two blocks out from the original Corsicana city limits and six blocks west of the Navarro County courthouse. Mrs. Noonan owned the property which was needed for a right-of-way to the school. Once the Noonan tract was acquired, the school was built.
On what later became East Fifth Avenue, about nine blocks east of the Navarro County courthouse, the city obtained a block of land from Captain Angus for an African American school. In order to raise the funds to erect the new high school buildings the City Attorney was asked to draw up an ordinance for the issue of bonds. Incidentally, at the same time, plans for a new courthouse was also in the works.
For the new educational undertaking, Corsicana hoped to secure a portion of the Peabody fund. This fund was set up by George Peabody in 1867 to provide monies for “construction, endowments, scholarships, teacher and industrial education for newly freed slaves” across the South. The Colored High School of Corsicana was among the very first built high schools for African Americans in the State of Texas.
The new “handsome two story houses of education, containing spacious rooms and well equipped in every particular” opened for business on Monday, September 11, 1882, with all new furniture and equipment. George W. Jackson was the principal with Misses F. L. Hall and G. A. Green as teachers for the school which could accommodate a census of 300 students.
You might ask… who was the principal of the Colored High School in Corsicana, Texas?
One of thirteen children, George Washington Jackson was born on Aug. 15, 1856. He, along with his older siblings, learned to read and write at a night school which had been organized by the white teachers of Lee County, Alabama.
Anderson Jackson, his father, was a slave preacher. After emancipation Reverend Jackson became a popular evangelist who helped found the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (CMEC). Their former owner regarded the Jacksons with such fondness he gave them a house to live in after independence.
In 1872, at age sixteen, George W. Jackson passed his teaching examination. He first taught at a public school in Russell County, Alabama. The next year he was able to return to his home in Lee County, Alabama, where he taught for several years.
In 1876 George and his brother, William, moved to Navarro County, Texas, reportedly in search of their father’s brothers who were described as living in the area. William Jackson moved back to Lee County, Alabama, to care for their mother and younger siblings after the death of their father on Jan. 12, 1878. William never returned to Corsicana as he continued to care for their younger siblings after the untimely death of their mother in July of 1878.
The Jackson couple were laid to rest at the Mount Zion CME Church Cemetery at Smith’s Station, Alabama. George Jackson remained in Navarro County, Texas, as he had taken the teaching position at the little log cabin at the Colbert plantation.
In 1880 the country teacher resigned his position in the Corsicana area to enter Fisk University in Tennessee. However, news of the new colored high school in Corsicana brought him back to Texas before he finished his education. On opening day in 1882, he was at the helm of the new Colored High School of Corsicana. Once the first year of the school was completed, Jackson left Corsicana to wrap up his higher education. W. H. Scott stepped in as principal the years Jackson was absent.
Professor G. W. Jackson came back to Corsicana and served his school and community with determination to promote the betterment for each and every student and resident. Through the years of development, growth and the additions of classes it was in 1889, at the Corsicana City Hall on Main Street, Miss Celia Bragg became the first student to receive a diploma.
From its organization in 1884, Professor Jackson was involved in the Texas State Colored Teacher’s Association. During their earlier history, this association held several of their conventions within the city limits of Corsicana.
Remaining true to his convictions for better education Professor Jackson served on a Texas State Colored Teacher’s Association committee which, in 1891, called upon Texas’ Governor Jim Hogg for “establishing a state university for the colored youth of Texas.” There were a handful of private, mostly church affiliated, African American colleges in the state. At this time, Prairie View State Normal School was the only state funded higher education facility. However, Prairie View did not accommodate classical and scientific studies until after the turn of the twentieth century.
Professor Jackson had always admired Booker T. Washington’s educational leadership in Alabama. He pushed to bring Washington’s learning system to his school in Corsicana which he did in 1905 with the opening of the Industrial Departments. In the boys’ industrial workshop students were trained in construction and home repair. The girls’ were trained in cooking and sewing. Because of the quality of these new departments some residents of Dallas sent their children on the train to attend the Colored High School in Corsicana.
In 1911, Booker T. Washington included Corsicana on his tour of Texas. He was met by a crowd at the train depot as his special coach arrived from Waco at 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 1. After a delectable luncheon at the Eastside Odd Fellows Hall Mr. Washington delivered his “mission of peace and good will between the races” speech to about 500 Corsicanans at Booster Park. His talk ended as scheduled but his party missed their train to Fort Worth and his next appointment. Perhaps Professor Jackson was showing off his school and industrial departments?
Prior to 1912 the schools of the city were simply referred to as Wards. In 1912 they were given names. The white student’s schools were given names to honor men who served in Texas’ military service. The Colored High School was given the name of Fred Douglass.
The Fred Douglass school building had a great fire which rendered the classrooms useless. The city built two brick rooms with several small frame buildings to use until 1924. That year the city passed bonds for the erection of four new schools; a new school for African American students; two ward schools, William B. Travis and Sam Houston, and a new high school for white students.
The new school for African Americans was given the name of G. W. Jackson School to honor the little country school teacher who came to help so many years earlier and pushed the first Colored High School in Corsicana to the top of the class in the state. To dedicate the new G. W. Jackson School in style, a flag raising ceremony with dinner on the grounds, speakers, and a great music program was held on May 9, 1924.
On Thursday, Sept. 18, 1924, the Corsicana schools opened for the new semester. All the new schools were equipped with slate blackboards, built-in teachers’ locker bookcases and other permanent features.
The G. W. Jackson School had all the modern conveniences and an auditorium with the seating capacity for 500. G. W. Jackson was still the principal with Frank L. Fletcher, V. H. Brown, N. H. Pendleton, Mrs. V. Middlebrooks, L. E. Lister, Mrs. N. L. Perry, Mrs. O. C. Jones, Mrs. T. Morris-Knox, A. F. Nelson, and Mrs. P. W. Sanders as teachers.
Professor Jackson continued at the helm of the school for several years. He retired in 1927 and turned the wheel of the school to his only child, Beecher Jackson. However, young Jackson left Corsicana the next year for New York where he eventually retired from the New York City Post Office.
In Corsicana, after retirement, Mr. Jackson turned his focus on his second passion and accepted the chair of the Grand Master of the Colored Odd Fellows of Texas. He was also a Knight of Pythias and Mason. He died on July 22, 1940 and was laid to rest in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Corsicana. His first wife, Annie, died after the birth of their son. His second wife, Mattie, survived him for fourteen years. She and her daughter, Tecumseh, both taught for many years at the school.
The changing times of segregation closed the doors of the old school in 1970 but not before thousands of student walked the halls of old Jackson High then went on into the world to make their mark.
G. W. Jackson, the man and the school are shining lights of Corsicana’s history that shall not be forgotten. They left a legacy of pride and honor among their graduates and seven football state championships.