D190924 carver school

The building now known as Horizon School is believed by local historians to be the first school in Alabama named after George Washington Carver. [JERONIMO NISA/DECATUR DAILY]

A school some local historians describe as one of Decatur’s most significant historic sites will get a permanent marker from the state on Jan. 5 at 2 p.m.

The former Carver Elementary School is still a "well-kept Decatur secret,” said Wylheme Ragland, a retired pastor and historian who has worked with author Peggy Towns to help secure a historical marker for the site.

Ragland said he hopes the Jan. 5 celebration "will be a beginning for total awareness of Decatur and the legacy of Dr. Carver in our city.”

The school on Church Street is named in honor of George Washington Carver, who was born a slave but became a botanist and a prominent scientist and inventor, as well as a teacher at Tuskegee Institute. His work with peanuts led to the creation of more than 100 products, including dyes, plastics and gasoline.

“This is a historical treasure,” retired judge David Breland, who is now director of historic resources and events for Decatur, said of the building.

Towns, who had family members to attend classes at the school, said Carver visited Decatur in 1935 and that Carver Elementary (known today as Horizon School) was named in his honor.

"It is believed to be the first African American school in Alabama named in honor of the well-known scientist," she said.

Towns said the school served black elementary students until Decatur integrated schools.

“There are a lot of former students still in Decatur and we hope they attend the Jan. 5 event,” she said.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, who secured funding for the marker, said the school meets specifications as a historic site.

Ragland started the campaign for the historical marker about six months ago after he found a 1938 editorial in The Decatur Daily that called for a marker to be placed at the school.

At some point in 1938, the city of Montgomery named a school in honor of Carver, according to newspaper accounts.

This is when the editorial appeared in The Daily saying, in part: "Decatur already has such a school, and The Daily still believes it would be a good idea to place a marker on the highway, close to the institution, so that visitors could observe it."

Carver closed as a neighborhood school in June 1966, in part because the black community known as Oklahoma was torn down, Towns said.

The school district used the site for storage until 1974, which the facility reopened as a developmental center. Since 1992, the site has been called Horizon School and has served as an alternative school for students.

Towns said the Carver school sits on the highest point of Church Street and the brick building was constructed in 1927. Students started attending classes in the building on March 2, 1928, and before being named in honor of Carver, it went by several other names, including Gibbs Street School, East Decatur Colored School and Albany Negro School.

"The segregated facility was significantly important because it was the only school that provided public education to blacks in the eastern portion of the city," Towns said. "Secondly, it is the oldest remaining historic black school building in Decatur."

— deangelo@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2469. Twitter @DD_Deangelo.

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