SPRINGFIELD — A tribute to the past is a symbol of hope for the future.
That was the primary theme of Friday’s unveiling of a historical marker at 434 Wallace Drive, the site of Springfield Central High School from 1956-70.
“I believe this marker is important because it speaks to a place in time related to the history of public school segregation in Georgia as it reflects the attitude, inequities and the extent to which Georgia state government went in order to preserve segregation,” said Dr. Franklin Goldwire, assistant chairperson of the Springfield Central High School Association Inc.
Effingham County Board of Commissioners Chairman Wesley Corbitt echoed Goldwire’s sentiments. He added, “Equalization is not found through segregation.”
Corbitt was in high school when schools in Effingham County integrated in 1970. He was moved to a former all-black school that lacked expected equipment and resources.
“I realized that equalization is something more of the heart and not of politics and not of government,” Corbitt said.
Corbitt said the marker impacts him spiritually and he expects it will do likewise for others.
“If we forget the spiritual emphasis of this marker, I think we will lose the real emphasis of what it brings to our hearts and minds,” he said.
Corbitt said it is important to “forgive but not forget” the sins that led to and prolonged segregation, creating division.
“We forgive so that bitterness and resentment do not keep us from the grace, love and unity that our Lord desires,” Corbitt said. “We can forgive so that we can move forward, not in fear but in hope. I think as people look at this marker they are reminded of a time when we were maybe trying to provide equalization but it wasn’t happening.”
The Springfield Central High School Association worked for five years to get a Georgia Historical Society marker. The request was initially rejected.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again,” Goldwire said.
Goldwire said “Central” was built as part of the Minimum Foundation Program established by Gov. Herman Talmadge in 1949. Funded by a 3 percent sales tax, the program was designed to improve school buildings while maintaining racial segregation.
Central was one of 500 equalization schools erected in Georgia. Its marker was unveiled 65 years to the day after the after Minimum Foundation Program was created.
“Approximately 700 students graduated from Central,” Goldwire said. “Many of our graduates, as has already been alluded to, became community leaders, business owners, teachers, scientists, lawyers, doctors, medical professionals, military leaders, law enforcement officers, ministers, farmers and various other vocations.”
After it closed in the wake of desegregation, Central was reorganized into a junior high school. It also served as an elementary school and Effingham County’s pre-K program center.
In 2012, the Effingham County Board of Commissioners assumed ownership of the property. It currently used for recreational purposes.
Goldwire thanked many people for helping land the historical marker, including the Effingham Historical Society, the Effingham County Board of Commissioners, the Georgia Historical Society and the Springfield Central High School Association, led by Chairperson Willie Wright Jr.
In 2018, the Effingham County Board of Commissioners agreed to spend $5,000 on the marker.
“You can see the whole village was at work,” Goldwire said.
Georgia Historical Society Marker Manager Elyse Butler said that the Central marker is one of more than 2,100 in the state. It is somewhat unique, however, because it is the newest addition to the Georgia Civil Rights Trail.
“We invite you to continue to help us grow the Georgia Civil Rights Trail and the historical marker program by telling the stories of our shared past and making sure our state’s past is not forgotten,” Butler said.
Only about a dozen spectators were on hand for the occasion because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of them were government officials and Springfield Central High School Association members.
“It has been more than a year since I have been at a historical marker dedication,” Butler said.
Goldwire expressed gratitude for those in attendance.
“You represent the hundreds of others who were looking forward to being here today but — safety first,” he said. “At some time in the future, we hope to stage another event that would give those hundreds an opportunity to participate.”
Goldwire noted that Central was a hub of activity and source of pride for Effingham County’s Black community.
Central won state championships in girls basketball in 1963 and 1964. Its boys basketball team was the 1959 runner-up and the state titleist in 1967.
The teams were called the Panthers.
“It is our hope that the Central school will once again become a source of pride for our community by providing community services,” Goldwire said. “We are looking forward to working with the county commissioners and the county administrator to make that happen — pronto!”