Date of Award

5-2005

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Major

History

Major Professor

Cynthia Fleming

Committee Members

Janis Appier, George White, Jr.

Abstract

This study was conducted in order to identify possible reasons for the successful integration of Brewton, Alabama’s school system. Unlike many other towns in South Alabama, Brewton chose not to create a private school as an alternative to attending an integrated public facility. Known as “white flight” schools, these private institutions are still a viable factor in the education of Southern children. Although Brewton had the money and the resources to create such a school, it did not. This thesis seeks to understand why.

Two factors are central to approaching Brewton as a topic of research. One is Brewton’s wealthy families. Born out of the timber business, these “lumber barons” have a great deal of influence over the town. This influence is not only monetary, but also through serving on the school board, the city council, and being all-around involved citizens. The other factor is Southern Normal School. An anomaly to South Alabama, Southern Normal School is a black private school. Founded in 1911, the school gained students during integration and became an alternative to attending the public school system for local black children.

In order to investigate possible reasons why Brewton integrated as it did, local newspapers were consulted, as were secondary sources pertaining to Alabama history, the Civil Rights Movement, and school desegregation. The bulk of information came from interviews with those who lived the experience first hand and helped to integrate Brewton’s city school system.

What these interviews indicated was that there are various suggestions as to why Brewton had a successful integration experience. Sports, a lack of strong race related organizations, a small town attitude, a smaller black population, Southern Normal School-all were proposed as possible reasons. Yet, the overarching factor for Brewton’s success was strong local leadership. This leadership came from the editors of the local paper, the school board members, and most notably from the wealthy white families who had their roots in the local timber business.

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