It has served miraculously in this county.Dr. Franklin Goldwire
SPRINGFIELD -- Dr. Franklin Goldwire wants the echo of the Springfield Central High School bell to endure forever.
During a March 6 Exchange Club of Effingham County meeting at Renasant Bank, Goldwire talked about the school that thrived from 1956-70 before being closed because of integration.
“It’s exciting to talk to you about a very important and significant site right here in Effingham County,” Goldwire said.
The Springfield Central High School building still stands on Wallace Drive. It was an “equalization” school that housed grades 1-12.
“You might wonder what Central is so important,” Goldwire said. “In order to do that, we need to take a step back and consider the fact the public education started in the state of Georgia in the last 1800s and Effingham County’s first board of education was organized Sept. 7, 1871. So there is about 150 years of public education in the state of Georgia.
“From the onset, the system was designated a dual system for Afro-Americans and whites. The blacks had their schools and the whites had their particular schools.”
By 1887, Goldwire said, Effingham County had approximately 35 schools for white students and about 15 schools for black students.
A 1896 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation laws for public facilities as long as the segregated facilities were equal in quality — a doctrine that came to be known as “separate but equal.”
“By the early 1950s, facilities, maintenance and legal obligations in maintaining a dual system — separate but equal — became problematic,” Goldwire said. “However, the concept of separate and equal continued.”
In 1949, five years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated public schools were unconstitutional, Gov. Herman Talmadge was determined to prove that separate but equal schools could work in the state. He championed a three percent state tax that was used to distribute “equalization grants” that were used to build schools — including Springfield Central.
“He ended up building approximately 700 of these schools for whites and 500 of these schools for blacks,” Goldwire said. “Eventually, the system throughout the country, including Georgia and Effingham County, was dismantled by the federal courts and the school system here was integrated in 1970.”
Goldwire said Springfield Central deserves a lofty place in history.
“It has served miraculously in this county,” he said. “It has reached the ripe old age of 63 and we are trying to get it designated as a historical site with the Georgia Historical Society.”
On March 5, the Effingham County Board of Commissioners approved an application for funds from the Historical Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
“It is one of only 200 of the 500 schools (built for black students) that is still in existence today,” Goldwire said. “During the past few years, counties and communities have recognized the significance and importance of these schools and what they really stand for so they are literally digging them out of the rubble and trying to restore and reuse them. The significance goes far beyond (Springfield Central) being the first high school built for Afro-Americans in this county.
“It is significant that it has served in many capacities for the citizens, particular the students of this county. It has served as a high school, a junior high school, an elementary school — Springfield Elementary School was housed there for several years — and it has served as a learning center.
“It now serves as a resource for the county recreation department.”
The building was also the original home of Parent University.
“That is just a nutshell of why Central is so important,” Goldwire said.
Goldwire distributed a booklet about Springfield Central. Entitled “A Celebration of Champions,” it listed the school’s athletic accomplishments, including state basketball championships racked up by boys and girls on dirt courts.
“They played basketball rain or shine,” he said.
The booklet included an additional explanation why the school needs to be preserved. Goldwire read one of them.
“Historic buildings, structures and sites are tangible evidence of our shared history and bring that history to life in ways that no written or audiovisual materials ever could,” he said.