Simmons College of Kentucky – the only HBCU in Louisville – proudly announced it has added a historic building to its real estate portfolio.
Photos tweeted by St. Stephen Baptist Church on Thursday, March 3, show Simmons College President Dr. Kevin W. Cosby and other members of the school’s board signing paperwork for the building that once housed Central Colored School – the first Black public school in Kentucky.
“Congratulations to Dr Cosby who made it official! Simmons College of KY officially closed on the birthplace of public education built for slaves. One of the oldest buildings in the state now belongs to Simmons,” tweeted St. Stephen, where Crosby serves as the senior pastor. “It’s a great time to be an inviter!”
The school building, located on West Kentucky Street, began as an elementary school. It added high school grades in 1882 and, after having to relocate multiple times due to income inequality that resulted from racism, was eventually renamed Central High School in 1945.
In addition to being the first school to educate freed slaves beginning in 1873, Central was also the high school of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, who was then known as Cassius Clay.
According to Explore History, Ali attended Central High School from 1956 to 1960. Throughout his matriculation, Ali was reportedly not a “particularly diligent student” as he was often caught “shadowboxing in the hall or daydreaming in class.” As a result, some of his teachers wanted to hold him back.
Then-Principal Atwood Wilson would have none of it.
“One day our greatest claim to fame is going to be that we knew Cassius Clay or taught him…Do you think I’m going to be the principal of a school that Cassius Clay didn’t finish?…If every teacher here fails him, he’s not going to fail,” Atwood allegedly exclaimed at a staff meeting about the matter. “He’s not going to fail in my school. I’m going to say ‘I taught him!’”
Despite its rich Black history, the original school building was given to white students in the neighborhood in 1884 and renamed the Mary D. Hill School due to segregation laws.
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The Mary D. Hill school remained until 1970 and the building was purchased by The Stewart Agency, which used the building as its headquarters until it sold the building to Simmons on Feb. 25, according to WDRB News.
Dan Stewart, the agency’s founder and chief creative officer, admitted they didn’t know the building’s history when they purchased it.
“We didn’t really know what this was until shortly after we moved in … that this was the first bldg. built with public funds to educate the former slave after the civil war,” Stewart said.
Five years ago, Simmons College President Cosby walked in and said he wanted to purchase the building, Stewart said.
Simmons College was able to purchase the building after receiving a $350,000 donation from The National Baptist Convention of America. The school plans to use the historic building as its headquarters.
“We were thrilled when the Stewart Agency welcomed our interest in acquiring the landmark,” Dr. Frank Smith Jr., senior vice president of Simmons College, told WDRB in a statement. “This is an opportunity to directly link this building back to the cause of educational advancement through a historic black-led and black-governed institution. The Stewarts are to be commended for preserving the facility to benefit future generations.”
Photos: The old Central Colored School Building, Simmons College President Dr. Kevin W. Cosby. Credit: Twitter via St. Stephen Baptist Church @ssclive
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