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Arkansas Properties on the National Register of Historic Places: Kiblah School, Doddridge, Miller County

Arkansas Historic Preservation Program - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Kiblah School at Doddridge in Miller County was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on November 20, 1989. You can read this and other Arkansas National Register nominations at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/historic-properties/national-register/search.aspx.

Summary

The Kiblah School is being nominated for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places with local significance under Criterion A by virtue of its associations with both education and the general development of the historic Black community of Kiblah.

Elaboration

1989 Information
In 1866, after the Emancipation Proclamation, the East Kiblah community was homesteaded in Arkansas by former slaves (purchased on October 18, 1841, in New Orleans, Louisiana) from the plantation of Richard Blanton. Representative surnames of the founders of Kiblah between 1853 and 1880 were Nelson, Holmes, Mothershead, Williams, Spearman and Simington.

The name Kiblah has a religious meaning and is a derivative of the word “Ka’aba.” or “Caaba,” which means the cubical stone structure in the center of the mosque enclosure in Mecca, toward which all Moslems turn their faces in ritual prayer. The Ka’aba is also known as the House of Allah. Kiblah means the direction of the Ka’aba Shrine in Mecca. The Ka’aba holds the Black Stone of Mecca that Gabriel was said to have given to Abraham.

During the Civil War the Kiblah community was referred to as “The Bend,” as in the bend of the Red River (the east boundary of Kiblah). According to local legend, both Confederate and Union soldiers took refuge at the river’s bend. Once established as a community, log houses were built as well as three churches (two Baptist and one Methodist), c.1868. Kiblah continued to operate as a primarily agricultural community after the war, with a high percentage of small, row-crop farms mixed with an active timbering and milling industry.

In 1870, school was held in one of the churches three months of each year. The State of Arkansas then established two districts (north and south) and approved schools for the community in each district. In 1905 the two school districts consolidated under the administration of a Mr. Forehand. In 1927 Kiblah School was bonded and three school buildings were constructed at the Kiblah School site: an elementary school building, a homemaking building and junior/senior high school building. The school board members elected that year were all from the Kiblah community. These facilities, which included the Kiblah School, served the student population from the Kiblah, Doddridge and Caney communities until 1970, when the school district consolidated with the Bright Star District. The original Kiblah School building was thereafter sold for use as a community center, a purpose it continues to serve today.

The Kiblah School was constructed for the purpose of providing a centrally-located building relative to the surrounding population so that the students would cease attending classes in their churches, as had been the practice, and have an opportunity to attend school longer in the year. In addition to its educational functions the building also served as a meeting place for both local youth and adult groups. The Kiblah community sponsored an active 4-H club for many years and this building served as their central meeting place. The population of the Kiblah community declined during and after World War II due to stagnant economic conditions as many residents sought jobs elsewhere in the nation. This necessarily precipitated a decline in both the student enrollments and community activities. Thus the Kiblah School declined in use from this time forward.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Special Warranty Deed, Miller County Courthouse.

Charlie Smith, President of Sulphur Township Community Action Council (constituent history).

Grolier Encyclopedia, The Grolier Society Publishing Co., Inc.: New York/Toronto. Doubleday, Doran and Co., Inc., 1956.

Dictionary of Architecture and Construction, Edited by Cyril M. Harris. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1975.

McAlester, Virginia and Lee. A Field Guide to American Houses. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.

Summary

Since the Kiblah School was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on November 20, 1989, additional information has surfaced indicating that the School is a Rosenwald School. As a result, the School is also significant as a part of Rosenwald’s legacy as the foremost benefactor of negro education in the South.

Elaboration

Contrary to common belief, the education of many southern black Americans took place on southern plantations while many were slaves. Some masters allowed a few of their slaves to become skilled workers or artisans by permitting them to be apprentices or employees of craftsmen outside the plantation. In fact, it was quite profitable for the plantation to have a number of skilled slaves in order to avoid having to hire expensive mechanics, craftsmen, machinists, seamstresses, etc. Education was also taking place among the children, often without the master’s knowledge. Many of the children of the masters thought it quite amusing to play “school” and teach the slave children how to read and do math. To the children it was a game, but in actuality it was part of the beginning of the black education movement in the South after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. In fact, many slaves were able to use their talents and skills to gain their manumission, or to do enough work outside the plantation to buy their way out of slavery.

After the Emancipation Proclamation and the flight of the blacks to northern cities, many religious organizations and education-oriented groups realized the need for education among the black refugees. Plantation life had left many blacks unable to cope with life in the city or with finding jobs. Benevolent societies sprang up in cities such as Boston, Chicago, New York, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia in 1862-1863. Together with church organizations, they provided food, clothing, religious leaders, money, and teachers for the newcomers. Church organizations were the leaders in the freedman’s school system in its beginning stages. At the forefront of the religious groups was the American Missionary Association, organized in 1849 to operate Christian missions and educational institutions at home and abroad. Other religious groups included The Baptist Church, North (or Home Mission Society), the Freedman’s Aid Society, and the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church; a great deal of the money and supplies these groups provided were dispensed through the Union Army. In March 1862, the New England Freedman’s Society, along with General Edward L. Pierce and numerous other educators, initiated the Port Royal Experiment. The Experiment involved developing the economy, directing blacks to economic independence, and organizing schools.

In 1863 the Freedman’s Inquiry Commission suggested the creation of a government agency to deal specifically with the care of the freedmen. In 1865 Congress passed an act creating the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, otherwise known as the Freedmen’s Bureau. The Bureau was useful because it committed the United States to the task of caring for the freedmen, and because it made that care a part of the official structure by which the South was being controlled. Even though the Freedmen’s Bureau was able to remedy many of the flaws of the relief programs for the freedmen, it was the strongly motivated individuals of the religious groups and benevolent organizations that were mainly responsible for the education of the blacks. These individuals were for the most part devout Christians and well-trained teachers from New England.

One of the zealous individuals that became one of the most significant figures in southern black education was Julius Rosenwald. Rosenwald was quite successful as a businessman, but his philanthropic work has always overshadowed his financial success. He entered the clothing business in New York in 1878. In 1895 he invested $35,000 in the stock of Sears, Roebuck, and Company, and in less than thirty years it grew into $150,000,000. He became president of the mail-order firm in 1910 and then chairman in 1925. During the years Rosenwald was most active as a philanthropist, Sears and Roebuck expanded into the retail chain-store business, and he was actually absent from the company from 1916 to 1919. As early as 1910, Rosenwald was a trustee of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and made gifts on behalf of the rural school movement to the Institute, primarily through close contact with Booker T. Washington. His funds made possible the erection f sixteen YMCA buildings and one YMCA building for blacks. This stimulated gifts from others for similar projects in many cities in both the North and South, including the financial support for a large black housing project in Chicago. Rosenwald was active in a number of Jewish organizations and granted substantial financial support to the National Urban League. Also, he was appointed a member of the Council on National Defense and served as chairman of its committee on supplies.

In 1917 Rosenwald established the Julius Rosenwald Fund. This fund was destined to attract more money to the benefit of black education than any other philanthropic undertaking to this date. The fund’s broad purpose was for the betterment of mankind irrespective of race, but it was aimed more specifically at creating more equitable opportunities for black Americans. Unlike many charity organizations, the Rosenwald Fund was to only help a school if the community, blacks and whites alike, had raised some of the money themselves; however, the black community usually provided the labor. Rosenwald and the directors of his trust first directed their attention toward building rural schools (such as the Kiblah School), later toward high schools and colleges, and finally toward the providing of grants and fellowships to enable outstanding blacks and whites to advance their careers. Not only did the Rosenwald Fund help to build rural schools, it was also responsible for a number of buildings and libraries on college campuses. The directors of the trust were also involved to a certain extent in the direction of the curriculum at all levels of education. Their emphasis was on the educational needs of country children. They maintained that some vocational skills were necessary, as were the ability to do some math, to read and write clearly, to have some understanding of biological processes and farming, and to understand the fundamentals of sanitation and health.

Stat records indicate that when the fund ceased activity in 1948, it had aided in the building of 389 school buildings (schools, shops, and teachers’ homes) in 35 counties in Arkansas. The total amount contributed by the fund was $1,952,441. The state or counties owned and maintained all of the schools, and the land was usually donated by a white landowner. In Arkansas, R. C. Childress of Little Rock was the Rosenwald Building Agent. Childress was the first degree graduate of Philander Smith College and was the second black person to work for the state Education Department. He dedicated his life to education and, consequently, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff has named Childress Hall for him, and the high schools in Wynne and Nashville were named for him.

The Kiblah School is one of seven Rosenwald Schools that were constructed in Miller County between 1917 and 1929, and it was one of forty-five total projects (thirty-four schools, three teachers’ homes, seven vocational shops, and one school addition) built with the 1927-1928 Rosenwald budget for Arkansas. Of the thirty-four school buildings built in Arkansas during the 1927-1928 budget cycle, five of them, including Kiblah School, had three classrooms.

The plan of the Kiblah School does not appear to have used a standard plan offered by the Rosenwald Fund. The school’s plan is similar in form and detailing to Design No. 12 for a one-story five room school found in Rural Negro School Plans. However, schools built using Rosenwald funds were not required to use the standard plans. The only requirement was that whatever plan was used had to be approved by the Fund.

The total cost of construction for the Kiblah School was $4,347. Of that cost, $100 came from white contributions, $3,547 came from public contributions, and $700 came from the Rosenwald Fund. Ironically, there was no negro cash contribution. The cost to build the Kiblah School was slightly below the average cost of construction for a three-room school in the 1927-1928 budget, which was $4,697.

Although thirteen years have passed since the school was listed on the National Register, the integrity of the building is still remarkably high, based on a March 27, 2002, resurvey of the building by Sandra Taylor Smith. The Kiblah School remains as an increasingly rare and tangible reminder of the legacy of Julius Rosenwald and his contributions to black education throughout the South.

Significance

Since the Kiblah School was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on November 20, 1989, additional information has surfaced indicating that the School is a Rosenwald School. As a result, the School is also significant as a part of Rosenwald’s legacy as the foremost benefactor of negro education in the South.

Bibliography

Albright, Angela K. “Rosenwald School, Delight, Pike County, Arkansas.” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. From the files of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, 1990.

Hoffschwelle, Mary. Address. National Trust for Historic Preservation National Conference. Cleveland, OH, October 9, 2002.

Mansell, Jeff, and Trina Brinkley. “The Rosenwald School Building Fund and Associated Buildings (1913-1937).” National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form. From the files of the Alabama Historical Commission, 1997.

Porter, David. W. “A Brief History of the Julius Rosenwald Fund Building Program with Special Reference to Arkansas.” Unpublished Master’s thesis, Fisk University, Nashville, TN, 1951.



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