|City/Town: • Clanton
|Location Class: • Educational
|Built: • 1924 | Abandoned: • ~1960s
|Historic Designation: • African American Heritage Site
|Status: • Abandoned • Endangered
|Photojournalist: • David Bulit
Built in 1924, the Chilton County Training School for African Americans was completed due to the donation of land, labor, and building materials, as well as financial support from the Rosenwald Fund. The foundation was established in 1917 by Julius Rosenwald who was part-owner of Sears, Roebuck and Company in 1895, serving as its president between 1908 and 1922, and chairman of its board of directors until his death in 1932. He became interested in social issues, especially education for African Americans in the rural South which was segregated and extremely underfunded, and through the foundation, he funded the construction of thousands of schools for African Americans during the Jim Crow Era. Even before the foundation was established, Rosenwald provided funding through Dr. Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee University to support the operation of schools for black children in the South.
The Chilton County Training School provided classes for first through ninth grades and students were bussed to the school from elementary schools in Clanton, Billingsley, Verbena, Ridersville, Maplesville, New Convert, Marbury Thorsby, and Jemison. In 1940, the county purchased five adjacent acres and added buildings for vocational education and home economics, but the original wood building burned down in 1949. In 1951, it was replaced with a Mid-Century Modern style building that stands today. The long, flat-roofed, concrete block building features large windows to allow abundant sunlight and natural ventilation which was important before air conditioning was installed. This design was common in many equalization (separate but equal) schools that were constructed in the South between the end of World War II and the end of segregation in public education that followed the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
Commonly, identical structures were built for black and white students in a vain attempt to forestall integration. Once integration became law and was enforced, many communities owned duplicate facilities that cost too much to maintain, so most of the African American equalization schools were closed and eventually abandoned. This was the fate of the Chilton County Training School as it was closed down in the late-1960s.
After decades of abandonment, former alumni of the school made an effort to have the school building saved. The school was listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage in 2007. In 2008, a historic marker was dedicated at the site in honor of the administrators, faculty, parents, and staff, but unfortunately, this marker has since gone missing and it is unsure if it was stolen or officially removed. In 2010, ownership of the property was transferred to the Chilton County Training School Alumni Preservation Association with hopes to revitalize the school to create a park and community center, but no work has been done due to a lack of financial support. In 2017, the school was placed on the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation’s Places in Peril list.