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. They established the Wilberforce School for the blacks at Gallatin, MO, in 1866-67. A report in the “Public Schools in Missouri” stated there weren’t enough colored students to justify having more than one 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 first school session was taught for four months; two of these months were taught in a nearby rented room while their school house was being constructed. The report also stated the students appeared to be very enthusiastic about their work and made much progress.
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 Wilberforce School surpassed the Gallatin school with three graduates from the Wilberforce 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 Wilberforce 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 Wilberforce 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.
— written by Darryl Wilkinson, researched by Wilbur Bush, Gallatin, MO
In 1866 a Missouri law passed which obligated towns to be responsible for public schools. In November, 1866, a school for the Black children of Gallatin was started, in a room rented from Capt. John Ballinger until a school house could be built. Wilberforce School was completed in 1867 at the northeast corner of Johnson and Chestnut Streets in the west side of Gallatin.
By 1870 over half of the Black children of school age in Daviess County were attending Wilberforce School in Gallatin. In 1874, the school had 66 students. There was no other school for Blacks anywhere else in the county. This school operated for 90 years until 1957. The 1870 County Superintendent, Dr. Samuel P. Howell, stated that “school privileges (in Gallatin) were equal to those of the white children.”
The school was named after M.P. William Wilberforce (1759-1833). He stated in 1787 “above all protested that a nation (Great Britain) officially Christian still tolerated the trade in African slaves.” In 1790 British vessels took the lead in transporting slaves to the Americas; slaves numbered 74,000 that year. Historian Will Durant stated “that was probably the most criminal action in history.”
Wilberforce, with others, formed the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1789, and offered a legislative bill in the British House of Commons to end the evil. He tried again in 1798, again in 1802, again in 1804, and again in 1805. In 1807, the bill finally passed. Wilberforce also sought abolition abroad, but retired from Parliament in 1825. After his death, all slaves on British soil were emancipated and slavery was abolished in all British territories.
William Wilberforce was born at Hull, England, on Aug. 24, 1759, the son of a wealthy merchant. He was educated at St. John’s Cambridge by 1780. In 1784 he represented the Yorkshire district in Congress. He was a close friend of William Penn, and supported Clarkson and the Quakers for 19 years toward abolition.
— written by David Stark, Gallatin; March, 2000.