From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

African American Schools in Graves County, KY

Prior to the end of slavery, there were no colored schools in Graves County, KY, according to the thesis of Hubert H. Mills, The History of Education of Graves County, p.64, and there were very few slave owners who taught their slaves reading, writing, and arithmetic. An early school was attempted by the U.S. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands between 1866 and 1870, the freedmen were beaten and whipped, and the teacher was run out of town [see NKAA entry Freedmen Schools].

The first colored schools and capita for Negro students came in 1875, followed by the first school report in 1879 [source: Mills, p.65-66]. There were 12 county school districts with 11 schools that were in session for two months with an average of 276 students who attend the schools on a regular basis. There were 7 log school buildings, 3 frame, and 1 box, with 10 male teachers and 2 female teachers. The male teachers' salaries were $18.68 per month and the female teachers earned $15.67 per month. In 1880, the teachers were Mary Boone, Sandy H. Slayam, and Andrew Carman [source: U.S. Federal Census]. By 1922, both the male and female teachers were earning $81.90 per month, and in 1937, they were earning $85.51 per month [source: Mills, p.79]. The highest number of colored schools in Graves County was 20 in 1905; 18 frame buildings and two log buildings [source: Mills, p.67].

In the city of Mayfield, in 1908, two elementary schools were established for Negro children, one in east Mayfield and one in southwest Mayfield. In 1917, the two schools were merged and a high school was added [source: Mills, p.147]. A new school had been constructed in 1917, in preparation for the school merger; the building was a two-story brick structure with 12 rooms and located on eight acres of land in southeast Mayfield. The school was named Dunbar Colored School. The building cost $35,000 of which $1,600 was contributed by the Rosenwald Fund. In 1927, a gymnasium and auditorium were constructed in a separate building and was financed by a $40,000 bond issue voted on by the people of Mayfield. In 1928, Dunbar Colored School had an enrollment of 89% of the elementary school-age, Negro, children in the city of Mayfield.  This was one of the highest enrollment percentages of African American elementary students in the state of Kentucky.

The students were taught by five teachers, all of whom met the requirement of two years of normal school training and two years of teaching experience. There were 86 students in the high school in 1928, and four graduated. From 1917-1928, there were 31 total graduates from Dunbar Colored High School, and half of the graduates had gone on to college [source: Mills, p.146]. The high school students were taught by four teachers, one of whom was the principal, and all met the requirement of a college degree and two years of teaching experience.

The grade school teachers earned an average salary of $70 per month; high school teachers earned $85 per month; and the principal earned $125 per month [source: Mills, pp.145-146]. There were 12 colored schools in the county in 1928, and nine of the schools had male teachers and three with female teachers. The school term was seven months. The newest county school building had been constructed 1926 in Water Valley and the Rosenwald Fund contributed $400 toward the cost of construction. Hickory Colored School was built in 1925.

In 1940, the Negro teachers in Graves County were Christine Crawford, Asbury Dawson, Artice England, Henry T. Frazell, Mary Anna Frizzell, George Hale, Jesse K. Killebrew, Salene Murphy, Ruby Sapp, Henry H. Schofield, Brady M. Schofield, Fredrick E. Stiger, Ocala Taylor, Bonnie Taylor, Inez C. Utterback, Myra Williams, and Verna Word [source: U.S. Federal Census]. Mayfield High School for whites was the first school to be listed as integrated in the Kentucky Public School Directory, 1956-57, p.429]. 

  • Freedmen Bureau School
  • Colored Schools (20)
  • Dunbar School
  • Hickory School
  • Mayfield Schools (2)
  • Water Valley School
  • Pleasant Hill School [source: Kentucky School Directory, 1961-62, p.856]

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Graves County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Mayfield, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Hickory, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Water Valley, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Pleasant Hill, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Item Relations

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“African American Schools in Graves County, KY,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed May 21, 2024,

Last modified: 2017-10-31 19:07:04