Beebe Colored School
One of the last physical structures in White County associated with the education of African Americans during the days of segregation is located at 802 East Idaho Street just east of Highway 367 in Beebe (White County). For approximately twelve years in the 1940s and 1950s, the Beebe Colored School was the only educational institution for African American students in the area. The small brick building was added to the Arkansas Register of Historic Places on August 3, 2022.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, educational opportunities for African American students were limited in White County. By the 1920s, the county operated only three schools for Black students, all three funded by the Julius Rosenwald Fund. Over the years, additional segregated schools were built throughout the county, with one located in Beebe on the present location of the Beebe Colored School. In 1944, that building was removed and replaced by the current building.
The construction company of Gilbreath and Swann constructed the small, approximately 20′ x 30′ brick building in August 1944. The one-room building has three windows on each side and a door at each end. From 1944 to 1956, African American students attending grades 1–7 were educated here. When the school first opened, teacher Rachel Smith instructed the initial student body of thirty-four. After completing grade 7, students who desired to continue their education were required to travel to other area schools that would accept them. In 1956, the school was closed, and students were bused about twenty miles to the White County Training School in Searcy (White County). The Searcy school remained in operation until the local schools were desegregated in the mid-1960s.
The Beebe school building remained unused and vacant until 1961. In that year, it was sold to Ozier Moore, who had placed a winning bid of $777.00 to the Beebe School Board. For the next few years, the building was used by the African American community for church services. By the late 1980s, it was once again vacant and quickly fell into disrepair. For a few years beginning in 1987, a local backhoe business owned by Les Crossey used the property.
Over the following years, the property—still not recognized for its significance—was abandoned and fell into serious disrepair. By the early 2000s, local historian Richard White of Beebe had begun publicizing the importance of the building and pushing for its restoration as a historic site. The efforts resulted in the building being included in the 2010 Arkansas’s Most Endangered Places List created by the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas (now Preserve Arkansas). Still, little progress was made to preserve the building.
In 2019, the Moore family sold the property to the City of Beebe for the sum of $1.00 in hopes that something could be done to save the building. Discussions were held over the next couple of years with little success. On June 26, 2021, the Beebe City Council voted to demolish the historic structure. This announcement stimulated additional preservation discussion, including involvement by the White County Historical Society. In August 2021, the Beebe City Council reversed its previous decision and voted to retain ownership of the property and stop the planned razing. Later that month, the historical society voted to begin fundraising for preservation of the structure.
The historical society and the City of Beebe then united in a five-phase project to restore the building. Phase One, the stabilization of the foundation and the construction of a roof, was the most immediate and necessary of the four. By August 2022, the Arkansas Craftsman Building and Management Inc. had begun work to stabilize the building and to construct a roof. That same month, the structure was added to the Arkansas Register of Historic Places. The additional planned phases of the restoration include interior renovations, a memory garden, restrooms, and a visitor parking area.
For additional information:
“Beebe Colored School.” Arkansas Register of Historic Places. https://www.arkansasheritage.com/arkansas-register/beebe-colored-school (accessed May 19, 2023).
“The Beebe School.” White County Historical Society. https://www.whitecountyhistory.net/beebeschool (accessed May 19, 2023).
Geary, Greg. “Restoration Begins on Old Beebe Colored School Places on Arkansas Register of Historic Places.” Daily Citizen, September 16, 2022. Online at https://www.thedailycitizen.com/news/restoration-begins-on-old-beebe-colored-school-placed-on-arkansas-register-of-historic-places/article_dde13f6b-d3d7-5785-96a2-ee789b3a0fcd.html (accessed May 19, 2023).
———. “White County Historical Society Considering Taking on Beebe Segregated School Building Project.” Daily Citizen, August 9, 2021. Online at https://www.thedailycitizen.com/news/white-county-historical-society-considering-taking-on-beebe-segregated-school-building-project/article_d00eefcf-11d7-58eb-b567-50efbb064297.html (accessed May 19, 2023).
CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas
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