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Burrell Normal School

Burrell Normal School
A Legacy of Education in Florence, Alabama

Remember Burrell Normal School? Maybe not, but for us who grew up in Florence in the early 1900s, it was a cornerstone of the community, especially for our Black Shoals neighbors. This school, originally from Selma, came to Florence after a fire, and let me tell you, it had a remarkable journey.

Burrell Normal School ChapelIt all began in 1887, Selma, Alabama. Back then, the American Missionary Association, a good-hearted group from New York who championed education and justice, decided to open a school for Black folks to become teachers. They named it after Reverend William H. Burrell, a local hero who believed in education for everyone.

Things were going well for Burrell Normal School in Selma until 1903, when a terrible fire wiped out their main building. This could have been the end, but the American Missionary Association wouldn't give up. They searched high and low and finally settled on Florence, Alabama, as the new home for Burrell Normal School.

Benjamin F. Cox - Principal of Burrell Normal SchoolThe school opened its doors on West College Street in 1904, with a clear mission: train future generations of Black teachers. They offered a well-rounded education, teaching not just subjects like reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also important life lessons and Christian values.

The school-building was a two-story, brick-veneered structure with a large hall extending through the entire first floor. This first floor held the principal's office, the primary room, one intermediate room, the normal room, and two small rooms. The second floor held two school rooms, one of which was used as another intermediate room, and a spacious chapel.

In its first year, Burrell Normal School saw an impressive 280 students walk through its doors, a true testament to the quality of education they offered. Over the years, the school thrived, becoming a vital part of Florence's Black community.

Now, things changed a bit over time. In 1937, the city took over the school and renamed it Burrell High School. Then, in 1951, it moved to the Slater Elementary building and became Burrell-Slater High School. Sadly, another fire struck in 1958, forcing yet another relocation. A new building was built on the same spot in 1960, offering modern learning spaces until 1969, when schools were finally integrated, and Burrell-Slater closed its doors.

So, the next time you're walking down West College Street, remember the legacy of Burrell Normal School. It stands as a reminder of the fight for equal education and the incredible contributions of Florence's Black community.

Burrell Normal School Florence Alabama