Sitting in Darkness:  New South Fiction, Education,

And the Rise of Jim Crow Colonialism, 1865-1920

by Peter Schmidt

Supplemental Notes for Chapter Five (McClellan)

Supplementing the print edition


From G. F. Richings,

Evidences of Progress Among Colored People

Philadelphia:  George S. Ferguson Co., 1903.

Pages 203-17 below describe the Normal school discussed in McClellan’s Old Greenbottom Inn’s title story. 

Complete editions of Richings' text are vailable online via both University of North Carolina’s Documenting the American South site ( and Google online books (search for Richings and Greenbottom Inn).  These online editions contain illustrations.


p. 203:

NORMAL. While the State Normal and Industrial School, at Normal, Alabama, has made little display through the public prints, it is a fact that it is doing a great work for Negro Education, and stands among the best schools of the land. This institution, like many others in the South, is the work of sacrifice and charity. The early teachers taught for a bare living in order to make the school a fixture. Prof. Councill, the founder and president of the school, gave his entire earnings for more than ten years to the work. The documents which the teachers signed, donating their salaries to the cause of education of the Negro race, is a part of the records of the institution, and a witness of their devotion and consecration to the work. The school began its existence in the city of Huntsville, Ala., May 1, 1875. It was first taught in a little church, and then in rented houses about the city until, September 1, 1882, a beautiful lot consisting of five acres of land, on which stood several buildings, was purchased and the school permanently located.


Beginning May 1, 1875, with not one dollar in property, only one teacher, nineteen pupils, annual income of $ 1,000, in 1878, its work was so satisfactory that the annual appropriation was increased to $2,000, and it then had four teachers and over 200 pupils. The Peabody and Slater funds made liberal contributions to its support. In 1884, the Alabama


Legislature increased the annual appropriation to $4,000, the city of Huntsville gave aid, and warm friends, North and South, contributed liberally. The old buildings on the grounds were improved, and by 1890, two large handsome brick buildings, one large frame dormitory for young men, and a commodious industrial building had been erected and fitted up; the faculty had been increased to eleven teachers, and more than 300 students were receiving instruction in a thorough Normal Course and in important industries. The Legislature of Alabama, in further recognition of the merits of this institution, selected it as the recipient of that portion of the Congressional grant under act approved August 30, 1890, known as the Morrill Fund for the more complete endowment and maintenance of colleges for the benefit of agriculture and the mechanic arts," given to Alabama for Negro Education. This action of the Legislature gave new force and broader scope to the work. It was seen that larger quarters were necessary, that the beautiful grounds, handsome buildings supplied with gas and water, must be given up and the school removed from Huntsville to some suitable place near by. A great many locations were offered, and, after due consideration, the present location was purchased. Palmer Hall and Seay Hall, a barn and a dairy were erected and the session opened for 1891-2, September 1, in its new quarters—three months after the closing of the session, June 1, 1891. The new location was commonly known as Green Bottom Inn, or Connally


Race-Track. It has an interesting history, as old almost as the State itself. There once stood upon these grounds a famous inn, a large distillery, grogshop, slave cabins, rows of stables in which were kept the great trotting horses of fifty years ago, while in the beautiful valley, circling at the foot of the hill, was the race-course, where thousands of dollars were lost and won. Stretching far away to the south, west and north of the hill (now Normal) are broad fields wherein worked hundreds of Africa's dusky sons, filling the air with merry songs accompanying plow or hoe, or with silent prayers to heaven for deliverance from bondage. Here men, as well as horses, were bought and sold, and often blood was drawn from human veins by the lash like the red wine from bright decanters. But what a change! The famous old inn is no more. The distillery has


crumbled to dust. Not a vestige of those stables remain. The old grog-shop, too, has gone forever. However, " There are still some few remaining, Who remind us of the past." The beautiful mountains and the same broad fields, made more beautiful by Freedom's touch, still


stretch far, far away; the race-course is gone, but a little higher up the hillside is a road along which thousands of slaves have passed from the Carolinas

and Virginia to the bottoms of the Mississippi, and the road now is a main street of Normal ; four of the old slave cabins remain, one of which for three years


served as the president's office and three repaired and occupied by teachers and their families ; the great old gin-house, built of logs, where so many slaves trembled at the reckoning evening hour, now used as Normal's blacksmith shop, wheelwright shop, broom factory, mattress factory ; the old log barn, repaired, and with additions, serving as Normal's laundry; the little saddle house whose framework is put together entirely with pegs instead of nails, now serves as barber shop; the carriage house, which has served as sewing room and printing office ; and last the grand old residence of the "lord of the manor," partly of stone (walls three feet thick) and partly of wood covered with cedar shingles, under a heavy coating of moss, containing in all eight rooms. In this typical, hospitable Southern home, the great Andrew Jackson, once President of the United States, was entertained when he attended the races and bet his eagles on the trotters. This home is now the residence of the President of Normal who was himself a slave. The mutations of time ! The income is derived from the State of Alabama, U. S. Government (Morrill Fund), and charitable sources. This is steadily increasing every year. Since the organization, the institution has sent forth 218 graduates from its various departments. Besides these graduates, there are hundreds of undergraduates doing great work among thousands of the Negro population of the country. In the Literary Department of Norma) there are


six well organized schools or courses of study, to wit: 1. Normal or Professional School, with a course of three years. 2. Normal Preparatory School, two years. 3. Model School, four years. 4. Bible Training School, two years.


5. School of Music—Instrumental and Vocal. 6. Business Course, including Bookkeeping, Shorthand, Type-writing, Telegraphy and Commercial Law. Normal has, also, a liberal Post-Graduate Course. The Industrial Department has twenty schools or courses, from one to three years, in Cooking, Sewing Sick Nursing, Laundering, Housekeeping, Network, Blacksmithing, House Carpentry, Wheelwright, Cabinet-making, Shoe-making, Painting, Printing, Broom-making, Mattress-making, Plumbing, Agriculture, Horticulture, Dairy Farming, Stock Raising. Normal is fortunate in her abundant water supply. The school has an excellent laboratory, and a very good library consisting of choice books, and a reading room, wherein are some of the best magazines and journals of the country. There are quite a number of Religious Societies which are doing much good. There are more than twenty buildings of various sizes and uses upon the grounds. A post-office has been established on the Elora branch of the N. C. & St. L. R. R., right at the school, and the station has been named Normal, Alabama, in honor of the school. Fearns is the name of the station on the M. & C. R. R., situated also on the school grounds. Normal does registry and money-order business. It has also an express office and telegraph station. All work, including building, repairing, black- smithing, wheelwrighting, painting, broom-making,


printing, shoe-making, mattress-making, farming, cooking, dining-room and general house-work, is performed by the students. The shops are well supplied with ordinary machinery and tools. The farm comprises about 200 acres of land, on which are cultivated for general and experimental


purposes many varieties of cotton, grain, and all kinds of vegetables. The farm is well stocked with mules, horses, Devon, Holstein and Jersey cows, best breeds of hogs and poultry; vehicles and implements of every kind. The various fruits of this section are found in the orchards of the farm. The healthfulness of this entire section is generally known. But this school is particularly favored in this regard on account of its excellent location and surroundings. Normal is 1,200 feet above sea-level, with a natural drainage unsurpassed in the United States. The atmosphere is pure and bracing at all times. Very few of the students of Normal received other help than a chance to work out their destinies. The teachers contribute a portion of their salaries to our " Student Aid Fund " and other causes for the promotion of the work. The work of elevating the plantation life of the Negro is one of the most important connected with the work of education in the South. It is hard for the schools to reach these people. Hence the importance of special effort in this direction. Normal has organized to meet the demand. Young women are trained especially for this work. Those who will dedicate their lives to this work on the plantation, to work regardless of pay, have all of their expenses paid in school while they are in preparation. Normal hopes to do much in this line. The young men are also organized for Sunday-


school Mission Work. Many of them walk five to ten miles every Sabbath, to organize and conduct Sunday schools. Everywhere they go, school-houses are built and repaired, homes are refined and general intelligence scattered among the people. The ingenuity displayed by these young men to overcome the poverty which confronts them in their work is


quite remarkable. One of them bought Sunday- school literature and started a library, on a collection of one egg each Sunday, from those who could afford to make such a contribution. The U. S. Government has made Normal a Weather Service Station, and the signals are read by the farmers for miles away. Normal has a brass band, also an excellent string band. Prof. W. H. Councill owns a farm adjoining Normal, and occupying a portion of the triangle between the two great railroad lines approaching each other after passing on either side of Normal. He has laid a portion of this land off in lots, streets, avenues, alleys, and gives the odd numbers to bona fide settlers, who will build a specified house, and subscribe to certain other conditions, such as keeping up fences, streets, sidewalks, etc. Men who can turn their brains and muscles into things of use are encouraged to settle here.

PRESIDENT W. H. COUNCILL. W. H. Councill was born in Fayetteville, N. C., in 1848, and brought to Alabama by the traders in 1857, through the famous Richmond Slave Pen. He is a self-made man, having had only few school advantages. He attended one of the first schools opened by kind Northern friends at Stevenson, Ala., in 1865. Here he remained about three years, and this is the basis of his education. He has been a close and earnest student ever since, often spending much of the night in study. He has accumulated quite


an excellent library and the best books of the best masters are his constant companions, as well as a large supply of the best current literature. By private instruction and almost incessant study, he gained a fair knowledge of some of the languages, higher mathematics and the sciences. He read law and was admitted to the Supreme Court of Alabama in 1883. But he has never left the profession of teaching for a day, although flattering political posi-


tions have been held out to him. He has occupied high positions in church and other religious, temperance and charitable organizations, and has no mean standing as a public speaker. And thus by earnest toil, self-denial, hard study, he has made himself, built up one of the largest institutions in the South and educated scores of young people at his own expense. Just before closing this sketch, I want to say that I regard Mr. Councill as being one of the most remarkable colored men in the United States to-day. I have known him for a great many years and I recognize in him the true, honest man—in every sense a man.