NEGRO FINE ARTS SCHOOL
historical marker text
TWENTY YEARS BEFORE THE INTEGRATION OF THE GEORGETOWN PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT, A PROGRESSIVE MUSIC PROFESSOR AND HER THREE STUDENTS EMBARKED ON A PROGRAM TO EXPLORE A NEW MUSICAL TEACHING THEORY AND GIVE AFRICAN AMERICAN CHILDREN A CHANCE TO LEARN MUSIC. IN THE FALL OF 1946, SOUTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR IOLA BOWDEN CHAMBERS AND HER STUDENTS BEGAN TEACHING PIANO LESSONS TO CHILDREN IN THE AFRICAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY. THROUGH THE COOPERATION OF THE GEORGETOWN SCHOOL BOARD, THE FIRST METHODIST CHURCH OF GEORGETOWN AND THE CHRISTIAN STUDENT ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY, THE NEGRO FINE ARTS SCHOOL WAS FOUNDED AND CHAMPIONED.
DURING THE SCHOOL’S EXISTENCE, THE FIRST METHODIST CHURCH, WHICH HOUSED THE SCHOOL, WELCOMED OVER 200 STUDENTS THROUGH ITS DOORS WHO PARTICIPATED IN THE PROGRAM. THE SCHOOL EXPANDED TO PROVIDE VOICE AND ART LESSONS, PRODUCED A RECITAL AT THE END OF EVERY YEAR, AND PROVIDED SCHOLARSHIPS TO ITS STUDENTS. THE SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM PROVIDED ASSISTANCE FOR EVERY YEAR THE RECIPIENT WAS ENROLLED IN COLLEGE. THE SCHOOL ALSO PRODUCED SEVERAL DISTINGUISHED ALUMNI WHO PURSUED DEGREES IN MUSIC AND TAUGHT OTHER YOUNG ASPIRING MUSICIANS.
THE NEGRO FINE ARTS SCHOOL NOT ONLY PROVIDED MUSICAL AVENUES AND SELF ESTEEM FOR ITS STUDENTS BUT OPPORTUNITIES FOR OTHER COMMUNITY MEMBERS TO INTERACT WITH AFRICAN AMERICANS AND TO UNDERSTAND THE INJUSTICE OF RACIAL SEGREGATION.
THE NEGRO FINE ARTS SCHOOL INTRODUCED CHILDREN TO THE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE OF MUSIC AND HELPED PAVE THE WAY FOR PEACEFUL SCHOOL INTEGRATION THAT WOULD BEGIN IN 1965. (2009)
MARKER IS PROPERTY OF THE STATE OF TEXAS
a special thanks to "The Williamson County Sun" and Scott Franz for this slice of History view article
and a special thanks to "Focus on Georgetown" and Ellen Davis for this slice of History view article
Note about sources:
While the Texas Historical Commission states a preference for primary sources, there is a book that a Southwestern University history professor wrote during her sabbatical which extensively documents the Negro Fine Arts School. For her book, The Gracious Gift: The Negro Fine Arts School 1946-1966, author Martha Mitten Allen used the following types of primary sources: historical archives, published works, articles, unpublished papers, personal collections of papers and photographs, a videotape, responses to questionnaires, and interviews. All page numbers cited within this document refer to Allen’s book, while the references included in the endnotes refer to Allen’s primary sources as documented in her book.
THE NEGRO FINE ARTS SCHOOL narrative
The city of Georgetown, Texas, in 1946 was racially segregated according to a city ordinance made ten years prior (quoted in Martha Mitten Allen The Gracious Gift: The Negro Fine Arts School 1946-1966. Georgetown, Texas: Heritage Printing, 2003. 2).[i]This ordinance “made it illegal for a white person to live within the ‘Negro residential zone’ and vice versa” (Allen 2).[ii] It was in this setting of racial segregation that the Negro Fine Arts School was founded. “In 1946, eight years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas, nineteen years before Southwestern University was integrated, and twenty years before Georgetown public schools were fully integrated, a little project began in Georgetown, Texas, that was to have a ripple effect that few of its founders could imagine” (Allen v-vi). This “little project” was the Negro Fine Arts School, which was a combined effort of the First Methodist Church, Southwestern University staff and students, and the Georgetown School Board (Allen 26).
The strong Methodist influence in Georgetown was a key factor in the development of the Negro Fine Arts School. “The 1944 General Conference [of the Methodist Church] adopted a resolution which stated, in part: ‘We look to the ultimate elimination of racial discrimination within the Methodist Church’” (Allen 20).[iii] At the time, Southwestern University was affiliated with the Methodist Church, and “Southwestern faculty and staff were ‘pillars’ of the church, often occupying major positions of responsibility” (Allen 18). Georgetown School Board members also had many ties to the university: some were alumni, while others were employed at the university or had relatives who attended (Allen 8-9). Southwestern University’s president, J.N.R. Score, was appointed to the “state Negro School Planning Board to help advance higher education opportunities for African Americans in Texas” in 1946 (Allen 13).[iv] Score’s support for the advancement of African Americans helped pave the way for the Negro Fine Arts School.
The Negro Fine Arts School was created in the fall of 1946 due to the work of a Southwestern music professor and three of her students. Professor Iola Bowden Chambers had been teaching at Southwestern for fourteen years by 1946 (Allen 32) and that fall she was teaching a piano pedagogy class to Nettie Ruth Brucks Bratton, Elmina Bell, and Barbara Leon (Allen 37). “In the fall of 1946, Bowden offered a new concept to her Southwestern University piano students—class piano; that is, how to teach a group of students rather than the traditional one-on-one method” (Allen 23). Allen summarizes the foundation of the school as the following:
In the fall of 1946, Nettie Ruth Brucks and two other piano pedagogy students at Southwestern University conceived a plan to use their new piano skills to teach some children who did not have an opportunity to take piano lessons. The inspiration to teach came from the piano pedagogy class; the inspiration to teach black children came from a Christian Education class taught by Dr. B.F. Jackson.[v] The musical connection with the black community came from Iola Bowden who was already teaching piano lessons to Willie Mae Shanklin” (Allen 37).[vi]
Chambers began giving piano lessons to Willie Mae Shanklin, the daughter of her African American laundress, Nancy Shanklin. “Through her contact with Shanklin, Bowden learned of other students in the black community who were either studying piano or were interested in it” (Allen 23).
The original intent of the program was to give Southwestern music students a group of children to practice teaching while providing black children a chance to learn music. Nettie Ruth Brucks Bratton said, “It was wonderful to be able to use your skills that you were learning first hand. It was like practice teaching, except there was another dimension to it. The dimension was caring more for the children than you cared for your practice teaching” (Allen 38).[vii] Bratton taught in the Negro Fine Arts School from 1946-1948 (Allen 41).
According to Allen, “There is no formal record in the minutes for 1946 of the Board granting permission for the program” (Allen 8). However, there are records of the Board voting to erect fire escapes at the black high school,[viii] Carver High School, and later the board approved other measures to improve Carver High School (Allen 8-9). They also approved the use of a school bus from Carver High School to the First Methodist Church with the understanding that the Christian Student Association of Southwestern University would pay the bus driver (Allen 38).[ix]
Reverend James William Morgan of the First Methodist Church of Georgetown was more than willing to allow the Negro Fine Arts School to use its facility for the piano lessons (Allen 18). In a 1992 interview with Allen, Reverend Morgan said that he did not ask the church board for permission to allow the Negro Fine Arts School to use the church building (Allen 19).[x]
In its first year of existence, the Negro Fine Arts School had three teachers and each teacher taught four students (Allen 37). There was a recital at the end of the year held on May 21, 1947, in the Carver High School auditorium (Allen 39).[xi] Iola Chambers ensured that the occasion was special for the young performers by advising them to wear their best outfits, printing a program of the recital, and taking a picture of the children to document the occasion (Allen 39).
Although there is no precise data on how or why the name Negro Fine Arts School was chosen, Allen speculates that the name of the program helped to establish the atmosphere of “excellence, community relevance, and genuine goodness” which Iola Chambers created for her students’ recitals. “The program was given a fine name, a distinguished name, which implied that something serious was happening; that the program was firmly established, carefully organized, and academically sound” (Allen 80).
Over the years the program expanded to include art and voice lessons, but in the program’s final years the school only offered piano lessons (Allen 55). The lessons were held at the First Methodist Church in Georgetown in their education building (Allen 18) until the last few years when classes were held in the Fine Arts Building at Southwestern University (Allen 55). No clear reason is given for this change in location, but an article in the Southwestern University newspaper, the Megaphone, reports other changes to the program. “In light of the probable integration of Georgetown schools the Negro Fine Arts School is evolving into something different from what it has been in the past” (Allen 52).[xii] One change was that the black students, who in the past were excused from the Carver School in order to attend their lessons, were now coming to the church after school. (Allen 53)[xiii]
Aside from bringing music lessons to children who otherwise would not have received them, the Negro Fine Arts School also benefited African American students with its scholarship program.
Originally scholarships were only given to students who intended to study music in college, and the scholarship was only for their first year in college (Allen 42). The first scholarship was for $100 and the recipient, Miss Jean Ray Higgins, was valedictorian of Carver High School and planned to attend Samuel Huston College in Austin (Allen 42)[xiv] As the program grew, scholarships were available to graduating students even if they were not majoring in music, and the students could receive a scholarship each year of their college career (Allen 83).
Ernest Clark, a participant in the Negro Fine Arts School in 1959 and 1962-1966, went on to become the first African American to graduate from Southwestern University. After receiving a music degree from Southwestern in 1969, Clark taught music in the Dallas public schools. He estimates that over the course of his career, he taught 36,000 students, so it can be said that these 36,000 students were influenced by the Negro Fine Arts School.[xv]. Another distinguished alumnus from the program is Carl Henry. Henry began his piano lessons in the Negro Fine Arts School at the age of fourteen and was a member of the program from 1948-1951. Henry attended Paul Quinn College and majored in music, then taught music for eighteen years in Dallas elementary schools. Later he was promoted and “for fifteen years was in charge of vocal music for all schools in Dallas, kindergarten through twelfth grade, 241 schools. During that time, he taught at Southern Methodist University for six years” (Allen 75).[xvi]
1966 was the final year of the Negro Fine Arts School due to the desegregation of Southwestern University in the fall of 1965 and of the Georgetown School District in 1966 (Allen 56).
III. HISTORICAL/CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE
The Negro Fine Arts School played an important role in improving race relations while the Georgetown community was still segregated, which in turn led to more peaceful integration of the schools twenty years after its founding. On an individual level, the school gave some Southwestern University students their first opportunity for interaction with black people and helped them to realize the injustice of racial segregation. One former teacher said, “The basic impact of the organization as ‘the realization of the power of music as a universal language to transcend racial and cultural barriers’” (Allen 68).[xvii] During the 20 years the Negro Fine Arts School was in existence, an estimated 200 students participated in the program. [xviii] The leadership of Iola Bowden Chambers (b. 1904 d. 1978) is part of why the school lasted for twenty years, but the support from the United Methodist Church and the Southwestern University community, particularly the Christian Student Association, also aided in sustaining this program for two decades.
[i] Scarbrough, Clara. Land of Good Water, Takachue Pouetsu: A Williamson County, Texas, History. New Revised Edition. Williamson County Sun Publishers, Georgetown, Texas, 1976.
[ii] Scarbrough qt. in Allen 2
[iii] Dwight W. Culver, Negro Segregation in the Methodist Church, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1953, p. 15.
[iv] The Megaphone, July 30, 1946.
[v] Nettie Ruth Brucks Bratton, interview, Kingsland, Texas, March 10, 1992.
[vi] Nancy B. Madison, interview, May 11, 1992.
[vii] Nettie Ruth Brucks Bratton, interview, Kingsland, Texas, March 10, 1992.
[viii] Georgetown School Board Minutes, October 1, 1946.
[ix] Georgetown School Board Minutes, November 4, 1947.
[x] James William Morgan, interview, Denton, Texas, February 2, 1992.
[xi] Piano recital program pictured on p. 39 of The Gracious Gift.
[xii] The Megaphone, February 1, 1963, p. 1
[xiv] Williamson County Sun, May 12, 1950, p. 7.
[xv] Ernest Clark speech at Southwestern University, Nov. 7, 2009
[xvi] Carl Henry, interview, Dallas, Texas, February 4, 1992.
[xvii] Majorie Zimmerman Parrigan, response to the questionnaire, June 11, 1992.
[xviii] Statistics are given at an event celebrating the school held at Southwestern University, Nov. 7, 2009.
I - Scarbrough, Clara. Land of Good Water, Takachue Pouetsu: A Williamson County, Texas, History. New Revised Edition. Williamson County Sun Publishers, Georgetown, Texas, 1976.
II - Scarbrough qt. in Allen 2
III - Dwight W. Culver, Negro Segregation in the Methodist Church, ale University Press, New Haven, 1953, p. 15.
IV - The Megaphone, July 30, 1946.
V - Nettie Ruth Brucks Bratton, interview, Kingsland, Texas, March 10, 1992.
VI - Nancy B. Madison, interview, May 11, 1992.
VII - Nettie Ruth Brucks Bratton, interview, Kingsland, Texas, March 10, 1992.
VIII - Georgetown School Board Minutes, October 1, 1946.
IX - Georgetown School Board Minutes, November 4, 1947.
X - James William Morgan, interview, Denton, Texas, February 2, 1992.
XI - Piano recital program pictured on p. 39 of The Gracious Gift.
Xii - The Megaphone, February 1, 1963, p. 1
XIII - Ibid.
XIV - Williamson County Sun, May 12, 1950, p. 7.
XV - Ernest Clark speech at Southwestern University, Nov. 7, 2009
XVI - Carl Henry, interview, Dallas, Texas, February 4, 1992.
XVII - Majorie Zimmerman Parrigan, response to the questionnaire, June 11, 1992.
XVIII - Statistics given at event celebrating the school held at Southwestern University, Nov. 7, 2009