Wilburforce School (1866-1957)

In November 1866, the Gallatin School District met to discuss the educational opportunities for the county’s black students. It was believed these students would do better educationally if they had their own school. A teacher, Miss Celia Calahan, was hired and the school opened; however, she had to wait until the money was collected before she received her pay.

In November 1866, the Gallatin School District met to discuss the educational opportunities for the county’s black students. It was believed these students would do better educationally if they had their own school. A teacher, Miss Celia Calahan, was hired and the school opened; however, she had to wait until the money was collected before she received her pay.

The students came from all parts of the county because there weren’t enough of them to warrant having more than one school. The first school session was taught for four months; two of these months were taught in a rented room from Captain Ballinger while their school was being built.
In 1870, there were 96 black children attending Daviess County schools. Also, 50 of these lived in the Gallatin district and attended school there. The remaining 46 black children were scattered over 13 townships, but less in any one township to warrant an organization.

In 1871, the black people kept their school open three years by donations. However, by 1874 there were 66 children attending the school.

In 1898, the Wilburforce School surpassed the Gallatin school with three graduates from the Wilburforce school graduation while the Gallatin school graduated only one student. A large audience of Gallatin’s citizens filled the Arbelia Opera House to witness this graduation. One portion of the program was furnished by the Wilburforce orchestra.

The school was still in operation in 1933 and three students graduated from their eighth grade class. At commencement there was a capacity crowd. One of the outstanding features of the night was the portrayal of birds and insects by the undergraduate classes.

The Wilburforce School operated until the 1956-57 school term when integration became a factor and black elementary graduates attended the Gallatin High School. This change meant additional educational opportunities for the black children because all of them had the chance to attend high school for the first time. After 1957, elementary students went to the elementary school. In later years, some people thought the schoolhouse was torn down for the lumber.

At this point it might be of interest of how early teachers from other schools were paid. H.W. Euyart from Benton township taught the first three months in the summer of 1837, and three months the following winter. He was paid two dollars a student in currency of the county; sometimes he received payment in corn of which he made his own meal using a bowl shaped dish he’d made by burning a hole in a log. Other forms of payment were deer skins and honey. It was the exception rather than the rule to be paid in cash.

— researched by Wilbur Bush, Gallatin