Frank and Annie Lee Davis House and School

The Frank and Annie Lee Davis House and School

12569 Jessie Jackson Parkway

Built on land once owned by farmer and Baptist minister Thomas Lynch, Frank Davis, an African American man, built this house c.1915 as a secondary residence in town. Davis owned a farm in nearby Town Creek and kept his primary residence there. He offered his house in town for use as a school when the neighboring North Alabama Baptist Academy experienced a fire in 1928. The house was used for classrooms until the late 1940s when the community and Principal Richard A. Hubbard purchased nearby land and decommissioned Army barracks from the airfield in Courtland for the school. From then until integration was realized in the early 1970s, the Davis family boarded teachers recruited by Hubbard in the home.

Frank and Annie Lee Davis

Frank Davis Sr. was born in December 1865. His race is listed in the 1880 U.S. Census as “mulatto,” though later records say “negro.” According to the family’s oral tradition, he had light-colored skin. At the time, this assessment was a visual assessment made by the census taker and often had nothing to do with a person’s actual race. In fact, by 1930, census takers were told to count any person who appears to have any African American ancestry as “negro.” Census records indicate Davis was born in Alabama, and that his mother and father were both born in Georgia. His father’s name was Red Davis, and his mother’s name was Francis Wood and lived with Davis until her death c.1915. Census records on Davis can only be traced to the 1880 census. He was married first to Jane Steenson (or Troupe) on December 31, 1885. He later married Henrietta Steenson on April 1, 1900. A 1910 census lists him as divorced. On April 3, 1912, he married Annie Lee Smith, and they had eight children together. Davis also had at least one son and two daughters from his previous marriages. Frank and Annie Lee Davis died in 1959 and 1957 respectively and are buried together in a cemetery near Town Creek in a community called Red Bank.

By 1920, Frank Davis was a landowner and farmer in Red Bank. According to census records, he could not read or write, though it is apparent he was interested in securing education for his children, several of them attending school, including some college. It is not clear for what purpose he built the house in North Courtland, but when the Academy needed space for classrooms, he generously offered use of his house there.

The House on "The Hill"

Remembered by former students as the largest house on “The Hill,” the Frank Davis House was used by the Academy from 1928 until 1948 for upper grades. Younger students attended classes in the Masonic Hall. As enrollment grew, the Academy’s old dormitory building was used as well as the Missionary Baptist Church. The house was a center hall and parlor plan house, two rooms deep with a rear ell that consisted of the kitchen, with a hipped roof and full front porch. The two front parlors were used for classrooms and each had a coal burning fireplace on one end. Former students recall Principal Hubbard hauling the coal from town himself to heat the school. There was a single privy located behind the house, a smokehouse, and a row of chicken coops that are no longer extant (the smokehouse’s concrete foundation remains). There was a playfield used for recess, including a basketball goal that is no longer extant. Basketball was the only team sport the Academy competed in until becoming part of the Lawrence County school system

Transportation: A Community Effort

Transportation was an issue for many students who either could not afford to board at the school or later who could not afford or access transportation. After the fire in 1928, students could no longer board at the school and had to arrange for daily transportation to and from school. Some families were forced to send their children farther away to boarding schools in other areas, because they could not transport their children daily to the Academy. Area resident Mary Grant remembers her father sent her sister to Memphis after she completed primary school in Red Bank and her to Alabama A&M for high school for this reason. Grant also received her bachelor and master’s degrees from Alabama A&M and returned to teach in Courtland. At different times throughout the school’s history, area residents helped transport students from all over the county to the school. One account mentions an ice truck driven by Percy Lee Ashford and Gunter Miller that served informally as a school bus. Another account mentions a truck driven by Matt Jones who often brought children to town. It truly was a community effort to educate the African American children of Lawrence County.

This inequity continued until integration. Lawrence County School Board minutes reveal that by October 1946, there were twenty-six whites-only schools with forty-nine buses between them. At the same time, there were twenty schools for African American students and only three buses provided by the county. The local community still had to make the difference and provide transportation or send their children away to boarding schools if they could afford to do so.

  • <p>Courtland Colored High School students grew vegetables on the Davis property in the 1950s</p>

The House in Later Years

After the school moved into decommissioned Army barracks in the late 1940s, the Davis family allowed students at the school, known then as Courtland Colored High School, to grow vegetables and raise chickens on the property as part of Tuskegee Institute's New Farmers of America program, and continued to board teachers in their home until the early 1970s. Annie Lee Davis was also president of the Parent Teachers' Association during this time.

Descendants of Frank Davis Sr. remember their mother Celestine Davis Stevenson Key, the youngest daughter of Davis, boarding teachers who were recruited by Principal Hubbard from African American institutions all over the state in the Frank Davis Home until integration was realized in 1971. Hubbard reportedly traversed the state, visiting various Historically Blacks Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) recruiting teachers for the school. Part of that recruitment included a guaranteed place for them to stay once there. Key’s children remember anywhere from one to four teachers boarding in the house at a time.