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Laboratory of Learning

HBCU Laboratory Schools and Alabama State College Lab High in the Era of Jim Crow


Sharon Gay Pierson

During the progressive education movement, laboratory high schools evolved from model schools that were part of the core teacher training curriculum at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). These laboratory schools were at the vanguard of the accreditation battle, participated in national curriculum studies, and boasted high graduation and college entrance rates. Led by well-educated, reform-minded African Americans who molded their own approaches to teaching and curriculum and were grounded in sound progressive educational theory, these HBCU lab high schools represented privileged educational experiences. Yet, this collective effort of high-achieving Black lab schools has been overlooked by historians. Through an examination of Alabama State Teachers College Laboratory High School (1920–1960), Laboratory of Learning illuminates the strategies, challenges, and successes of providing secondary education to Southern Black citizens during the Jim Crow era and provides evidence that HBCU laboratory schools and Lab High should be added to our histories as an example of distinctive, progressive schooling.


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Part 2 CREATING “PRECIOUS SCHOLARS” AT ALABAMA STATE COLLEGE LABORATORY HIGH SCHOOL · 3 · SEEDS OF INSPIRATION AND EFFECTIVE ADMINISTRATION “A University for Colored People” In 1867, nestled in the Black Belt of Alabama, Lincoln Normal School in Perry County welcomed its first 113 students to the promise of teacher edu- cation for newly freed African Americans. Over the next ten decades, this pioneering Black educational facility persevered. Buffeted by legislation, surviving White racism, relocation, and experiencing seven name changes, it emerged in 1969 as the Alabama State University. 1 This study is concerned with the development and role of the Alabama State College Laboratory School, 1920 to 1962. However, it is impossible to understand the laboratory school without first having a sense of the history of the institution in which it was born. This HBCU, the first state-supported Black college in the United States, had the good fortune of being led by tal- ented presidents, each of whom demonstrated acumen and vision within an oppressive environment. Chapters 3 and 4 examine the historical origins of the college through the experiences of four of the institution’s presidents: Chapter 3 (1) William Burns Paterson (1878 to 1915) (2) John William Beverly (1915 to 1920) (3) George Washington Trenholm (1920 to 1925) Chapter 4 (4) Harper Councill Trenholm (1925 to 1962) William Burns Paterson is considered the founder of the college (although he was the second president of the school, following George Card); John William Beverly, an alumnus of the Normal School, was...

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