Douglass School


After Absalom White’s lynching in 1854, [ see The Hanging of Reverend White ] his property would go into probate for several years. By the time his young daughter would eventually receive her property, after becoming emancipated in January of 1865, the property would also include a small brick building used as the first African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in St. Charles County. From this church would grow St. John A.M.E. Church at 547 Washington Street in St. Charles. And by the 1870s the traveling pastors would spread westward and lead to the establishment of Sage Chapel ( see Sagechapel.com ) in O’Fallon in 1881. In Wentzville the Grant Chapel A.M.E. was established in 1886 under the leadership of Rev. C.H. Wright In 1887 under the leadership of Rev. William Hamilton the church was built, with the designer of the building Mr. George Abington who lived across the street. In 1890 under the leadership of Rev. George Slach, a parsonage was built from material of the Sage Chapel A.M.E. Church in O’Fallon. Finally, the furthest A.M.E. Church would be Smith Chapel A.M.E. in Foristell. I first learned of Douglass School when I visited the Smith Chapel Cemetery with George Abington to visit the grave of his grandmother Sarah Abington Smith and his grandfather Nathaniel Abington, one of the founding trustees for the property. (See The Abington Family)

Douglass school replaced an earlier log school for the area’s African American families in the early 1900s. Teachers included Mrs. Marie Washington, Mrs. Woods, Mary Troutt, Mr. Wolfolk, and Vernell Miller, who was the last teacher before desegregation in the 1950s. At its’ height in the 1930s, enrollment totaled thirty to thirty-eight students in the combined grades of one thru eight. There were never enough desks and always a shortage of materials, students frequently sat two to a desk. The materials, books, and erasers, were handed down from the Foristell white school. The school day began promptly at 9:00 with prayer, pledge, and a song, and ended at 4:00 pm. Many of the students who attended walked. Most lived a mile or more from the school and would not arrive home until after dark during the winter months. Electricity or plumbing was never installed in the building and heat was provided by a centrally located coal stove. For several years they drew their water from a well located a few yards from the school.

Formal commencement combined graduates from Douglass School and Lincoln School, the African American School across from Grant Chapel Cemetery in Wentzville. After eighth grade the students attended Franklin School in St. Charles which was over twenty miles away. Douglass School is an important African American cultural resource in St. Charles County and is one of only two remaining schools known today.