Chambers County Training School: A milestone in LaFayette history

Published 9:30 am Saturday, June 10, 2023

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To celebrate the 104th anniversary of Chambers County Training School, the former J.P. Powell Middle School campus will have the unveiling of a historical marker on June 24. The event will make history as the first historical marker at a school in LaFayette. 

On Aug. 24, 2022, the Chambers County Training School site, then J.P. Powell Middle, was accepted into the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage by the Alabama Historical Commission. 

Chambers County Training School, one of the earliest high schools for Black students in Chambers County, first opened its doors in 1919. 

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“To me, it’s saying to the CCTS alumni near and far, welcome home,” said CCTS Alumni Ruby Carr. 

Carr, who also worked at the school for a time, conducted months of research to apply for the designation. She thanked her family, city and county officials and Chambers County School Board members, Chairman Jeff Finch and Superintendent Casey Chambley, for their help.

The land on Cusseta Road was purchased from Nepton and Lucy Adams, the wealthiest Black landowners of LaFayette. A LaFayette educator and business owner, C. Neal Finley, and many other community members rallied to raise funds for a county training school. 

“Now, we have done the same thing this past year and throughout the year raise the funds for this marker,” Carr said. 

The land was deeded to the state of Alabama, and a two-story building was built to serve black residents of LaFayette and Chambers County. The community raised a total of $2,000 on the day that the school opened.

On its first day, 175 students were enrolled. In 1928, CCTS held its first high school graduation ceremony. The six members of the senior class were Lennie Eva Martin, Elizabeth Martin, Minnie Webb, Susie Johnson, Margaret Driver and D. A. Marable, Jr. 

The original building burned in a fire in 1948 and was rebuilt one year later. By 1969, the courts called for the desegregation of schools, ending the dual public school system. CCTS’s high school grades moved to LaFayette High School, leaving only fourth through seventh grades. CCTS was renamed Southside Middle School. 

Eventually, the school campus housed grades six through eight and was renamed in November 1999 after its longest-serving principal, John P. Powell.

J.P. Powell Middle School closed in 2022, and its students moved to the Eastside Elementary campus in LaFayette as part of the school district consolidation.

“I love all history, and I especially embrace the Black history. I pray and hope that this would just be the beginning of preserving the other facilities within our community as well,” Carr said. “Anytime anything in the county can be preserved, I think it’s important to do.”

Now that the site has been named an Alabama historical landmark, Carr hopes the building will be used to serve the LaFayette community as a community center. 

“There’s so much that could be done with the facility for the LaFayette community,” Carr said. “I would hate for the building to just sit there and not be used.”