1948 – 1970
Education has always been one of the greatest concerns for many of the Leeds’ Black citizens and Black leaders such as Cicero Davis, Marvin Britt, Sr., Harrison Radford, Jeff Harris, Abraham Harris, Will Black, Sr., Florence White, Homer Harvey and many others whose names are still engraved in a portion of the sidewalk at the Negro High School, which today is the Head Start Center.
The building was constructed in 1920. Before this school, Black students attended school at the Little Rock Missionary Baptist Church and Hill’s Chapel C.M.E Church. At that time, Leeds had a Negro School Trustee Board and a White School Trustee Board until the 1940’s. The Black School Trustee Board purchased the school property in 1912 for $200 from Lee and Kincaid families. Members of the board at that time were Cicero Davis, Marvin Brit, Sr. and Harrison Radford.
The first principals of the school were Mr. John Harris, Mr. J. J. Harrison, Mrs. Ida Forest, Mrs. Emma Lewis, Mr. Jenkins, Mr. Charles Brown, Mr. William J. Bolden and Mr. John T. Smith. Some of the first Teachers were Mrs. Ida Smith, Mr. John T. Smith, Mrs. Roslyn Green, Mrs. Emma C. Peterson and Mrs. Rosa Niblett. Until 1948, Black students who had a desire to graduate from high school and earn a diploma were bussed to Rosedale High School located in Homewood, Alabama. In the late 1940’s, the Leeds Negro Trustee Board requested that the Jefferson County Board of Education build a Negro High School in Leeds, Alabama. The plans of the Principal, Mrs. Emma Lewis, and others were to attempt to have the school build in the Scott City Community of Leeds.
With the leadership of Mr. Jeff Harris and the Negro School Trustee Board, it was finally decided to build the school in Russell Heights Community, where the largest Negro population had homes. In the dispute, Mrs. Emma Lewis was fired as principal after the request of Black citizens and their boycott of the school. Mr. Jeff Harris was able to talk rich real estate executive J. W. “Skip” Griffin into donating forty acres of land to the county, earmarked for the Negro School. Students were also to be bussed from other small Black communities of Irondale, Overton and Trussville, Alabama to attend the school. The construction of the school was completed in 1948 and graduated her first students in the class of 1949. The school’s name was changed to Robert Russa Moton High School in the honor of the second president of Tuskegee Institute, which today is Tuskegee University.
The R. R. Moton High School had three principals during its existences: Mr. William J. Bolden, Mr. John T. Smith and Mr. John Jackson. During the early years, some of the teachers were Mrs. M. H. Berry, Mrs. R. J. Greene, and Mrs. Emma C. Peterson, Mrs. M. C. Cunningham, Mrs. L. K. Kyles, Mrs. Phyllis McArthur (registrar), Miss Helen Wright, Miss Frankie P. Ware, Mr. R. T. Albritten, Mr. B. F. Bandy, Mr. Henry B. Russell, Mr. Darcus Haslip, Mr. Lee T. Watts, Mr. Jesse J. Moton, Mr. William H. Bryant and Mr. Nathaniel Scarlark. In 1954, the United States Supreme Court considered segregated schools unconstitutional, but Leeds Schools remained segregated. In 1958, Moton High School mysteriously caught fire and burned down, but was immediately rebuilt on the same foundation. Some additions were made along with a few structural changes in design. The City of Leeds’ Mayor, Bill Dorrough donated $500,000 to help build a new gym and a swimming pool on the southwest corner of the land. A new science building and library were later added to the school.
From 1948 to 1970, Moton High School graduated a total of 891 students. After the graduation of the 1970 senior class, the school was closed by Order of Federal Judge Pointer. His desegregation decree allowed all Black and White students to attend the formally all White Leeds High School.
The former Moton High School was later re-opened as Moton Junior High School and one year later was renamed Leeds Junior High School. The old building still remains the same since closing, with the exception of the upholstery and mechanic shops, which were removed for the construction of a parking lot. These buildings were used to teach students and veterans. Many of the young men and women who attended Moton High School have made significant contributions to society, holding responsible positions in their chosen professions and serve as leaders in many civic, political, social and religious circles.
Mr. Lonnie Marbury, Historian
R. R. Moton High National Alumni Association