According to Plato’s Republic, we know that the beginning is the most important part of any work, especially in the case of young and eager learners. This is the time that character is being formed and the desired impression is more readily established. Likewise, the beginning of Councill Training School was important to its future greatness. From its humble beginnings, Councill Training School was built on Responsibility, Courage, Compassion, Loyalty, Honesty, Friendship, Persistence, Hard Work, Self Discipline and Faith. These traits are recognized as essentials of excellence for character development. In order for the students to develop such traits, the dedicated administrators and teachers had to offer themselves as examples of such admirable ideals.
Councill Training School brought about a change in education for Negroes in Madison County. Prior to the establishment of Councill, many black children didn’t get much schooling. Small neighborhood schools housed in churches and lodge halls were the only sources of formal education available to Negroes. Some communities did not have schools at all and those that did had very short terms lasting from two to four months. Instructors who had completed high school were considered well qualified teachers. Some teachers were hired with less than a high school education. Regardless of the educational level, these teachers were highly respected by the students and the community. Salaries for Negro teachers ranged from $25 a month in 1913 up to $70 a month in 1927. Not only were the salaries of Negro teachers low, but they were far below their white counterparts. Despite the inequities of salaries and poor teaching and learning conditions, the responsibilities of the Negro educator were great, classroom instruction was superior, and the lessons of life were lasting.
In the early 1900s Julius Rosenwald became interested in the welfare and education of the Negro. In 1912, Rosenwald, President of Sears Roebuck and Company, presented Booker T Washington a check for $25,000 to aid black colleges based on the Tuskegee Institute model. Rosenwald was attracted to Booker T. Washington and his philosophy of black self-help, as well as Tuskegee Institute’s industrial education program. In 1913, there was $2,100 left over from the Tuskegee project and Washington persuaded Rosenwald to give the unused funds as grants to Negro communities that wanted to build rural elementary schools.
Councill Training School was built in 1919 with local funds and supplemented with a Rosenwald Foundation grant. Grades 1-6 were taught in the white frame structure situated northwest of Alabama A&M University’s Palmer Hall. There were two classrooms and a large storage room. As enrollment increased, the storage room was converted into a third classroom. Grades were combined, 1-2, 3-4, and 5-6. The school was named for William Hooper Councill, founder of Alabama A&M University. Some of the dedicated administrators and teachers were Luvenia Minor, Mabel Winston, Dorothy Simpson, Reva White, Thomas McCrary, Georgia True, Ruby Briggs, Eva Bell and Mrs. McIntire (first name unknown).
Teaching conditions were poor and materials and supplies consisted of desks, chalkboards, broom, water bucket, and a “pot belly” stove. Students brought their lunches from home each day or walked home for lunch. Most of the students who attended the first school lived in walking distance. The curriculum was limited to the basic courses of reading, English, arithmetic, history and science. Activities included recess and lunch. Like all the Rosenwald schools, Councill had a carefully constructed outdoor privy. There were three separate, enclosed stalls under one roof. A covered entryway enabled children to stay out of the rain while waiting their turn.
After completing the offerings of community schools, many students continued their education at A and M Laboratory School, the only consolidated high school available to Madison County Negro students in that era. Those feeder schools, in addition to Councill Training, included other Rosenwald schools: Conyers at Gurley; Farmer’s Capital; Grayson, the site of which has not been located; Horton at Pond Beat, on what is now Buxton Road on Redstone Arsenal; Mt. Carmel; Mt. Lebanon; and Silver Hill, located on Mullins Flat on what is now Redstone Arsenal. Many scholars of the A and M Laboratory School became successful citizens, contributing to our community and nation. Among them was Alex Haley, author of Roots and Queen.
Changes in the school facility, teacher requirements, curriculum and salaries varied only slightly from 1927 to 1948. Councill Training opened as the first public high school for Negro students in Madison County in 1948, with an enrollment of 600 students. It was not until the 1948 structure was completed that noticeable improvements were made. In 1949, Councill graduated its first class of fifty-two students. It was constructed on fifteen acres of land southwest of A and M College on Meridian Street. The land was donated by the college, with the understanding that should the county no longer need the building it would revert to Alabama A and M. The block structure consisted of fourteen classrooms, food, clothing and science laboratories, a gymnasium, library and lunchroom. Grades one through twelve and special education classes were taught by twenty-two faculty members. In addition to the basic curriculum, students at Councill were involved in extra curricula activities such as the debate club; glee club; New Farmers of America (NFA); New Homemakers of America (NHA); Thespian Society; 4-H Club; calf shows; sewing, baking and oratorical contests. Students competed in various contests at the district and state levels. A highlight of the school was the Councill Training quartet.
In 1952, Councill was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Dr. Charles Orr, the first principal of this new school, served from 1948 through 1953. As the community economy rapidly shifted from basic agriculture to business and technology in the sixties, more changes were made at the now famous Councill Training School.
Following Dr. Orr, Mr. J. H. Richards became principal and served from 1953 through 1959. During that era, Councill set outstanding and impressive records in athletics with championship football and basketball teams. Other special activities continued to flourish and enrollment increased as did the faculty and staff. The band and choral programs brought honor and special commendations to Councill.
In 1958, a vocational building was constructed near the main plant. This block structure consisted of two large shops, two large classrooms and housed the agriculture and auto mechanics courses.
Under the leadership of Mr. A. G. Adams from 1959 to 1970, the school maintained a strong academic program and was highly competitive in athletics. Programs in football, basketball, and track brought much recognition. In 1962, five additional classrooms were added, the enrollment increased from 600 to more than 950, and the faculty increased from twenty-two to thirty-two.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 affected the future of the school. As black students attended neighborhood schools due to integration, enrollment declined. In 1968, the 1-12 school became a senior high school limited to grades 10-12. As a result of this change, the school became Councill Senior High. The school closed in 1970 as full integration took effect. Teachers assigned to Councill were transferred to other county schools. The land which Councill occupied reverted to Alabama A and M University in 1971. The structure still stands on Meridian Street and now houses the University’s ROTC program.
In 1992, all of the 22 Councill Training School graduating classes reunited for the first school-wide reunion. The reunion opened on Friday evening, June 26, with an evening of class parties at the Huntsville Hilton with 1,000 participants attending. A reunion picnic was held on Saturday, June 27, at Redstone Arsenal’s recreational area, with more than 2,500 former students, families and friends participating. The reunion climaxed on Saturday evening with a banquet and dance at the Von Braun Civic Center with about 1,000 alumni in attendance. On Sunday, June 28, schoolmates worshipped at churches of their choice. During this unforgettable weekend, alumni had the opportunity to reflect on the “Good Ole Days” at Councill Training, riding the bus four hours to school each day, the school quartet, and the heated rivalry with Councill High School – Huntsville City’s black public school in those days. The stories shared brought much fun and laughter.
Again in 2003, all 22 of the Councill Training graduating classes reunited for the second school-wide reunion. The celebration followed a similar pattern to that in 1992, beginning with class parties at the Huntsville Hilton and other sites on Friday evening. On Saturday morning, August 23rd, more than 800 alumni gathered at the Ernest Knight Center on the campus of Alabama A and M University for a reunion brunch and a tour of the old Councill Training School building. They were intrigued by a video developing the reunion theme: “Rekindling the Councill Spirit,” and featuring pictures of students and activities from the 22-year existence of Councill Training School. The video evoked fond memories. The reunion climaxed with a banquet and dance at the Von Braun Center on Saturday evening with approximately 1000 alumni and guests in attendance. Schoolmates again worshipped at churches of their choice on Sunday morning. Like the first school-wide reunion, the gathering in 2003 rekindled the Councill Spirit.
When a third all-school reunion was held in 2008, 769 former students attended. Activities were structured as in previous reunions: class parties at the Holiday Inn Downtown on Friday evening, a Saturday picnic and a Saturday evening banquet followed by a dance at the Von Braun Center. Highly successful, that reunion caused class leaders to agree to plan another gathering for 2011.
Again Councillites enjoyed planning the reunion. As usual, each class sent representatives to the Steering Committee to plan for more than a year. This time the committee established an Endowed Councill Training School Scholarship within the Alabama A and M University Foundation. The goal of the scholarship is to pass on the CTS legacy to deserving students. The reunion, held August 26-28, 2011, was a joyous occasion featuring class parties, a brunch, a banquet and informal gatherings. More that 700 Councillites attended and decided to gather again in 2014.
August 22-24, 2014 were the dates of the fifth all-school reunion. More than ____ former students and guests attended. Headquarters for that gathering was the Embassy Suites Hotel and Spa, and the Marriott Hotel at the Space Center was the site of class gatherings. As usual, Saturday activities were held at the Von Braun Center. By then posing for photographs had become an important part of the reunion festivities. Class pictures are not only valuable keepsakes but they also document attendance, allowing each attendee to be identified in the next reunion program. The Reunion Committee presented its first Endowed Scholarship in 2017. The recipient was Deja J. Morris a Biology major at Alabama A&M University, from Childersburg, Alabama.
In 2013, the Alabama A&M University Board of Trustees approved a master plan calling for the demolition of Councill Training School building along with more than a dozen other campus facilities. Currently, plans to demolish the building have been taken off the table it is has been designated to house the Virginia Caples Lifelong Learning Institute. The Institute will be a state-of-the art center for meeting the needs of older adults and preparing them to age well. The proposal calls for collaborative fundraising between the institute and Councillites over the next three years to renovate the building. Councillites will have space for meetings and archives in the facility. Such collaboration drives the 2017 Reunion theme: “Proud to Celebrate and Preserve Our CTS Roots.”
Between reunions, classes met and planned activities. One such activity was the dedication of a historical marker at Councill Training School on May 5, 2002. The class of 1957, the 1992 School Reunion Committee, the Councill Training School Historical Marker Committee, benefactors, and the Huntsville-Madison County Historical Society collaborated to achieve that momentous feat.
Councillites have chosen many walks of life and have made significant contributions to their families, community and nation. Their lives are better because of their enriching and nurturing experiences at Councill. The history of Councill Training School is a rare and rich legacy. It is a reliable, moral, and educational reference point that has been an anchor in holding fast to our culture, our history, and our many traditions. We are proud to salute Councill Training School/Councill Senior High as a legacy of love and learning.