leeds Negro Teachers

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.

Compiled by:
Mr. Lonnie Marbury, Historian
R. R. Moton High National Alumni Association

6 responses to “History”

  1. Great information. I would like to see some class pictures and possible photos of past events that happen at Moton during its’ years of operation. I know this is work, but I know there are people out there who has this info and might share it with others. Just an idea.

    1. We are happy to post any photos that you forward to themotonhigh@aol.com
      Thank you. We look forward to seeing your photos.

  2. Check out the pictures from the 2015 Reunion — Banquet, Picnic and General Assembly!

  3. This is good.. I have pics I will be posting of many of the faculty and students.

  4. Roslyn Glenn-Bell Avatar
    Roslyn Glenn-Bell

    My mother , father, aunts & uncles as well as several cousins graduated from Moton High…I love history & the stories that my grandmother’s photo albums & my family tell of the past…

  5. Mr. Marbury – as you might remember, I attended Moton for 3 years as an elementary student before desegregation concluded. I am proud to say, I was one of a few “token” white kids at Moton. Thereafter, I returned when the school was renamed as Leeds Jr High making 6 total years of education at the Moton structure. I was even your student for one year. I have photos from the late 60s and early 70s when I was a student. Any interest in those pictures, if I can find them. My email address is pasted below.

    Randy Mink

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