From 1922 to 1965, Jones School was housed in the building on N. Division which is now Community High School. The student population was about 75% Black children. There was not a single Black student at the other four or five other elementary schools in Ann Arbor at the time.
This occurred “largely due to the red-lining that happened in Ann Arbor. A lot of black families would only get shown homes in this neighborhood. There were neighborhoods [where] racially restrictive covenants…were written into the deeds of the houses or the neighborhood that prevented Black folks from living in them,” shares Joslyn Hunscher-Young, Community High social studies teacher.
The neighborhood was much different than the affluent Kerrytown that stands there now. The Wheeler Park area was then a junkyard and a slaughterhouse. Neighbors could hear the pigs squealing as they were slaughtered. The kids had to cross the train tracks if they wanted to play in the river.
“We knew where we could go and where we couldn’t go,” shares Shirley Beckley, Jones student in the late 1940s and present-day racial equity activist and Black historian. “There were restaurants on Main Street where we couldn’t go. And, so we didn’t.”
Jones School and the surrounding area was a safe place, where a Black person didn’t have to worry if they could or couldn’t go somewhere. It was the anchor of the close-knit community, bringing children and their families together in meaningful ways. Beckley remembers the school being an integral part of her activities all week long, not just on school days. It’s where she and her friends would go to play.
Yet, in the mid-60s Jones was shut down because the high percentage of Black students made it a “defacto” segregated school. Instead of addressing the socio economic and political reasons behind why this blatant segregation occurred in the first place, closure was the answer of the decision-makers of the time.
The neighborhood was fragmented into the various elementary schools across town with children on the same street going to different schools. This dismantling
traumatized the entire community. Children and mothers alike lost friends. The students often had to endure long commutes and could no longer come home for lunch. The predominantly white teachers and children at the new schools were not prepared for the influx of Black students and therefore were oftentimes not welcoming or friendly.
Today, the centennial anniversary of the building is the perfect vehicle to commemorate the history of Jones School and its all-but-forgotten Black community members.
Several community members including Hunscher-Young, Community High student counselor Brian Williams, Beckley, and many others are part of the Committee for the Jones School Centennial Celebration.
According to the website, this group has come together to coordinate “a community-wide celebration of the 100th anniversary of the opening of Jones School to recognize and honor the local history of this building and the once historically Black neighborhood where it is located.”
Community High has been participating in the celebration with a school year themed around this piece of rich Black history. They have hung special recognition banners, highlighted the hidden Black history of the area in their curriculum, hosted Jones alumni as guest speakers, and held a special 100th anniversary dedication.
The final goal of the committee is to place a historical marker, a permanent reminder of Jones School and the Black families who lived in this neighborhood, at the Community High School site. The plan is to install the marker in May, but this all hinges on raising the necessary dollars. Of the $30,000 cost, they still need to raise $21,000. To help purchase and install the marker, consider contributing to the historical marker fund.
But, when it comes right down to it, the most important takeaway of these efforts is to amplify the voices of the Black community. Beckley fears “losing our Black history. I just think it’s important that we have that part of our history because we were here…It’s important that we [are part of Ann Arbor’s] history…The young people won’t know anything about it once we’re gone.”
If you have a story to share, the Committee for the Jones School Centennial Celebration would love to hear from you. You can reach out to them at firstname.lastname@example.org.