Monday, May 17, 1999

School served blacks, Indians

Building is now a repository for town's history

Enquirer Contributor

        HARVEYSBURG — Education was a rare commodity for Southern Ohio's black children in the first half of the 19th century. Except in the Quaker settlement of Harveysburg.

        On Sunday, volunteers held an open house at the Harveysburg Black School, a reminder of the town's legacy of free schooling for African-Americans and other children of color.

        Jesse and Elizabeth Harvey, founders of Harveysburg, placed great value in learning. They established a seminary in the village soon after the settlement was established, and Mrs. Harvey taught white children there. There were no opportunities for African-Americans.

        “Mrs. Harvey was concerned that there was no education for black children, so she and Dr. Harvey built a school for them,” said Lucy McCarren, a member of the Harveysburg Community Historical Society. “It was the first free school for black children in Ohio.”

        The school served children of color — American Indians and African-Americans — from 1831 until the early years of this century. It was partially supported by the Grove Monthly Meeting of Friends in Harveysburg.

        Teachers in the brick, one-room school welcomed children as first-graders, guided them through years of academic endeavor and awarded them their high school diplomas. When enrollment dwindled, black students were integrated into the Massie Township School.

        “There were plantation owners who sent black children to this school,” historical society member Kenneth Wilson said. One North Carolina slaveholder left money in his will to move the black children of his plantation to Harveysburg and educate them there.

        Mr. Wilson's mother, Viola Wilson, was the school's last student. His aunt, Mattie Bennett Wilson, gave the graduation oration in 1898.

        A copy of her speech is kept in the schoolhouse, along with photographs, textbooks, primers and historic documents. A portrait of George Washington hangs on one wall. Worn slate blackboards are set into the adjoining wall. A small cupola atop the roof shelters the school bell.

        After the school closed, the building was sold and converted into a home. In 1976, the Harveysburg Bicentennial Committee decided to acquire the old schoolhouse, restore it and open it to the public.

        Since then, the Harveysburg Black School has served as a repository of community history and meeting place for the historical society.

        To arrange a visit, call 897-6195.


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