I often post pictures from R.L. Cousins High School and Hutcheson High at my Facebook page for Douglas County history, "Every Now and Then." Comments and private messages generally flow afterwards saying things along the line of, "Are you sure this school was in Douglas County? I don't remember it."
Yes, these schools existed along with many other smaller schools scattered throughout Douglas County. They are the schools that existed during the days of segregation and Jim Crow. Yes, there were black students attending these schools because they were not allowed to attend school with white children from antebellum (Campbell County) days through the mid-to-late 1960s.This wasn't just the practice followed in Douglas County -- it was statewide and took place all across the Southern states.
Many of these early Douglas County schools are lost to time regarding their specific names and exact locations. Most were associated with churches such as Pleasant Grove Baptist or Fairfield A.M.E Church. Many of the community schools had black counterparts such as Chapel Hill and Lithia Springs.
This week I want to draw attention to Square Stephens Simmons, who many referred to in the early 1900s as Professor Simmons. Census data sometimes refers to him more simply as "Steve."
He was born in Douglas County on July 28, 1875, to Ned and Cicely (Eidson) Simmons, both former slaves. Regarding the family line Cicely's father was Jack Bowen while Ned's father was Colonel Griffin. The title "colonel" hints to the fact he may have been white, but I've not been able to verify this with certainty.
Ned Simmons was a successful farmer assisted by his children. Professor Simmons, the eldest boy, would work on the farm but attend school during the short winter terms. In 1898, he entered Atlanta's Clark University but left in 1902 without graduating. This didn't deter him, however, from taking teaching positions. He first taught at Chapel Hill and then spent two years teaching in Douglasville, two at Austell, and six years at Lithia Springs. Add to that two years at a Paulding County school and in Douglas County's Mt. Carmel community for five years.
During his teaching years Professor Simmons never gave up farming -- it was necessary for his family's survival as he married Hattie May Parks, the daughter of Cicero and Harriet Parks of Douglas County in 1905. Professor Simmons would end his work in the classroom, and the very next day he would plant a crop. For 14 years he did not have an idle week. In fact, he seldom took a day off even to hunt.
His hard work paid off when he managed to help his father acquire a farm, and then purchased one for himself. His biography published in "History of the American Negro" edited by A.B. Caldwell (1917) indicates Professor Simmons gradually added to his real estate holdings until he had amassed lands valued at $5,000, a large sum of money at that time.
Professor Simmons was very involved with his church serving as president of the Sunday school and president of the Epworth League, a Methodist organization for the Rome District. Politically, he was a Republican and while he never sought office himself he served as the chairman of the Douglas County Republican Executive Committee for 12 years.
Professor Simmons was also a secret order man meaning he was a mason serving as the Grand Master of York Masons in Georgia for four years. It is said "under his administration the Order took on new life almost doubling its strength numerically and financially.
Sadly, I have no images of Professor Simmons, but would love to put a face with a name. I wonder if relatives are still in the area?
Lisa Cooper writes the amazing stories of Douglas County each Sunday. You can find her new book "Every Now and Then: The Amazing Stories of Douglas County" online at Amazon, print and Kindle versions. Locally, her book can be found at the Douglas County Museum of History and Art and the Douglasville Welcome Center located at O'Neal Plaza in the former Douglasville Banking Company building.