The struggle for fair and equal education for Blacks was long and hard in the United States. The South Street School building plays a small role in the history of Black education, but a large role in the education of Blacks in the city of Newport and Campbell County.
The history of Southgate Street School starts with the creation and enforcement of the Freedman’s Bureau in 1865. After the Civil War, the Freedman’s Bureau mandated that states provide for educating blacks. Local African Americans in Newport then voted on trustees in 1866 and then established a short-lived school in Newport. The school was opened in December of 1868 and then closed in February of 1869 when the funding for the Freedman’s Bureau dried up due to mismanagement and no support.
Purchasing the Property
Mostly through new taxes and fines collected from the area the Board of Education for the city of Newport raised enough funds for a permanent school. In 1870, the City of Newport purchased the land of what would become the Southgate Street School for $1500 from Thomas and Susan Dodsworth. On this land the city would build a wooden schoolhouse and the school building would be completed in 1873. In the meantime classes would be organized and taught at the local Methodist Church. In August of 1873, the Board employed one black teacher, Elizabeth Hudson, at a salary of $35 per month and she began teaching in the first week of September marking the official beginning of this school. In 1893 two major events occurred. The first major event of the year was that the school had its first official commencement ceremony for two graduating students, Louisa Smith and Lavinia Ellis. The second major event was the extension of the building and an addition of a second floor was started to the building. All of this was done with brick giving the school its current look and shape.
Education During Segregation
In 1901, the school began doing three year high school study courses. Until this time, high school students attended Lincoln Grant High School in Covington. The high school portion of the school didn’t last long and was closed in 1921. This was due to the low class sizes and the supposid low standards of the school. The building became solely an elementary school. Following the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown vs Board of Education the school was deemed unequal and closed in 1955.
After Brown v. Board of Education
The property was soon bought by the gangster Frank “Screw” Andrews and used the former school building as a two story “warehouse.” There was some evidence to suggest that it was an illegal gambling den before it was sold to its current owners. The building is currently owned by the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge 120. The building became the Newport History Museum at the Southgate Street School in 2016 and still remains open with tours and exhibits of the building’s history.