Jessie Jackson Parkway
In addition to church organizing, education was a primary goal of the Muscle Shoals Missionary Baptist Association. Fallin writes, “Baptist leaders called on black Baptists to sacrifice by donating money from their meager earnings so that their children might have a decent education. Existing records indicate at least 30 associational schools were formed in the state between 1875 and 1915”. The North Alabama Baptist Academy was established in 1896 and was financially supported through donations from the Muscle Shoals Missionary Baptist Association’s member churches, African American women’s missionary societies, and later in partnership with the New Era Progressive Missionary Baptist Convention’s member churches too. As described in The New Decatur Advertiser, the academy “will be one of the largest negro educational institutions in the state”.
An industrial training school, the Academy offered courses in academics, music, agriculture, sewing, and other domestic sciences. They also offered Bible classes and religious training. In addition to a principal and assistant principal, the Academy had five teachers on staff who were hired and overseen by a fifteen-member board of trustees. Reverend Charles O. Boothe from Jackson County was the school’s first president and H.E. Levi of Talladega College was its first principal. Perhaps the Academy’s most memorable principal, Richard A. Hubbard, began as a student at the school, then a janitor on campus, before returning after college in Montgomery at Alabama State University as a teacher, and eventually becoming the Academy’s longest tenured principal from 1936-1970.
Beginning in 1910, the board of trustees discussed relocating the Academy to Decatur or Sheffield, however this move never happened. The first classes were held in Courtland’s First Missionary Baptist (then called First Baptist Church of Courtland) until campus buildings were complete. The Association owned twenty acres initially, constructing two buildings on campus, one for classrooms and one as a dormitory. Sixty students enrolled in the school’s first term, and by 1914, there were 214 students enrolled. They came from all over Northwest Alabama as this was the first and only high school available at the time to African American students. Several area churches served as their community’s primary school, but once students were ready for more advanced education, the Academy was the closest option. Still, students would travel long distances, so many lived on campus in the dormitory. Local students could attend days only for $0.50 per month. The school operated on a split session, meaning school started in August then broke for one month so students could help their families with harvest season before returning to school. By 1909, that schedule had changed, as Academy President William Hesse appealed to parents, “We urge parents send their children the first day, and take them out the last day. Hire some workers to pick your cotton and send your children to school. This will prove the greater profit to you at the end.” School was scheduled to start October 4 of that year right around the typical start of cotton harvest.
Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the main two-story frame building and killed Hettie Irwin, a home demonstration agent and county supervisor of African American schools, and Pauline Hubbard, a twenty-two-year-old student, in 1928. The dormitory survived the fire and was used for classrooms in addition to the Frank Davis Home, the Missionary Baptist Church, and the Masonic Hall (razed in 2019) until another building could be secured. Unfortunately, the dormitory building also succumbed to a fire in 1936 and is no longer extant.