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Jones School

Jones School was an anchor of Ann Arbor’s historically Black neighborhood (what is now Kerrytown) from the early twentieth century until 1965. Many living Ann Arbor residents remember attending Jones School during the Civil Rights Era. In 1964 the Ann Arbor Board of Education acknowledged that, with over 75% Black students, Jones was a “de facto” segregated school. Jones School closed in 1965, and several years later the building reopened as Community High School.

Fourth Ward School building
Fourth Ward School

A New School Building

In the nineteenth century, the school in the Kerrytown area was called the Fourth Ward School. It was built at 401 N Division Street around 1860. Fourth Ward School served students in first through fifth grades in Ann Arbor’s Old Fourth Ward (now encompassed by the First Ward), and had over 250 pupils. In the early twentieth century, it was renamed the Elisha Jones School in honor of Ann Arbor’s second school superintendent, Elisha Jones.

New Jones School building
New Jones School building

 

As early as 1916, debates swirled over the racial demographics of Ann Arbor’s elementary schools. At two public meetings, city officials discussed limiting attendance at Jones School to Black students. However, several community members opposed the plan, and the matter was dropped.

In 1920, the Ann Arbor school board began planning for the construction of a larger building to replace the existing Elisha Jones School. Inspired by the leadership of superintendent Leslie Butler, voters passed two bond issues in 1920 and 1922 to provide building funds for updating the whole school system. The board began buying up properties on N Division Street. The new Jones School cost approximately $328,000. It was now the largest elementary school in the city. Students, parents, staff, and members of the school board came together on May 3, 1923 to dedicate the building. 

Early Programs

With a larger building and grounds, Jones School students and staff had more resources for educational and recreational programs. One of the innovative additions was a print shop, with all the equipment needed to produce a monthly newspaper. The first issue of The Challenge, written and typeset entirely by Jones students, appeared in November 1923. The school offered a literature class focusing on newspaper writing. Another regular feature of Jones School programming was an annual World’s Fair celebration. The first fair on May 20-21, 1932 featured a student-written pageant about man’s progress. The 1936 pageant commemorated the hundredth anniversary of Michigan's entry into the Union.

Baseball team photo
Jones softball players

During the 1920s and 30s, there were many active organizations associated with Jones School. The Parent-Teacher Association hosted card parties and dances to support welfare efforts for students. Recreational groups often met at Jones School, including Boy Scout Troops 9 and 18 and the Hashatuaya Camp Fire Girls. The Twilight Softball league held games at the Jones School playground during the summer.

As Ann Arbor’s Black population grew steadily in the 1930s and 40s, the Jones School district increasingly served Black students. This was a result of segregated housing in Ann Arbor. Most realtors would not show houses to Black families outside the north-central area anchored by Jones School. By 1935, Jones hosted a recreation program specifically for Black youth. On Monday and Thursday nights, offerings included classes in music, sewing, fine arts, handicraft, and gymnasium exercise.

Children with wagons and piles of paper
WWII paper drive

Rationing & Scrap Drives

When the United States entered World War II in 1941, Ann Arbor’s schools stepped up to the plate. Over the next several years, Jones School served as a site for ration registration and wartime fundraising. For a week in early May 1942, residents flocked to Jones School and other public schools throughout the city for sugar rationing registration. Students attended classes in the morning, and then had gym, shop, and arts and crafts in the afternoon during registration hours. In November of that year, Jones School fielded a thousand applications for gasoline ration cards. Receipt of an “A” card allowed motorists to purchase up to 3-4 gallons of gas per week.

Jones School students excelled in wartime fundraising efforts. In October 1942 the school collected over 3 tons for the citywide scrap drive, helping get scrap metals out of Ann Arbor and into the war. Jones students had similar success with a stocking / hosiery collection contest in April 1943, collecting 2,611 stockings for conversion into powder bags and parachutes. In December of that year, city schools participated in a wastepaper drive. The Ann Arbor News featured Jones students bringing in bundles and wagons full of wastepaper for the war effort.

Jones in the Postwar Era

In the post-war period, Jones School continued to offer classes to elementary and junior high students. Principal Winifred Gibbons retired in 1947 after nearly twenty years at the helm. Leadership of clubs and organizations began to reflect the diversity of the school’s neighborhood. Mrs. Burgess Calvert was elected president of the Parent-Teacher Association in 1949. The school celebrated Negro History Week, the precursor to Black History Month, as early as 1948. In 1954, Harry Mial became the first full-time Black teacher hired by the Ann Arbor school board.

man hands suitcase to son
Russell Calvert

Popular extracurriculars at Jones School during this period included sports, singing, dancing, gardening, and safety patrol. Jones School footballers entered the junior high gridiron competition that premiered in 1946. The Ann Arbor Youth Hostel hosted weekly square dances on Saturdays at Jones School. And in 1954, the school’s safety program won the honor of sending a representative to Washington, D.C. to attend the American Automobile Association’s National Patrol Assembly. Jones School safety patrol members elected their captain, Russell Calvert.

Another new initiative at Jones School was the opening of the Practical Nurses’ Training Center in October 1949. One of eight such programs to open in Michigan, the Center offered full-time daily classes leading to a certificate in practical nursing.

In 1951, Jones transitioned from a combined K-9 school to an elementary school, known as Jones Elementary School. Junior high students who would have attended Jones instead went to Slauson or Tappan.

Desegregation and the Closure of Jones School

children pose in front of school
K-6 Jones students in 1963

The student population at Jones School was racially mixed, reflecting the neighborhood’s predominantly Black, Greek, and immigrant residents. But the percentage of Black students rose sharply in the post-WWII era. Discriminatory housing practices restricted Black families to Ann Arbor’s north-central neighborhood. During the late 1940s, some white students bused in from Hamburg and Whitmore Lake, but the attempt at integration was short-lived.

In 1954, the landmark Supreme Court verdict on Brown v. The Board of Education ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. The ruling did not have an immediate impact on Ann Arbor city schools. Eventually, pressure from local Black residents forced the Ann Arbor Board of Education to evaluate the issue of racial demographics in the city’s schools.

At a June 5, 1962 meeting, Emma Wheeler called on school board candidates to take a stand on the problem of segregation in the city’s schools. Mrs. Wheeler was the president of the Ann Arbor branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Both she and her husband Albert H. Wheeler (who served as Ann Arbor’s first Black mayor in 1975-78) were prominent civil rights activists.

In September 1963, the Board of Education appointed a 12-member Citizens’ Committee to study “racial imbalance” in Ann Arbor public schools. Members included Black community leaders such as Albert H. Wheeler, Rev. Lyman Parks of Bethel AME Church, Ann Arbor Community Center director Walter Hill, and Jones Parent-Teacher Association president Carol McFadden. After a nine-month study, the committee’s report to the board recommended closing Jones School and busing the students to other schools.

article headline "Jones students going to seven schools"
Ann Arbor News, Feb. 25, 1965

The Citizens’ Committee’s full report was published in the Ann Arbor News in six installments starting on June 11, 1964. The report indicated that enrollment at Jones School was 75.4% Black, as opposed to overall school enrollment of 6%. Because of segregated residential patterns, Jones was a “de facto” segregated school. The only other school that came close was Mack, at 41.1% Black enrollment. Six Ann Arbor schools had no Black students. Perhaps the most impactful number for the committee, however, was the percentage of Black students at Jones who tested below grade level: 44.8%. The committee found that Black students had higher scores at integrated schools.

The Board of Education set a series of public meetings with parents, civil rights groups, and religious leaders. The NAACP, the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), the Human Relations Commission, and parents of Jones School students all urged the board to close the school. By the end of the summer, the board approved the closure plan outlined by the Citizens’ Committee and set about redrawing the districts.

After the 1964-65 school year, Jones Elementary School closed to all but preschoolers. Its former pupils attended seven schools: Bach, Angell, Allen, Dicken, Lakewood, Pattengill, and Pittsfield. Bach and Angell were within walking distance, but students had to bus to the remaining five. Approximately 175 Jones students were reassigned.

The school system’s office of research led a study of the Jones transfer students during the 1965-66 school year. Not published until 1969, the study’s results suggested that transfer students showed normal reading gains and an increase in positive attitudes toward school. Many community members noted that one year was not long enough to demonstrate long-term effects.

teenagers playing pool
Pool at the Teen Center

Programs in the Jones Building

After the closure of Jones School, some educational and recreational programs continued. Perry School's preschool operations were transferred to the Jones building. The Jones building and grounds provided space for neighborhood recreation programs. The Practical Nurses’ Training Center continued to support adult education. 

A new Jones Community Service Center opened in the building in 1966. It was funded by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. The Center offered tutoring, Saturday enrichment programs, job placement services, and recreational programming.

During the summer of 1967, the Ann Arbor Police Department helped finance a new Jones School Teen Center. Featuring a pool table and regular dances, the Center attracted a number of neighborhood youths. Community members continued to use the Jones building for instruction in music, dance, and other extracurricular activities.

Within seven years of Jones School’s closure, the Ann Arbor Board of Education approved plans to repurpose the building for a new high school. Community High School opened in September 1972.

Jones School Principals

Wendell Vreeland (c.1920-25)
Ruth Bristol (1925-29)
Winifred Gibbons (1929-1947)
Esther Schatz (1947-48)
Gene D. Maybee (1948-1950)
Emerson Powrie (1950-56)
Robert H. Nichols (1956-c.1963)
Robert Stevenson (c.1963-65)

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