HISTORIC BLACK SCHOOL SALVAGEDCONTACT: John Stiner, 321-267-1110
Several years ago while searching for an old prehistoric burial mound, staff at Canaveral National Seashore stumbled upon the partially collapsed ruins of a small 12' x 16' wooden building hidden among the trees. Glancing inside they were surprised to note that the walls were paneled with tongue and groove bead board. This was no ordinary outbuilding.
A review of old news accounts and maps revealed that the structure was the Clifton School House, one of Brevard County's oldest schools for black children. Built around 1890-91 by Butler Campbell and Andrew Jackson, who homesteaded the area, it provided an opportunity to educate their nine children. Since they provided a building, the county paid for a certified teacher. Studies included primary reading, physiology, English, advanced math and Latin. A newspaper article published in 1893 stated "although the school is small, it is one of the best in the county..." It remained in use until about 1910. When Kennedy Space Center was acquiring property in the 1960's, the families moved away and the structure was forgotten.
Descendants of the Campbell family, some still living in Brevard County, took great interest in the school's rediscovery and urged that prompt action be taken to save the rapidly deteriorating remains, located in a portion of the park closed to the public. The Brevard County Historical Commission offered to collect salvageable material and reconstruct the Clifton School in Titusville. Normally the NPS would not support such an action. However, the circumstances in this case were unique. The school remains were in a section of the Seashore owned by NASA where by agreement NPS is responsible for management of cultural resources.
This presented some unusual options. Canaveral National Seashore consulted with the NPS Southeast Regional Office and Florida State Historic Preservation Office to document the structure. They determined that, due to advanced decay, it did not meet National Register standards. Several meetings occurred with NASA, the NPS, and Brevard County to discuss a possible transfer.
Through persistent engagement with all parties a workable solution was found. On April 22, 2006, during a small ceremony at the site, attended by several family members, NASA formally transferred the salvageable materials to Brevard County. Over the next few weeks, the structure was dismantled and removed. A historical marker has been cast and will be installed near the original site. The NPS is also working with Indian River Archeological Society to conduct a survey of the school grounds. The Seashore will use additional off-site means to interpret the site.
A request such as this could have been denied based on the nature of NASA's mission and the complications of jointly managed areas such as Canaveral National Seashore. However, with the various agencies working together and listening to the local community and family members, a sense of place for members of the African American community in Brevard County has been preserved.
How portions of the wooden building managed to survive Florida's humid climate and periodic wildfires for over 100 years is a mystery. But it does offer compelling evidence of the belief of several far-sighted African American citrus workers in the importance of education and their desire to provide a better future for their children.
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