Great River Road, 2016

Lincoln School in Edwardsville

November 9, 2016

Last modified: May 7, 2020

In 1869, Edwardsville’s old circuit clerk’s office became designated as the “colored” school. The building became known as the Lincoln School, which was the first free public school for African American children in Edwardsville. This state-funded, segregated school provided African American children their first opportunity to obtain a free public education that had been afforded to white children in the area since 1864.1

The location 1210 North Main Street was Edwardsville’s original public square and was called “Lower Town”.  From 1814 to 1817 the square encountered considerable growth with the addition of a jail, court house, and land office all built out of wood. From 1821 to 1835 a new courthouse was commissioned to be built out of brick. The court house was called the Donation Courthouse because 23 local businesses donated material and funds during the long construction period.2 The original public square was host to community events, celebrations, judicial proceedings, land purchases, and a negotiation site for Native American treaties. At the original court house African Americans were able to sign documents that emancipated them from a life of bondage and servitude. 22 years after the completion of the Donation Courthouse, the prominent members of the community decided that the court house should be relocated to a different section of town. The city placed its efforts into developing the new city hall, city center, and all land southeast of the new court house.3

In 1855, a free school law was passed in the state of Illinois that granted funding for public schools. The citizens of Edwardsville were not quick to push for free education; however, in 1864 Edwardsville opened its first free public school.4 However, this school did not allow the admittance of African American children. In 1870, the city of Edwardsville relinquished ownership of the courthouse and the building became designated as a private “Colored School” located in “Lower Town.”5 African American families began to lobby for the school to become publically funded after the adoption of the state’s first “colorblind” constitution in 1870 and the 1874 public school law that promised equal access to education for all Illinois students.

In September 1877 the Lincoln school operated with eight African American scholars in attendance. By November of the same year the number of African American students in attendance rose to 29.6 W. E. Kelly was the first principal for the Lincoln school until 1889. Kelly taught at the school without any assistance until 1883, when another teacher was added. By 1896, the school had a principal, two teachers, and 48 students.7 In 1897 the Lincoln school experienced an enrollment spike of 23 new students, giving them a total of 70.8 African American students were forced to commute to other institutions away from home if they wanted to finish their education. During this time the curriculum at the Lincoln school only went to the tenth grade. Effie M. Jason (student 1922-1933) stated, “We were given the opportunity to attend any high school away from home. That may sound good, but imagine young teenagers away from home with few clothes, no spending change, and carrying the guilty feeling of being an added burden to the family . . .”9 The Board of Education paid the tuition fee for the African American students their junior and senior year  to prevent the students from attending Edwardsville’s white high schools.10

Over the years the four-room schoolhouse found itself in a state of decay and in need of repairs. However, it wasn’t until 1911 that the construction of a new school took place.11 Located at the original site, a four-room school was erected for approximately $13,000. Designed by architects Lucas Pfeiffenberger & Sons, the new Lincoln School opened in 1912. Four teachers taught 100 students in the first through 10th grades. By the 1930s, the Lincoln School offered a three year high school program, but students still had to travel for senior year. In 1939, four Lincoln School students were taking their fourth high school year in other cities: two in Jefferson City, Missouri, one in St. Louis, and one in Chicago. That same year, voters in the Edwardsville School District approved a $20,000 bond issue to pay for the addition of two new classrooms and a gymnasium, which would make a four-year high school education possible.12 This was the first time African American students were able to stay in Edwardsville for a complete high school education.

In the fall of 1949, the teachers at the Lincoln School learned that Edwardsville would be integrating its school systems by the fall of 1950. Elsie E. Joyce (teacher 1946-1950) recalls, “The teachers were a little hurt at the time of the integration of schools … There was little to no concern shown for what happened to the (African American) teachers from Lincoln. We found out that the schools were going to be integrated… and … that we teachers had not been included in the plans.”13 The school closed temporarily for renovations and re-opened in 1952 for grades Kindergarten through 6th grade.14 Due to falling elementary enrollments, a budget deficit in the Edwardsville School District, and needed renovations of building, the district board voted in 1972 to close the Lincoln School starting that fall, despite the objections of parents and teachers.15 In the years following the closure of the school, the building was used as a small market and a fraternity house. In 2008 the property was purchased by Mannie Jackson, a former student, for renovations. The building reopened in 2015 as the the Mannie Jackson Center For the Humanities.16

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Endnotes   [ + ]

1. Madison Intelligencer, March 5, 1864.
2. W. R. Brinks & Company, History of Madison County Illinois: With Biographical Sketched of Many Prominent Men and Pioneers, 1882, 338-339. The entry titled “Subsequent Growth” talks about the public square and the building of the new court house.
3. Ibid.
4. Darrell Blodgett, “History of the Edwardsville, Illinois School.” MA Thesis, Washington University, 1935, 28-29.
5. The Edwardsville Intelligencer, December 8, 1870, vol. 9, page 4, column 1.
6. “Intelligencer,” September 5, 1877, vol. 15, page 4, column 1.  November 7, 1877, vol. 16, page 4, column 3. It is important to note that the Lincoln School is referred to as the “Colored School”.
7. “Intelligencer,” September 1, 1896, vol. 87, page 1, column 5.
8. “Intelligencer,” September 3, 1897, vol. 86, page 1, column 2.
9. Nola Jones Williams, Lincoln School Memories: A History of Blacks in Edwardsville, Illinois, Edwardsville, Illinois: Wheaton, 17.
10. “Intelligencer,” September 2, 1908, vol. 238, page 1, column 1.
11. Brinks, “History of Madison County,” 346.
12. “Intelligencer,” October 12, 1939, vol. 241, page 1, column 3. Only 338 residents of the district voted, with 87% support of the addition. 295 voted in favor of the addition, with 43 voting against. 290 voted for the bond issue, with 43 against. The newspaper covered this topic daily from October 12-16, 1939.
13. “Lincoln School Memories,” 15.
14. “Intelligencer,” September 9, 1952, vol. 250, page 1, column 3.
15. “Intelligencer,” March 31, 1972, vol. 165, page 3, column 1; “Intelligencer,” June 13, 1972, vol. 176, page 1, column 6.
16. “Mannie Jackson Center for the Humanities Foundation,” 2016, Web. Accessed 2016.
Cite this article: Nichol Allen, "Lincoln School in Edwardsville," Madison Historical: The Online Encyclopedia and Digital Archive for Madison County, Illinois, last modified May 7, 2020, https://madison-historical.siue.edu/encyclopedia/lincoln-school/.
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