Special to the Delta Heritage Center by Emily Pugh
“Your dream cannot work without education.” These words, spoken by Nutbush native Tina Turner, are what visitors hear while touring the newly-restored Flagg Grove School at the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center in Brownsville, Tenn. Recently, two local 5th grade classes experienced what it must have been like to attend the one room schoolhouse. On November 24, the East Side Elementary classes of teachers Joni Taylor and Wendy Piercey were given the unique distinction of being the first students taught in the school since its closure in the mid-1960s.
As the children stepped inside the schoolhouse, Taylor numbered each child off to signify the eight grades taught in the one room building. The students sat, some in the original desks and some on the floor, while experiencing first-hand the lessons and challenges.
Each “grade” was given a different assignment that was written on the school's original chalkboard. For example, first grade was asked to write their name 10 times, and "print clearly;" eighth grade was told to write a five paragraph essay while other students did arithmetic or simple sentences.
Students were given a history lesson about life "back in the day." Taylor explained that the school was an African-American school and built 24 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves.
"This equals 24 years of children growing up without a formal education," Taylor explained. “What do you think they were doing instead of going to school?"
Taylor explained that children would have their own chores, from boys picking cotton and working as farm hands to girls helping cook and washing and mending clothes.
These daily routines were altered somewhat when Flagg Grove School was built in 1889. Education became the focus in the little community. Most children walked to school and each family paid one dollar per child, per month, for the teacher’s salary.
Taylor told them about outhouses and explained about the potbelly stove. Not only did the kids get to experience the inside of the school, they each rang the school bell and tried their hand at the old well pump outside. Many proclaiming they were happy to be attending school in this century.
Students also visited the museums and exhibits inside the Delta Heritage Center, on a special tour lead by Mrs. Piercey, and were excited to learn that people from all over the world stop in Brownsville to see the Center. According to Center director, Sonia Outlaw-Clark, more than 22,000 visitors have stopped so far this year from all 50 states and 35 countries.
The children's experience in the 125-year-old school building, coupled with its rich history, continues to emphasize the importance of education and the school's unique legacy.
About the author: Emily Pugh, a Brownsville native, is in her first year of college at the University of Memphis. She is studying Public Relations with hopes to work in the tourism field.