School yearbooks are made to preserve students’ memories. But over time, they become history: thousands of names, faces, educational achievements and sporting events that otherwise might be lost to time.
The yearbooks of the J.P. Carr School, the county’s former all-black school in the era of segregation, have a special place in Rockdale-Conyers history. But they are becoming rarer as the school’s closure in 1969 becomes more distant.
Now, a major project by the Citizens Progressive Club aims to digitally scan every page of every J.P. Carr annual yearbook, then republish them as a single volume. Copies will go to libraries and archives, and also be sold to raise funds for a memorial display inside the J.P. Carr Services Center, which now stands on the Taylor Street site of the shuttered school.
“This is a historical record,” said Rev. Al Sadler, president of the Progressive Club and a 1968 J.P. Carr graduate, who came up with the idea. “It’s going to be a big project, but I think it’s going to be well worth it.”
Sadler added that he hopes the yearbook project will spark other efforts to memorialize local African-American community history.
“I’ve had people move here from other parts of the county and say, ‘We don’t see any history about the black people that were here,” he said.
“That’s one of the things we’re trying to correct,” agreed Coach Cleveland Stroud, a Conyers city councilman and Progressive Club member. Stroud attended J.P. Carr’s predecessor, the Bryant Street School.
Stroud noted that while the black community has few memorials, one of Rockdale’s most prominent memorials is a Confederate soldier statue on the courthouse lawn.
“I grew up in a segregated society. One of the things really blatant about that era was accurate history was not transmitted from one generation to another,” Stroud said. He noted that black people of the time often were illiterate and could not write their own history, while white writers were uninterested or “distorted” the story.
“I have no idea who my great-grandfather was” as a result of such lost history, Stroud said.
The yearbook project is one way to transmit that kind of family and community history.
“Over the course of years, I’ve had people mention to me, ‘I wish I knew where my yearbook was so I could show it to my children and grandchildren,’” Sadler said.
Some already scanned yearbook pages passed around at this month’s Progressive Club meeting showed a wealth of information, from clubs to sports scores. And of course, hundreds of names and faces.
“All of that kind of stuff is precious to me,” Sadler said.
The pages also were marked by the kind of writing that kids in every time and place enjoy, such as labeling certain teachers and administrators as “Witch,” “Beautiful” or “Baldy.” The yearbook project aims to scan in only unmarked pages or digitally remove such individual commentary.
The county’s original black school, the Bryant Street School, stood at Bryant and Dogwood streets in Conyers. Its decrepit building burned in the 1950s, reputedly an arson by local activists to force county leaders to construct a better school.
The new school on Taylor opened in 1955. Originally keeping the Bryant name, it was soon renamed for a stonemason who donated part of the land for the school. J.P. Carr operated until integrated schools were required in 1969. The building lay dormant until the 1980s. The current J.P. Center that replaced it preserves, thanks to local activism, parts of the old school building, including the cafeteria, which is now a community room.
For graduates, the school’s history is a mix of happy childhood memories and the fundamental injustices of segregation.
Sadler recalled that in the 1965-66 school year, voluntary integration began, with 17 J.P. Carr students choosing to attend Rockdale County High.
“As a result of an incident that occurred that year, the school board made the decision to cut the prom for both schools” for two years, Sadler said. What was the incident? “A black guy was dancing with a white girl,” he said.
One of those first J.P. Carr students to attend Rockdale High was Progressive Club member Aubury Webb. Today, his son Eric, a printing expert at the Atlanta-based Panoply + Wright company, is conducting the scanning and binding of the J.P. Carr yearbook project.
The club, which was formed in the 1950s to support the local black community, aims to have the yearbook compilation finished in time for the annual J.P. Carr School all-year reunion in July.
Meanwhile, it is still seeking a good copy of the 1960 yearbook. The club is also interested in any other J.P. Carr memorabilia, such as photos or newspaper clippings, to use in the eventual display at the J.P. Carr Center. The club can scan the items and return the originals in perfect condition.
Anyone with items to contribute can contact Sadler at 404-374-0585 or Aubry Webb at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The club anticipates it will start taking orders for copies of the reprinted entire yearbooks in February.