Historic Structures

Attucks High School, Hopkinsville Kentucky

Date added: November 8, 2022 Categories: Kentucky School

Named for Revolutionary War hero and African American Crispus Attucks, the school was designed by local architect John T. Waller and constructed by the Forbes Manufacturing Company for a cost of $17,640.00. Construction of a gymnasium and classroom addition increased the size of the school in 1957. The improvements in 1957 permitted education that segregated whites from blacks in Hopkinsville until 1967, when the Christian County School System officially desegregated all of its facilities. Unlike many formerly-black schools at the end of segregated schooling, this building continued to be used as an integrated middle school for fifth and sixth-grade students through 1988, when it was closed as a school and ceased to be used.

Attucks High School has adapted through the years to accommodate the evolution of Hopkinsville's educational system. The majority of schoolhouses in the colored school system of the late 1800s and early 1900s were eventually demolished due to poor quality and lack of use. Attucks High School, however, remains and maintains its structural integrity over a century after it was built. As time passed and African Americans gained in both population and influence, Attucks High School simply adapted to changes and expanded its campus to accommodate the growing need for educational facilities among the community. When overcrowding became an issue, a large addition was constructed in 1957 that doubled the classroom space and provided a state-of-the-art gymnasium complete with a performance stage. When integration was enacted in Christian County, instead of abandoning the building, the school board converted it to a middle school for Hopkinsville's newly-established integrated school system. The renamed Attucks Middle School then functioned for over twenty years as a middle school, gaining significance well beyond the African American population as it began to serve the entire community.

Through the construction of the county's first four-year high school institution, the community exhibited its dedication to the education of its youth. The fact that this construction was privately funded by a group of prominent local black businessmen further proves the black community's commitment to providing educational opportunities that were equal to those received by white students. The school proceeded to gain and to maintain accreditation through the 1960s at a time when only 25% of Kentucky high schools had achieved this status. This devotion to education followed trends in African American culture throughout the state, region, and nation in the 20th century.

Although the establishment of schools for black children was the first and most essential step to freedom and equality, it was not an easily won battle. Dealing with years of fighting for equal rights in education, African Americans in Christian County made a significant step to the path of equality with the creation of Attucks High School.

Unlike other African American educational facilities in the area, this school was designed and constructed to endure for decades. In addition, Attucks High School recruited and employed well-educated teachers who rivaled and often surpassed their white counterparts in educational credentials. The financial investment in the structure and in the staff illuminates the importance that was placed on Attucks High School at its inception.

Statewide Education of African Americans in the late-19th Century

At the conclusion of the Civil War, Kentucky faced many challenges in providing adequate education for its newly-freed African American population. Unlike other slave states, Kentucky never outlawed the education of slaves or free people of color; however, educational opportunities were incredibly limited to these groups. In 1866, the state passed a law that allowed for one-half of the property taxes received on black-owned property to be dedicated to the betterment of African American educational facilities with the other half of the taxes going to African American paupers. In its first year, this legislation provided $5,656.01 to the black educational system. Divided among the population, this amount supplied the African American community with 13.5 cents per child. By comparison, similar legislation for the white educational system provided larger sums and supplied 81 cents per child. Although Kentucky had taken strides to improve education for its black population, a severe inequality continued to exist between white and black educational opportunities.

At the time of the earliest legislation, a common school system for African Americans had yet to be established. The first statewide effort to provide educational facilities for African Americans began in 1866 under the U.S. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. The establishment of Freedmen schools opened more than 200 schools in the state of Kentucky. This support extended to the assistance of existing schooling held in black churches and rented facilities. Most of these facilities were one-room schoolhouses that were operated by churches and were poorly built due to limited funds. Black businesses and residences also served as educational facilities for much of this time and were also very inadequate. They neither had the space for effective teaching nor the architectural quality or integrity of their white equivalents. In addition, Freedmen schools were not necessarily welcomed by most of the white population, and their existence was cut short due to the burning of many schools and actions taken to run out the teachers who supported the cause of educating the black population. Many cities with Freedmen schools had never before seen the existence of educational facilities for African Americans, and their existence enlightened the population to the ideal of achieving freedom through education. The efforts to promote African American education did not end here but rather sparked a new enthusiasm in the African American population to fight for their freedom and their right to a fair and equal school system.

Legislation to provide for African American education continued in the late-19th century. In 1874, the state created a public school system for African American children that was identical to and separate from the Caucasian school system. This law stated that all state property and license taxes paid by the black population would go towards funding for black education. Because African Americans owned far less property than their white contemporaries, the amount of revenue generated from this legislation proved to be meager and ineffectual. To increase funding, the state established a $1.00 poll tax on all African American males that was dedicated to the educational system.

By 1876, white students received approximately eight times the educational funding than their black contemporaries. This discrimination of funding continued for the next decade and provoked black leaders in the state to push for equal funding. Eventually, this movement resulted in the controversial topic that in order to maintain segregated schools, funding would have to be distributed more equally in order to keep the traditional white-favored system. African Americans struggled with the acceptance of this concept, but had no choice but to consent in order to receive a fair amount of funding for their school children. Overall, the African American educational system in Kentucky would remain segregated from and unequal to the white educational system until integration in the mid-20th century.

African American Education in Nearby Kentucky Counties, 1865-1967

In evaluating the significance of Attucks High School, one cannot only use the argument that the school was the only one of its kind. Rather, a thorough investigation in how it compares to other schools must be done. When compared to surrounding counties, Christian County played a significant role in the lives of African Americans in western Kentucky. Muhlenberg County established a colored school system in 1886, a decade after the establishment of the school system in Christian County. Like many of the colored schools of this time, the thirteen schools established in this county by the time Attucks High School opened its doors were poorly built log structures that all needed updating and major repairs a mere twenty years after they were constructed.

Neighboring Hopkins County offers another valid comparison. With the colored school system beginning in 1866, Madisonville, the county seat, had a comparable school in Zion High School, which opened its doors in 1893. A Rosenwald school replaced Zion High School around the year 1933. Little information is known about these schools, but neither one remains in existence.

By comparison, Trigg County did not have an established colored high school in the common school system; therefore, black students were bussed from Trigg County to Christian County to attend Attucks High School. Attucks High School served as not only a center of education for Christian County but for students in Trigg County as well, thus expanding its significance to surrounding communities.

African American Education in Christian County, Kentucky, 1865-1967

Hopkinsville, Kentucky, the home to Attucks High School, is the county seat of Christian County. It is the second largest county in the state with a square mileage of 725. With an African American population of thirty percent, it ranks as one of the highest per capita in the state. Given this fact, it is no wonder that a facility such as Attucks High School became a cultural centerpiece of the African American community in western Kentucky. Named after African American Revolutionary War hero Crispus Attucks, Attucks High School began as an initiative started by African American businessmen in the city of Hopkinsville in response to overcrowded schools. Prior to the construction of Attucks High School, opportunities for upper-level education were extremely limited for African Americans.

African Americans played a vital role in the history of Christian County's growth and development, but their contributions have gone unacknowledged through the years. Prior to 1865, 95% of African Americans in Christian County were slaves. From 1865 until 1880, the black population in Christian County grew faster than the white population, due to the need for agricultural labor. As the African American population grew in Christian County, so did the push for formal education for the black population.

Like many other counties in the state of Kentucky, educational development for African Americans had been at a standstill for much of its history. In 1875, a common school system for black children was established in Christian County. Funded by the Kentucky Colored School Law of 1874, this system provided the bare minimum of school funding from taxes and fines collected from colored people. With few formal schools, the majority of educational activities were conducted in private homes, churches, and other common community structures. These buildings were often poorly-constructed, inadequate log structures. By 1881, there were forty-one colored school districts in the county and a total of twenty-three schools.

Jackson Street School, located on nearby E. 2st Street, opened its doors in 1890 to house 1st - 8th grade classes for the African American population in Hopkinsville, and in 1912 expanded to house two years of high school. When Attucks High School was constructed, it served as the first four-year high school for African Americans in both Christian and Trigg counties in western Kentucky.

Philanthropic efforts to provide for better educational opportunities for African American children extended into Hopkinsville and Christian County. The Freedmen School System, which had established 200 schools throughout Kentucky, established a school in Hopkinsville. In 1890, Jackson Street School was established; it would be another twenty-six years before another facility would be built in the county for black education. In 1916, Attucks High School was built in the heart of the existing and thriving black community in Hopkinsville. Unlike previous colored schools around the area, Attucks High School provided a four-year high school education in a modern facility that was unlike any other building the African Americans of Christian County could call their own.

After the construction of Attucks High School, philanthropic efforts continued to aid in the establishment of schools for African American students. Between 1920 and 1931, seven Rosenwald schools were built in rural sections of Christian County. By 1937, approximately forty schools were scattered that served the county's African American population. Of these schools, most were located in rural areas, and all were of much lower architectural quality than Attucks High School.

In 1938, the previously separate Hopkinsville Independent School system and the Colored Graded School system merged into one system under the white superintendent and Board of Education. Integration of school facilities officially began in 1957; however, the first three black students to attend a white school did not do so until the 1958-1959 school year. Integration proved to be a slow process, developed on a grade-by-grade basis, with the youngest students integrating first while others received an option to integrate voluntarily. The last class to graduate from the all-black Attucks High School completed the 1967 school year and ended the era of segregation. In 1968 and after ten years, all educational facilities in Christian County were completely integrated.

Building Description

Attucks High School is a two-story masonry building built in 1916. The property is located at 712 East 1st Street in the heart of the African American community in Hopkinsville, seat of Christian County, Kentucky. It served as the only four-year High School for the African American population of Christian and Trigg counties during the era of segregation in Kentucky. In 1957, Hopkinsville schools began to integrate their facilities over a ten-year period. The last class of Attucks High School graduated in 1967. After its students were consolidated into the integrated school system, the building was used as a Middle School for a racially integrated population. The building served the community in this capacity until it was closed in 1988.

The original portion of the building was constructed on lands acquired by a group of African American businessmen and professionals in 1915. Organized as the Trustees of the Hopkinsville Colored Graded School, Ned Turner, Peter Postell, Frank Boyd, Abe Holmes, J.T. Norman, and Will Norman purchased seven residential parcels of land with dwellings thereon for $2,650.00 at the corner of 1st and Vine Streets. A two-story, 13,253 square foot brick structure was constructed on this 1.5-acre lot surrounded primarily by an African American residential buildings (figure 1). The original construction is very Classical in character with many Italian Renaissance Revival features along with an Egyptian Revival influence.

In 1938, the Hopkinsville Colored Graded School system was absorbed into the white Hopkinsville Independent Schools, and the consolidated, yet segregated school system assumed ownership of Attucks High School. In 1956-1957, the Board of Education of the Hopkinsville Independent School System expanded the site and the campus through the acquisition of adjoining lots. Seven residential lots to the north and to the east of the original structure were purchased to provide land for a large classroom and gymnasium addition. Completed in 1957, this two-story 39,747-square-foot addition was constructed to the east of the original building and exemplifies the Modern architectural traditions of the 1950s with its curtain wall system and metal cladding on the exterior.

All seven of the lots purchased in the campus expansion of 1957 contained structures, and six of these residential buildings were demolished to make space for the growing school. However, the one-story frame house located at 112 Vine Street along the northwest boundary line of the property was retained by the school for use as its band room. As part of the conveyance, the Board of Education allowed Lizzie Dawson, the grantor of the property, the right to remove the stove, water heater, and kitchen sink before relinquishing ownership. In the same period, a free-standing metal building was put up on the west section of the property; by 1961 that housed seventh and eighth-grade classes. A window was converted on the west facade of the original structure into a doorway to serve as a connection to this structure. Both of these buildings have since been demolished and the open areas converted to parking lots.

Following the closing of Attucks High School at the time of integration in 1967, and for the next twenty years, the building served the entire community as a middle school for fifth and sixth grades. The school closed its doors as an educational facility at the conclusion of the school year in 1988. The Christian County Board of Education retained ownership of the site until 1998 when fire and water damage and the presence of hazardous materials led them to seek a new owner for the structure. A group of interested alumni of the high school formed the Crispus Attucks Community Association (C.A.C.A.) in 1998 and subsequently purchased the property for $1.00. The C.A.C.A. maintains ownership of the property, and the group is dedicated to the restoration of the building as a multi-functional resource that can serve as a Cultural centerpiece for the entire community.

The original structure was designed by architect John T. Waller and constructed by Forbes Manufacturing Company in 1916. The overall construction was built at a cost of $17,640.00, with some materials salvaged from the dismantled Clay Street School (1881-1915). The school is a two-story red-brick structure with an asphalt-shingled hipped roof. The foundation is made out of rubblework that was taken from Clay Street School. It has deep double-bracketed eaves at the cornice line. The majority of the windows are six-over-six double-hung sash windows and grouped in sets of three and four with an exception to the windows located in the second-floor library, which are nine-over-nine double-hung sash windows. The first-floor windows are approximately 38" x 66" and the second-floor windows are 38" x 72". The lintels above the windows are made of stone with carvings on each individual window on the first floor. The second-floor windows have stone lintels and a rowlock course underneath the lintels. A horizontal stone belt course runs across the entire facade of the original building, separating the foundation from the brickwork.

The overall style of the building is indicative of the Italian Renaissance Revival and features a hipped roof, symmetrical facade, and paired brackets at its eaves. The main entrance is symmetrically placed on the south facade and protrudes from the building with a large staircase leading to it from the sidewalk. Tapered pilasters flank the double entry door. Above this door is a stone jack arch with a large keystone that reaches up to the second floor. A smaller, square window with stone quoins around its opening is found above the main entrance. Two cornerstones flank the entrance: one denoting the name of the building, construction date, the name of the architect, and the name of the contracting group; and the second listing the name of the original owner and the trustees responsible for funding the school's construction.

The floor plan of the original structure is T-shaped with the library/cafeteria wing protruding north of the main wing. From the front entrance, there is an entry foyer with a double-door entrance leading up to a split staircase. A staircase above the entrance leads to the principal's office.

A central hallway that runs from east to west separates two rows of classrooms that span through the entire first and second floor. The floors in the hall are wooden, while many of the classrooms have concrete floors. The interior walls of the school are made out of wooden lath and plaster. A second stairwell is located along the west wing of the building and is closed off with a double entry door.

The 1957 classroom and gymnasium addition is of a much different and more modern style than the original structure. This two-story red brick building with a flat roof has a curtain wall system installed on both floors along the north and south facades. This curtain wall system consists of floor-to-ceiling windows with a single large fixed panel over a smaller louvered pane. These windows span across the entirety of the facades. The entrance to the addition is situated asymmetrically on the south facade and continues the fenestration pattern used along the classroom wing. The second floor of the classroom annex cantilevers over the first floor supported by seven concrete columns and creates a sidewalk path along the front of the building.

The gymnasium addition located along the eastern side of the property has a brick veneer along its north and south facades, and the remainder of the cladding is a metal wall panel system. The south facade has a row of square windows at ground level. On the east facade, a row of square windows is located along the roofline of the gymnasium, and a second row of identical windows is located halfway down the wall. A driveway leads to an overhead door that is located on the east facade. The north facade features scattered, square windows and a stairwell that leads to a metal double-door entrance to the gym.

The classroom annex is connected to the original structure through a firewall and double-door composition. The concrete floors carry through to the addition and the walls are mainly composed of concrete masonry units. A basement level is included under the gymnasium and classroom addition and houses several classrooms and the mechanical room. The central hallway continues through the classroom annex and separates the two rows of classrooms. This hall terminates at the double-height ceiling gymnasium. The gymnasium includes a large stage for performances and a wall of bleacher seating.

Since the closing of Attucks in 1988, attempts at restoration have been made. Following a destructive fire in the gymnasium in 1997, the C.A.C.A. was formed to save the building from its state of neglect. Since its formation, the association has accomplished the installation of a new roof, asbestos abatement, and the update of electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems. In addition, many broken windows have been boarded up to deter water penetration, and basic masonry repairs have been completed.