Three descendants of Professor William James, the pioneer in high school education for African Americans in Statesboro, visited this week as part of efforts to understand and preserve his legacy.
An active Bulloch County middle school and the Board of Education headquarters are both named for James. But less well known are James’ service as a Republican National Convention delegate and his influence with early 20th-century history makers such as renowned African American scientist Dr. George Washington Carver and Quaker philanthropist Emily Howland.
“We represent about 100 people who have been thinking about this,” Dr. Carolyne Lamar Jordan, Professor James’ granddaughter from Boston, said across the table to representatives of the Bulloch County Historical Society and the Bulloch County Schools.
She was estimating the number of James’ living descendants and their relatives.
The other descendants traveling with her were her sister, Claire Lamar Carey of Wilmington, Delaware, and James’ great-granddaughter Patricia Parrish Stokes of Chicago. They were accompanied by Jordan’s husband, Dr. Lawrence M. Jordan, who while not literally a descendant is also very interested in the family’s history.
Arrived in 1907
Born near Bartow in 1872, William James attained a degree from Atlanta Baptist College, now Morehouse. In 1907 he came to Statesboro to help local black citizens launch Statesboro High and Industrial School.
James remained principal of the school until his death in 1935, and in 1948 it was renamed William James High School.
James and his wife Julia James had eight children. All are gone now, leaving further generations who did not know Professor James in life, but which have apparently carried on a high regard for education.
Carolyne Jordan holds an Ed.D. from Harvard and is a retired college and university administrator. Her husband, a physicist, has a Ph.D. from Princeton. The extended family includes physicians, attorneys, educators and business and nonprofit organization executives.
But career moves during and since the Great Migration left them widely distributed. Jordan referred to a 2003 gathering as the last time a substantial number of James’ farflung descendants met.
However, they have started sharing more-or-less monthly phone calls on the topic of preserving the family history, said Stokes, who introduced Jordan as the leader of the effort. This conversation took place Monday at a luncheon hosted by Bulloch County Historical Society executive director Virginia Anne Franklin Waters and membership chair Bill Waters at their Savannah Avenue home.
“What we recognized, what Carolyne recognized, was that Statesboro has done some things to secure the legacy of William James but we really have not been a part of that,” Stokes said. “So this really was an opportunity for us to have face-to-face time, so that you all would know that we’re here and interested and be able to share some of the things that we have, to see where we find synergy.”
Jordan started her research by “pretending to write a book,” she said, but she has intentions of really writing one about her grandfather’s legacy. She sought materials in libraries and archives at Harvard and at Cornell University.
At Cornell, she found a series of letters from her grandfather to Emily Howland, the Quaker philanthropist from Sherwood, New York, who was an abolitionist in the time of slavery and later gave in support of African American Schools. In appreciation for Howland’s contributions to Statesboro High and Industrial School, its dormitory for women was named Howland Hall.
That the school burned down and was rebuilt more than once is detailed in “Statesboro, A Century of Progress: 1866-1966.” Jordan referred to this publication, issued 50 years ago by the Bulloch Herald Publishing Company, as the source of her first detailed information about her grandfather.
“This is the William James picture that the Herald published in a thing that you did in 1966 …,” she said, displaying a portrait that was also the basis of the mural of Professor James that appears on a building on East Main Street.
“I learned everything that I learned about him from that, and I started chasing this dream,” Jordan said.
Jordan’s research turned up a list from the period proving that William James of Statesboro was Georgia’s First District delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1912. Other sources indicate that he was also either a delegate or an alternate to the RNC in 1916.
She has found other materials, including photos of James with other influential early 20th century leaders in Statesboro and its black community. These included Dr. Harvey Van Buren, the African American physician who operated a hospital on Elm Street.
With Dr. Brent Tharp, the Georgia Southern University Museum director and Bulloch County Historical Society president as their tour guide, James’ descendants saw the building that once housed the Van Buren Hospital.
On the Georgia Southern campus, they saw a historical marker that mentions George Washington Carver’s well attended public speech at what was then segregated white South Georgia Teachers College in 1933. Professor James helped arrange that visit and probably hosted Carver in his home, Tharp said.
Hayley Greene, the Bulloch County Schools’ public relations and marketing specialist, and William James Middle School Principal Julie Mizell represented the school system at Monday’s luncheon. Dr. Bede Mitchell, Georgia Southern’s dean of libraries, also attended. Mical Whitaker, theatrical director, educator and actor, read a portion of the script he has used in portraying William James at Historical Society events.
After receiving a call from Jordan in January, Greene had emailed Virginia Anne Waters, Tharp and Mitchell for help.
Greene said the resulting discussion “was wonderful, getting all those people together and just brainstorming about the possibilities” to honor James legacy further.
“I learned so much about him that’s valuable to me, because I do get a lot of calls from people researching different things about Bulloch County’s educational history,” she said.
Tuesday, the descendants visited William and Julia James’ graves at Historic St. Paul Primitive Baptist Church in Bartow before returning to the Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center near Portal for a tour and reception. The center maintains a William James School exhibit.
Today, the Bulloch County school system operates William James Middle School in the former Northside School location, while the Board of Education offices are on Williams Road in the William James Educational Complex, which remained William James High School until it closed with integration into Statesboro High around 1970.
Original school site
But that wasn’t the original school site, as local history buffs learned Monday when James’ descendants brought a map. The Statesboro High and Industrial School was approximately at the site of Luetta Moore Park, on the corner of Church Street and what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. The Historical Society leaders offered to place a historical marker on or near the site and said it will probably be done before the year is out.
The descendants also expressed interest in having some of the artifacts preserved and exhibited here.
“The family has been so successful they’ve scattered all over the United States, and so I think they’re interested, as they create this archive, of finding a place to eventually house it where it will continue to be open for family and others to enjoy, and Statesboro is an appropriate place, and Georgia Southern I hope they feel is also, with the museum and special collections,” Tharp said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.