Jessie Freeman was born in 1888 in Montgomery. She was the eighth child of Rufus E. and Alice (Larkins) Freeman. Two of the children died young. Jessie’s mother died before 1900, when we find Jessie living with her Aunt Mary and two younger sisters. They were attending school. She graduated from St. Normal school in 1911 and started teaching at Cemetery Hill School the following year. She was 24 years old.

“The Cemetery Hill school building (for colored pupils) was erected in 1888 at a cost of $2,100.  Subsequently the Council expended about $800 dollars more in furnishing and improving the building. This building is well located on the hill just south of Oakwood Cemetery, where the city owns several acres of valuable property. The building has seating capacity for 300 students and the property is valued at $3,000.” The Montgomery Advertiser Montgomery, Alabama · Friday, May 29, 1891

The Montgomery Times Montgomery, Alabama Mon, Sep 30, 1912 · Page 5. Edelweiss members – Jessie Freeman, Willease Simpson, Annie Wimbs and Naomi Rodgers.

There were three fires that burned African American buildings in January 1913. Cemetery Hill School, which burned to the ground, Swayne School that was not a complete loss and the Negro Lodge Hall. There was talk of arson, and the fire marshal decided that the Swayne School fire and the Lodge fire were of incendiary origin. The Cemetery Hill School fire was ruled accidental with the blaze beginning in the basement and spreading upwards to the roof until the whole building was engulfed. Windy conditions fanned the fire. No one was injured in any of the fires.

The cost of replacing the building was estimated at $4,000 ($2,000 covered by insurance) and $800 for the desks, black boards etc. The school relocated temporarily to a church building and seems to have been rebuilt in a timely fashion.

Jesse Freeman taught second grade at Cemetery Hill for several years and then taught fifth grade at Day Street School for several years. By 1919 she was teaching eighth grade at Booker T. Washington school where she taught until her death at age 60.

The Emancipator, 26 January, 1918

“The Edelweiss Club was entertained last Friday evening by Miss Jessie Freeman. After whist the members of the club were served to a delightful luncheon. The guests were Misses Alice Snow, Lucile Caffey and Ophelia Peterson. The prizes were won by Miss Juanita Davis and Miss Annie Wimbs.”

I wonder what constituted “a delightful luncheon”? Sounds like a good topic for the letter “D”.

19 thoughts on “C- CEMETERY School

  1. 300 students! Quite a large number.

    I wonder the ages and how did the teachers handled their discipline problems?

    just saying

    1. I haven’t seen any information on discipline. Since there were so many students who couldn’t get into classes at the “colored” schools, perhaps they told them to go home and let another student take their place.

  2. I was wondering what their delightful luncheon consisted of, then read your last sentence! Did they have congealed salads then, because I’m thinking if so, that had to be on the menu!

    1. Today I was working on tomorrow’s post and I found the ingredients for a delightful dish in the newspaper. Quite a difference. There was quite a difference in how much people earned too.

  3. Since the school was near the cemetery, I can now see why it was named that. At first, I thought it was an odd name. What a shame that it burned completely down.

    1. It was rebuilt and decades later a larger and more well built school replaced it. The name was changed to Hale after a successful black businessman from the early days after Emancipation.

  4. Jessie Freeman moved up the grades over the years. I wonder if that was by choice and what it was like to teach 8th graders in that time and place. It must have been fun, rotating the gatherings from house to house. If the unmarried women lived with their parents, it might have taken quite some organizing.

    1. They all lived with someone. Those from out of town would board with an older woman. Most did live with family members. Sometimes they would have their even at someone else’s home. Someone with more space and fewer people in the household.

  5. Imagine dedicating your entire life to teaching!
    I’m intrigued bey the name Cemetery Hill School. I knew you said it was because it sat on the hill where the cemetery also sat, but… I don’t know. Sounds as if there should be a story there 😉

    1. I think that’s the only story. It really was right next to the cemetery. Sometimes the names were not very imaginative. The school on Day Street was called The Day Street School. Other’s were named after people.

      My mother and an aunt taught from their late twenties/early thirties until they retired in their sixties. I have a daughter and a son who seem to be following the same path – teaching until they retire.

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