Celebrating Black History Month

Ada Hanna School

Looking at the history of Hamilton’s Ada Hanna School

(This February, The Journal Record will celebrate Black History Month by taking a look back at the Ada Hannah School in Hamilton and the stories that surround it.)
Ada Hannah held the second school reunion in May of 2015.
We were honored to have the grandchildren of Mr. and Mrs. G.W. Hanna.
Also, the guest speaker for the evening was the great-great-granddaughter Ms. Cynthia Kersey.
Ada Hanna has such a rich history and many stories to be told.
Each year, we gather more memories about Ada Hanna.
This year, our goal was to get as many alumni to share their story in honor of Black History Month.
We have about 100 Ada Hanna alumni still living all over the United States.
The following is an address from Kersey during the event.
Good evening. As I stand here tonight, I can't help but think how many people travel far and wide to witness the preservation of history, the celebration of legacy and the strength and beauty of black excellence.
Whether going to D.C. to see the monuments and museums, Atlanta's King Center or the archives of New Orleans, they search for a link to their genealogy that for many in the black community is often too hard or too painful to find.
But my God, if they only knew the history, the legacy and the strength of excellence filling this room, in this very moment, on this very night, right here in Bexar, Alabama, I know they'd feel the blessing it is for myself and my family to witness this preservation of history, this celebration of legacy and to see this beautiful sight.
My great-grandfather used to say “Count it on Joy." And I am full right now.
Not just with the good food we all ate, but rather full of joy, full of admiration and full of springing hope.
I stand before you thankful for the opportunity to speak to the classes of the Ada Hanna High School.
Before I begin, I have the privilege of introducing a few members of my family whose connection to your high school I believe will come as a surprise.
Joining me tonight on this great occasion are four living grandchildren of the Rev. G.W. and Ada Hanna: Charles Collins who is the son of their oldest daughter Nannie; Mabel Figgs who is the daughter of Mary; Gwendolyn Murray who is the daughter of Georgia; and Claire Kinsey who is the daughter of their youngest daughter Ada.
Also here are Akil Graves, a great-grandson, and myself, who is a great-granddaughter. We come tonight as just a small representation of a big family who sends their thank you’s and love for all who are here tonight.
While the high school was named the Ada Hanna High School, it didn't begin as a high school.
In 1919 it began as a small one room school which was connected to a missionary church.
At a time when black families were still dealing with the introduction of Jim Crow laws and as the United States began to enter the era known as the Great Depression, there was a young couple who stayed strong, stayed focused and more importantly stayed together working towards the purpose that God had placed in their lives.
This purpose: to open a school for black children in a town and in a land called Bexar, Alabama.
In 1880 the census recorded only 37 residents, and when they arrived it had likely only grown by a few 50.
Many families were working as sharecroppers on the very same land their ancestors were enslaved on.
For back then, you took the work there was and just prayed for better days. A place surrounded by counties filled with Klan that sat off of a narrow dirt road 30 miles from the railroad tracks.
A place too small to have the federal protections of a "big city." Yet, fear these people did not display, nor did they seek pity. Rather, they sought a better way for their children, and that way was an education. And those educators were the Reverend George W. Hanna  and Ada Elizabeth Rush Hanna!
So tonight I will speak briefly about both my great-grandfather and grandmother who together, packed up their little girl, my grandmother, in their Model-T and drove from the east of North Carolina to the deep south of Alabama.
They journeyed to a state and in a time that was not too kind. But I suspect they had nothing on their mind but to preach and to teach!
Now I love genealogy and throughout the years I have enjoyed listening to the stories of my grandparents, aunts and uncles.
I've compiled many names in my efforts to trace our family tree, and I'm humbled to say I have traced both Rev. G.W. and Ada's parents back to the 1840s and 1850s.
Rev. G.W. was born in 1885 to a slave named Ezekiel whose free name changed to Israel and a mother name Chaney Wooley.
Ada was born in 1886 to enslaved Issac Rush and Sara Crone. This is important as too often we are told that we as a people we’re unable to pick ourselves up out of slavery yet we know that when Rev. G.W. and Ada Hanna drove down to Bexar they drove as children of a once enslaved mother, father and the grandson of a slaver master.
Their own education began with Rev. G.W. attending Talladega Seminary and Ada attending Peabody Academy in Troy, NC. I have both of their original diplomas.
They understood that at that time they lived in a country that could take your land, take your rights and even take your family away.
But they knew if you strengthened your spirit through the study of God's word and you sharpened your mind through schooling well, then you'd possess those very two things that no man could take.
They worked to restore the power of possession in a community that had been stripped and robbed of almost everything.
So with that they entered Bexar to strengthen spirits and sharpen minds.
In an excerpt from a published article by Rev. G.W. he states, “Three years ago coming out into the western part of Alabama, I found a small group of discouraged but earnest working Congregationalists who had almost given up hope as they were in need of a pastor and were told no one was likely to come." Once Rev. G.W. and Ada arrived, a church and schoolhouse were built within eight months. All that was left for them and their growing family to live in was a one-room log cabin that was once a barn.
It was a humbling home but a home nonetheless. It would be in that one room home that Ada gave birth to three more little girls.
Now with a wife and four young precious daughters to care for, Rev. G.W. wrote to the North to seek help from the Rosenwald foundation who provided funding and support for black schools.
In an excerpt from another published article, a white superintendent describes his visit to Bexar after meeting the local pastor Rev. G.W. and school teacher Ada Hanna who he recollects sacrificed so much for people who had so little. He states, “In these cold November days more than half of the children are without shoes of any kind. How my heart goes out to them. At first sight it was hard to withhold the tears, but these people will not be pitied. I am thanking God for their brave hearts and devotion.
“I know you will be glad to tell our friends in the North about them and perhaps even at this late time a few garments and shoes may be secured that will help them to pull through the present winter with a little more comfort than is possible at present.”
For in Bexar at the time, even some poor whites visited Rev. G.W. and Ada for assistance for clothes. And this angered the Klan filled communities which surrounded the outskirts of the town.
That's when the family began to receive many threatening letters which told the family to stay in their place.
Rev. G.W. responded by preaching that he would not leave.
Soon, Rev. G.W. and Ada received more threats of white men mad at the progress the black community in Bexar was making. The Klan is recorded as being upset at Rev. G.W. for dressing every day in a collared shirt and at his wife Ada for wearing shoes.
They said, "A n—— ain't fit to wear anything but a pair of overalls."
Why threaten a man for wearing a collar? To most of us, a collar is a common day item in the wardrobe of any man.
But back then, the crisp press of a roan's collar signified he did not work with his hands but rather his mind.
For that white collar represented a sign of prosperity, a symbol of progress, a black man who was ahead of his time. And for that, the Klan planned on replacing the collar around his neck with a rope.
And she was threatened for wearing shoes. A simple pair of low black heels.
For when these klansmen saw her shoes, they saw a woman who they believed walked with unwarranted class - a sign of an easy life.
But there was nothing easy about teaching in a place and at a time where looking down, stepping out of the way and praying you made it through another night without a visit from night-riders was just an ordinary day.
Shoes that walked the rows of a classroom built with borrowed pine, holding a few precious books, the only written words some of these children had ever held in their own hands for the very first time.
Shoes which stomped to praise God on Sunday morning praying her people would be delivered from the hells of Jim Crow. Shoes which barely stayed tied the night she rushed her children out the door and into the night to escape the mob and out of harms way.
No, there was nothing easy about the journey the feet in those shoes took.
Then during dinner one evening a brick was thrown through the window with a note that said "Get out before it's too late." Joe Metcalf, a resident of Bexar, came over and told Rev. G.W. and Ada that they had watched over the church and guarded the schoolhouse but could no longer hold the mob off much longer.
My aunt said that Ada packed her little girls 10, eight and four and everything that could fit into a small trunk, which a church member would send later to my great-aunt Mary, as they anxiously awaited the police escort they were promised.
Once the police arrived, they drove out of town leaving everything else they owned behind.
With no destination in mind they drove out of Bexar as white men, women and children lined that mid-afternoon street cursing and throwing eggs and tomatoes. A mob good-bye was the send-off to a couple and family who had tried all they could to make good of the promise God made in their lives.
After they left for many years there was not an option for black children to attend school. The community established small two-four month terms but this was all that was available for blacks at the time.
In 1965 the Ada Hanna High School was established, but as you all know, it was closed once the school integration policies under the Civil Rights Act forced all students to transfer and attend Hamilton High.
When the school opened, Ada had already passed away in 1930 after giving birth to her last and youngest daughter who they affectionately named Ada.
The family after Ada's death continued to serve, and each one of us has tried in a small way to continue that work. I treasure tutoring young girls who attend schools in an area of Charlotte that is often forgotten by the city.
Like my great-grandparents, I bring my children with me to witness the importance of service. Most recently my daughter has helped lead a lesson for a group of children I help mentor whose parents are incarcerated, and my son has authored a children's book which features children of diverse backgrounds and disabilities.
It is this work that we find most rewarding.
So nonetheless, I pray after tonight we may remember not just the Ada Hanna High School but the principles of courage and strength displayed by Rev. G.W. and Ada.
As women, may our walk and the click of our shoes defiantly serve as personal reminders and public declarations that our paths have been smoothed by the soles of great women who came before us, women whose own feet walked and ran through the hardest of times so that we may have a bit more than they. As men may you press and tighten your collar in a manner that emanates the excellence and pride you have in self and in the heads of households and communities you lead.
As a solemn reminder that it was for that very collar that great men of Bexar who came before you either dreamed to wear or were threatened for wearing it.
Remember that you head a community that has come a mighty long way and has stood up for their children when they faced the toughest odds.
For tonight I see and feel that their living and their sacrifice was not in vain.
They believed that great promise would not just rise out of Birmingham or Montgomery but could surely rise out of Bexar. And tonight, rise it does.
For the legacy of Bexar and the story of the Ada Hanna High School is reflected in the lives of all of you. It lives in the seeds you sow and the children you raise.
And from this podium I say you've done a job well done.
In Bexar at that time the people use to celebrate the “Harvest Homes Festival" where each member on Thanksgiving Day brought an offering to the church.
Items such as bushels of corn, gallens of syrup, potatoes, peas, chicken and vegetables of various kinds were given.
And an unspeakable joy filled each heart when the opportunity came for each to lay on the alter his or her gift.
In honor of the six great-great-great grandchildren of Rev. G.W. and Ada Hanna, it gives us unspeakable joy to present this check for your annual scholarship that it may help the educational journey of future educators born and raised here in Bexar. (A check was presented at the time of this speech in 2015).
For while we try our best to honor their legacy, standing here tonight I can say you all provide the largest and most selfless service in doing so.
So may we toast to you the classes of the Ada Hanna High School for in celebrating with you tonight as my great-grandfather would say "We count it all Joy.”


See complete story in the Journal Record.
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