Claiborne Institute / Natchez Training School
In 1888, the Ninth Neighborhood School Committee purchased this lot for an African American School, originally named the Claiborne Institute in honor of first principal Willis Claiborne. Rebuilt in 1907 as the Franklin Colored School, it expanded in 1925 to become the Franklin Training School. The present building was built in 1949. In 1962, teachers worked with the Williamson County Board of Education to change the school’s name to Natchez High School to reflect how the school had evolved beyond industrial training programs. After many years of serving as the only African American high school for the entire county, Natchez High School graduated its last class in 1967 due to integration with the previously all-white Franklin High School.
Backstory and Context
Property for the first school on this property, called the Claiborne Institute, was purchased in 1888 by a group of local school directors and African American directors. According to oral histories, the school was named after Willis Claiborne, whose land was purchased for the site. The school provided academic and religious studies for its students who began each morning with chapel services. At its largest, the school served 250 students with one principal and three teachers.
Franklin Colored School 1907 - 1950
In 1906, the City of Franklin's Board of Mayor and Alderman was authorized to take over operation of its local schools through a school board, and the Claiborne Institute came under this authority. The following year, in April 1907, the Claiborne Institute burned to the ground. A new 6 classroom-building was constructed as the Franklin Colored School. This square, clapboard building had three classrooms on each side with a hallway down the middle. Each classroom was heating with a pot-bellied stove. The building was not well-constructed and students complained of extreme heat in the warm months, and cold in the winter. Until 1923, only grades 1-8 were offered. Beginning in 1923, a few high school level courses were added. The Rosenwald Fund program and the County eventually provided funds to build an addition to the building
Franklin Training School / Natchez High School 1950 - 1967
In 1950 a new brick and cinderblock building was constructed to house the school. It housed both an elementary and high school for the African American community in Franklin.
In 1961, at the request of teachers and community members, the name of the school was changed to Natchez High School to reflect the change in instruction from one that implied a vocational or technical school to a more traditional academic high school. The School continued to be the hub of the community during this time. Extra-curricular activities included outstanding football and women's basketball teams, a marching band referred to as the "pride of the Black community", elaborate Homecoming events, and a high level of community involvement ensured that the high school remained one of the key elements of the neighborhood's character and sense of pride.
After the name change, improvements were made to the school as calls were being sounded for desegregation of schools across the country.
Closing of School
On January 10, 1967, Williamson County adopted its final desegregation plan and Natchez High School's final class graduated in May 1967. Integration and the subsequent closing of Natchez High School generated a significant change in the neighborhood's identity. With the closing of its high school, the neighborhood was irrevocably altered. It had lost one of its most critical institutions that had engendered community support, spirit, identity, and pride. Currently, the former Natchez High School building still stands and has been converted into the Claiborne and Hughes Health Center. The school's contribution to the educational development of Franklin's black population during segregation, and its subsequent closing during integration reflects the transformation of African-American education throughout the South during this time.
Research on African American Education: Cultural Capital and Black Education: African American Communities and the Funding of Black Schooling, 1860 to the Present (2004, Paperback)
Savage, Carter Julian. "From Claiborne's Institute to Natchez High School: The History of African American Education in Williamson County, Tennessee, 1890-1967." Ed.D. dissertation, Peabody College of Vanderbilt, 1998.