Carver-Hill High School And The Early Education Of African Americans in Crestview
In honor of Black History Month and in commemoration of the City of Crestview’s Centennial Year the Heritage Museum of Northwest Florida recently hosted a discussion about the early education of Afro-Americans in area.
David Wheeler currently serves as President of Carver-Hill Memorial and Historical Society in Crestview. And, he’s a graduate of Carver-Hill High School, one of the last schools for blacks in Okaloosa County, “We understood that segregation at the time was pretty much the norm and we’re we pretty much segregated in schools and our churches, and hospitals, and even some of the asylums where we sent people to were pretty much segregated.”
The first so-called “colored school” in Crestview was simply called Crestview School. It was built in 1926 for a little over $1,500 on a half-acre that the Okaloosa County School Board purchased nine years earlier (1917) from the Conyers family.
In 1944, an entire city block on School Avenue was purchased for a new “colored school,” which was named Crestview Colored High School, when it was built in 1945. Over the next couple of years, a modern construction three room school, with restrooms was built and it was renamed “Carver School” in honor of Dr. George Washington Carver.
Wheeler says a modern K-12 facility was added in 1954, “When Carver opened, in 1954 it had 12 classrooms. And we had 18 teachers. They had a gym, a combination gym/auditorium, a lunch room, a library, and for once, we had separate bathrooms for boys and girls. A Home Economic room, and one lounge for faculty to use.”
And, for this new school, another name change. It’s now Carver-Hill, acknowledging the efforts of Ed Hill, a local advocate for African-American schools.
The new school adopted blue and white for school colors and “panthers” as their mascot. David Wheeler arrived there in the early 1960s, one of only 17 people in his graduating class of 1966.
He says the undersized class was typical at Carver-Hill but it made for a very tight knit group of students, “I understand that, that was the same through a lot of the Afro-American schools over in Milton, DeFuniak, Panama City, Century. Each one of those towns had their own schools, Marianna, Chipley, up and down Highway 90 east and west they each had their own schools.”
Wheeler says at one point, the school in Crestview served black high school students throughout the county and surrounding area. He says it was segregated, but provided a great deal to the young people in the neighborhood, “And, I think the value associated with some of that was the teachers, we knew who the teachers were and they knew who our parents were. We were on a first name basis with some of them. You wouldn’t be surprised if one of the teachers showed up at your house. They were well respected. The whole time I went through the school I never heard a teacher gripe or complain about not liking my job.”
And, he adds, the school was more than just a place for academics it was truly like the center of the community, “By that I mean, there were a lot of activities that happened at the school. Often times we’d stay after school and play summer, and summer programs. That’s where we spent our time at summer programs at school.”
In 1966 Carver-Hill closed its doors due to desegregation. The younger grades remained on site until 1969 when all segregation was eliminated, however the upper classmen were sent to Crestview High School. Even though the Class of 66’ was the last graduating class at Carver-Hill, Wheeler says it wasn’t until he enlisted in the military that he experienced integration for the first time, “And actually in 1966, was the first time I had the opportunity to sit in a classroom with other white students. That was part of our Army training. And it was 1966, that I first competed on the Army basketball team against a full white team of folks. That was 1966, that hasn’t been that very long ago.”
Over the years the Carver-Hill School is converted to different uses, and by 1982 closes as a school and becomes an administrative complex. But, the history of the Carver-Hill School for blacks is being preserved in a museum formed by the Carver Hill Memorial and Historical Society. Wheeler says that board member and community leader Caroline Allen was driving force behind the museum, “It was a dream of Mrs. Caroline Allen, and I think we’re all pretty fortunate for what she did. Her energy, her tenacity, and I tell you, her staying power was one of the valuable things that kept this dream of hers alive.”
Thanks to Allen’s persistence the museum went from being housed in the schools former lunch room building to a new building constructed just for the museum in 1997. Located at Allen Park on McClelland Street in Crestview, the museum houses a wide variety of mementos from the era including antique typewriters used by Carver-Hill students, pictures, and yearbooks. Its open weekday afternoons from 1-5pm.
The Carver-Hill Museum is located at 895 McClelland Street in Crestview, Fl. (850) 682-4003
More information online at CarverHillMemorialAndHistoricalSocietyInc.org
Find more information on lunchtime lectures and other events at the Northwest Florida Heritage Museum online at www.heritage-museum.org