Albion, MI chapter of the American Association of University Women gathered on February 20, 2020 to learn about the history of Black Americans living in Albion over the last 170 years.
The keynote speaker was Bob Wall, a local historian and former Albion Public Schools educator who created an African American history course for the school district. There is a video of part of his lecture below.
On display were portraits of Albion’s West Ward School, as part of an installation in Holland Park to honor the school that once stood there.
West Ward School was an integrated school between 1873 – December, 1917. Following the Great Migration that began in 1916, the demographics of Albion’s African American population jumped from approximately 10 Black residents to nearly 700 African American residents within just a decade. As of the 2010 Census, Albion’s population was 33% African American.
Two Views of West Ward School
West Ward School was erected in 1873 as a two-room school populated mostly by the children of European immigrants until January 1918. As a result of requests from the African-American community, West Ward become an all Black school. It would remain so until, again at the demand of the African-American community, it was closed in the fall of the 1953 and demolished in March, 1958.
There is a rich history of social activism in Albion. Featured here are a collection of headlines that highlight significant benchmarks in the push toward desegregating public schools and Albion’s part within that courageous process.
Photo Text – emphasis added:
West Ward School Closing
The agitation that led to the closing of Albion’s segregated West Ward School was a precursor to the larger civil rights struggle in the 1950s United States. The tactics employed — protest, use of NAACP legal support, taking the issue beyond control of the local governing body — were those that would be used to desegregate schools across the country. The closing of Albion’s once segregated school came seven months before the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education. which outlawed the doctrine of “separate by equal.”
Local historian, Bob Wall, looks at a photo from 1927 of Emancipation Day in Albion, MI.
EMANCIPATION DAY —— AUGUST 1, 1927
Emancipation Day is the day on which African Americans celebrate the outlawing of slavery in the United States and/or the British West Indies. The August 1 date refers to the date on which the British Imperial Decree ending slavery took effect in the West Indies.
In using the August 1st date in 1927, African Americans in Albion showed that they were aware of the pan-American connection that existed between themselves and other people of African descent.
-Quoting the formal caption of the photo that is part of the Oral History Project for West Ward School
Principals Robert H. Cable and Lena Cable Holmes with teachers at the West Ward School between 1918 and 1953.
A lecture by local historian Bob Wall to the Albion, MI chapter of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) on February 20, 2020. This video features the first portion of his lecture.
Content Warning: There are some disturbing segments of the talk based on actual historic happenings.
Local historian, Bob Wall, with Albion, MI AAUW chapter president, Jesse Whitfield, recognizing the year 2020 has the 170th year of African Americans living in Albion, Michigan.
Local historians, Dr. Wesley Dick, Leslie Dick, and Bob Wall, who curated the oral history project of Albion, MI’s West Ward School.
Learn more about the West Ward Oral History Project at the links below.
Albion Branch AAUW Officers who were awarded Name Grant Honorees by Jesse Whitfield (Chapter President): Amy Perry – Past President, Martha O’Kennon – Membership Co-Chair , and late Susan P. Conner, Devoted Life Member.
Related Content About West Ward School
Robert Wall, often called “Bob” or “Bobbie,” and well-known locally as a retired history teacher and assistant high school principal at the former Albion High School, has long been the go-to guy to glean information on the history of African Americans in the city of Albion – he has, in fact, made it his life’s work. On February 20, Wall shared some of that story with Albion’s chapter of the American Association of University Women in a presentation at the downtown Ludington Building, aided by poster-mounted reproductions of the information about West Ward School that is displayed in Holland Park.
Posts that mention Bob Wall on this website including more videos of his talks at the annual Labor Day Albion Walk the trail event with the history talks in Holland Park:
Published by The Recorder: During his almost 30-year teaching career at Albion Senior High School, Robert Wall’s excitement about his own research of African-American history shone through to his many students. The local stories and experiences of the local community in which he’d grown up, many of whom named him as their favorite teacher in particular. Enough so that he received the W. K. Kellogg Excellence in Education Award twelve times.
An article published on Michigan’s Humanities website by Dr. Wesley Arden Dick, Professor of History at Albion College. Dr. Dick specializes in civil rights history and co-teaches, with Leslie Dick, a first-year seminar entitled “A Sense of Place: Albion & the American Dream.” He is Second Vice President of the Albion Branch NAACP and is working on the West Ward School Oral History Project with historians Leslie Dick and Robert Wall.
Isaac Kremer begins with, “By the 1870s the growing population in the western portion of the village produced the need for another school building to accommodate the growing number of children. Many of these were the children of German immigrants who worked at the nearby Gale Manufacturing Company. Area residents circulated a petition which put the question of building a new school to the voters. The question was approved by just fifteen votes. The new schoolhouse, named the West Ward School, was constructed in the summer of 1873, at a cost of $2,000. This two-room brick structure was erected on N. Albion street across from the Gale Manufacturing Company.”
Related Content about Albion Area AAUW