On September 6, 1920, 100 years ago today, Shades-Cahaba High School was dedicated. The day was Labor Day, and it seemed fitting as it is unofficially known as the last day of summer, a notice to students that if they hadn’t started already, they would be going back to school soon. For the students in Shades Valley who had been making a long journey over Red Mountain to attend Jefferson County High School in Boyles (now called Tarrant) or a Birmingham City School, this was indeed a special day.
Four years before, Will Franke and William Acton successfully led a campaign to build a second Jefferson County high school to serve the students in Shades Valley. As graduates of the Zelosophian Academy in Oak Grove, they realized that their alma mater was too small to meet the needs of the areas growing population, and a larger, more modern school was needed.
The dedication was an all-day event for the attendees. A note from Chairman Will F. Franke, Trustees P. W. Acton and J.T. Tyler, and J.W. Ellenburg of the program committee implored local citizens to attend the dedication.
“Note – It is earnestly desired that every citizen of Shades Valley from Irondale to below Oxmoor and all up and down Shades Mountain and Cahaba river be present. This is our high school, a monument erected as a memorial to our soldier boys from Shades-Cahaba in the World War. It is imperative that we open the school auspiciously. Come and bring a well-filled basket. It is very probable that Governor Kilby will deliver an address in the afternoon at the unveiling of the tablets. There will be games and music. Come and lend your presence. Show your interest, and get acquainted with our county officials and faculty. Let’s make this the best high school in the State.”
The morning program started with a song and a prayer before the formal addresses began. Jefferson County Superintendent Baker and other members of the board of education made speeches followed by Lieutenant Governor, Nathan Miller. It was hoped that Governor Kilby would attend, but no mention was made in newspaper articles. Memorial exercises were conducted by Miss Alma Rittenberry and music performed by the Alabama Boys’ Industrial School Band.
Miss Rittenberry was a local activist who was a leader in the Good Roads movement in Alabama and a supporter of women’s clubs and the suffrage movement. Her interest in history helped as she referenced the battle of King’s Mountain of Revolutionary War and the last conflicts of World War I, at Chateau Thierry, Soissons and Belleau Wood. She spoke of the soldiers’ bravery from the Valley, who gave the supreme sacrifice during the war. These soldiers would have a star beside their names on the bronze tablets.
There was a picnic dinner on the grounds of the school before the final presentation.
Floribel Brown Ohme of the Jefferson County Board of Education unveiled a set of large, bronze tablets displayed inside the front doors of the school for all to see. Both plaques say, “In honor of the boys and girls of this school district who served in the army or navy of the United States of America in the World War 1917-1919.” At the bottom of the plaques, it says, “This tablet is dedicated by the residents of Shades Cahaba High School District 1-A 1919.” The names of the men who served are split between the two plaques.
Thirteen days after the dedication, the first students at Shades Cahaba High School would enter the doors and pass the memorial to those soldiers as they have done the past 100 years. The dedication was important to the community and was probably not thought of as more than a way to honor those that served our country. Still, today it could have further implications to the school not considered at the time.
In 2017, the State of Alabama passed broad and sweeping legislation to protect confederate statues at risk of being removed from Alabama cities. Even in places such as Birmingham, which did not yet exist during the civil war. The Alabama Memorial Preservation Act of 2017 states that “No architecturally significant building, memorial building, memorial street, or monument which is located on public property and has been so situated for 40 or more years may be relocated, removed, altered, renamed, or otherwise disturbed.”
In the legislatures rush to protect confederate monuments, they included other monuments that they probably did not consider. Some of these include Legion Field in Birmingham, which was dedicated to the American Legion and Bryant-Denny Stadium at the University of Alabama, dedicated to former Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and former president George Denny. And we can’t forget my favorite elementary school, Shades Cahaba, which was dedicated to the “soldier boys” from the area who served in the Army and Navy during World War I.
It will be interesting to follow this law and see if these schools and stadiums will be fined the next time they want to improve the buildings or erect a jumbotron.
The book Shades Cahaba: The First 100 Years is now available for purchase at Amazon.com as a paperback or Kindle. Get your’s today!