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"1912, Bate School" is the text on the building. Photos from the DBCAAHS.

Black History Month feature

Bate School started in the late 1800s as a one-room school with just one teacher, John W. Bate, according to a document entitled We Were Here: African Americans in Danville and Boyle County, Kentucky,” by the Danville-Boyle County African American Historical Society (DBCAAHS)

According to “Danville Independent School District: An Historical Perspective Through 2001,” Bate School principals were: John W. Bate, who retired in 1941, Hannibal Eugene Goodloe, principal from 1941-1950 and William Summers, principal from 1950-1964.

It was originally known as “Danville’s Colored School,” and in 1889 the Advocate newspaper printed that just four teachers instructed a swelling population of 300 students. The building was poorly arranged and in need of changes. There was also no sidewalk near the school, creating dangerous walking conditions, according to the DBCAAHS.

There were also huge discrepancies between white and Black schools in public education funding at the time. Despite its structural and accessibility issues, the school was noted as “one of the largest and best conducted colored schools in the state.” Letters to the editor in local newspapers reflected positively on the work the school was doing to educate children and made a case for improvements.

According to the DBCAAHS, the school received help from the public, like book donations for its library, use of an organ for teaching music and equipment during its time as a Black school. 

In just 13 years, the school’s enrollment had grown from six to 300, consisting of nine grades. Enrollment had increased by 1897 to the point that even though the building had two small additions, it was no longer adequate, and “by 1907, with over 400 students attending, the situation had become intolerable.” 

By 1910 funding had been secured to build a brick building, Bate School, on the lot on Stanford Avenue owned by the district, according to the DBCAAHS. It would have eight rooms and a two-room basement for cooking and sewing classes. At the time, the school had seven teachers and 401 students. 

According to “An Historical Perspective,” Bate School became part of the Danville school system in 1921 as a state requirement. 

The school was renamed Bate High School in 1925 and was enlarged in 1927 to include a gym and more classrooms and teachers, and to include a full four years, according to the DBCAAHS. 

In 1964, Bate High School was discontinued due to integration — students started attending the new Danville High School on East Lexington Avenue, according to “An Historical Perspective.”

Before the old Bate School building was razed more than a decade later, about 1,000 graduates and former students gathered in Danville for a weekend of activities to come together to remember their time attending the school, according to the DBCAAHS. It would shortly be replaced by Bate Middle School, which would be integrated. It was located behind the old building.

According to the DBCAAHS, in 2017, due to the history behind Bate Middle School, the community pushed for the Board of Education to allow Bate Middle School to keep the Bulldogs mascot it historically had rather than adopting the Admirals, and the Board complied and “went even a step further” when it renamed the school John W. Bate Middle School to honor the man who dedicated himself to the school’s development. 

Background on John W. Bate

John W. Bate

According to “An Historical Perspective,” John W. Bate was dubbed “Kentucky’s own Booker T. Washington” due to his dedication to the education of Black students. 

He was born into slavery in 1854 near Louisville. The Emancipation Proclamation gave his family freedom when he was nine years old, but his mother did not have money. His siblings died of fever and smallpox, and his mother became handicapped. 

He did odd jobs to make money, and a missionary woman helped him with his education. He graduated from Berea College in 1892 and chose to teach in Danville. 

When he arrived, he found the one-room school built by the Freedmen’s Bureau by an act of Congress, he is quoted as saying in “An Historical Perspective.” 

He also is quoted saying, “I came to the school at 26 and retired from Bate School at 85. I found a one-room school and I left a building of 20 rooms. I was the one teacher and now there are 15. I found six students and I left a school with 600.”

Also according to “An Historical Perspective,” Bate School was known as among the best schools in the country for Black children. Bate was known as one of the best Black educators, and President Calvin Coolidge recognized his work. 

He died in 1945 and was honored by Berea College with the Fee Award.

 

  • bate
  • black history
  • black history month
  • danville
  • danville-boyle county african american historical society
  • Danville Independent Schools