Looking to educate their children, descendants from the last slave ship, Clotilda, established a school in Africatown’s Plateau community in 1880. Over the next 30 years, the school morphed and shifted at various locations, and in 1910, Isaiah J. Whitley took the helm as principal. Whitley was described as broad-minded and progressive. He transformed the school, previously known as The Plateau Normal and Industrial Institute, into the Mobile County Training School, the first school of its kind for Blacks in the state of Alabama. Above is the first graduating class with Whitley seated amongst them. According to archive records, the majority of the women in the photo would go on to hold teaching positions in Mobile County. Two ladies pictured, Hattie Keeby and Agnes Finley, went on to study at Tuskegee Institute, while the two men accepted positions as principals in the Andalusia, Alabama, school system.
1880: The first school in the Plateau community, called The Plateau Normal and Industrial Institute for the Education of the Head, Heart and Hands of the Colored Youth, is established at the Old Baptist Church, now known as Union Baptist Church
1898 – 1910: School relocates to a donated one-room building; classes held there for several years before school moves again, this time to Booman’s Union Hall, then later to Yorktown Baptist
1910: Now part of the Mobile County public school system, the name changes to Mobile County Training School (MCTS)
1915: School destroyed by fire; principal Isaiah J. Whitley secures new quarters that includes industrial and domestic science buildings
1934: MCTS is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, making it the only Black school in the county to receive the distinction
1946: Due to overpopulation at MCTS, Central High School is established, located on Davis Avenue
1967: Sixth grade is added
1970: The school is reorganized and transformed from a high school to a middle school
By the Numbers
4: Number of teachers listed on the Plateau Public School’s letterhead in 1912: Isaiah J. Whitley, Miss M. L. Williams, Miss M. G. Stanford and Mrs. Clara Brookshire.
80: Average number of days Black students in the South spent in school during the 1919-20 academic year; white students spent an average of 121.
1.5k: Population of Plateau in 1921; the community peaked at around 15,000 with the arrival of paper mills but has since fallen to below 2,000.