Q: As a child, I attended Garrison Elementary School and J.M.D. Brown Elementary School, both in Centreville. Garrison School is still standing, but J.M.D. Brown is not. Can you please tell me how the schools were named, especially Brown? No one from that area seems to know.
Yalanda Hughes, of East St. Louis
A: While no one I’ve found is 100 percent sure, the naming of Garrison seems obvious: Founded in the early 1900s, the school most likely honors William Lloyd Garrison, a leading American abolitionist, journalist, suffragist and social reformer of the early and mid-19th century.
Born in 1805 in Newburyport, Mass., Garrison joined the anti-slavery movement in his early 20s. At first, he was associated with the American Colonization Society, some of whose members proposed relocating blacks back to Africa on territory now known as Liberia. But when he realized that many supported this movement to reduce the number of free blacks and, thus, further solidify the institution of slavery in the South, he apologized for his error and censured those who supported it.
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About the same time, he became the co-editor of the Quaker newspaper Genius of Universal Emancipation in Baltimore. In it, he introduced “The Black List,” a column in which he exposed “the barbarities of slavery — kidnappings, whippings, murders.” But after losing a libel suit over one of his news items, Garrison left the paper and returned to his native New England. It was there he would produce his most notable success: the founding in 1832 of his weekly anti-slavery newspaper, The Liberator, along with the New England Anti-Slavery Society.
“I am aware that many object to the severity of my language,” he wrote in his first issue. “But is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm ...
“I will be heard! The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal and to hasten the resurrection of the dead.”
The paper built a large following. By the time the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter to start the Civil War in 1861, it was a staple not only at the White House, Congress and legislative houses across the country, but also in England, Scotland and Canada. After slavery was abolished, Garrison published the 1,820th and final issue of The Liberator on Dec. 28, 1865, and began focusing on women’s suffrage. He died of kidney disease in 1879 at age 73.
After such an impassioned fight to win blacks their freedom, it seems only natural that the local black school would be one of the many institutions across the country named for him. As further proof, William P. Shannon, curator of the St. Clair County Historical Society, found no Garrison in U.S. censuses or local city directories that would have merited such an honor nor are there any area streets, neighborhoods or subdivisions named Garrison.
“So, while there is no smoking gun, it seems likely that W.L. Garrison lent his name to the school,” he concluded.
Yet even decades after the 13th Amendment was ratified, Shannon found that Garrison’s name was still embroiled in the struggle for equal rights here. In 1938, blacks in then-District 182 sued the district over a bond issue for improvements to Garrison School. They argued voters had supported issuing $60,000 in bonds for Lafayette School, a white school, while rejecting $8,500 in bonds for Garrison, which was black. Moreover, they charged that there were more votes cast than registered voters. In January 1939, the suit was dismissed, although a new school eventually was built in 1945 at 4001 Trendley.
As for J.M.D. Brown School, there is no doubt: In the 1916 city directory, Brown is listed as a teacher at Garrison School, Shannon found. By 1924, he had become principal. So when a new four-room school was built in 1950 at 48th Street and Mousette Lane to relieve overcrowding at Garrison, it was named the J.M.D. Brown Memorial School to honor the local educator.
In 1956, elementary schools districts 182 and 184 were divided between Cahokia School District 187 and East St. Louis District 189, with Garrison, Lafayette and Brown going to East St. Louis. With declining enrollment, Brown and Garrison were closed in 2012.
Where was the northernmost battle of the Civil War fought?
Answer to Sunday’s trivia: What is generally regarded as the first newspaper in America was also the first to be shut down by authorities — after the very first issue. On Sept. 25, 1690, Richard Pierce and Benjamin Harris published the four-page Publick Occurrences, Both Foreign and Domestick in Boston. It was going to be “furnished once a month (or if any Glut of Occurrences happen, oftener).” But four days after it was distributed, the colonial government of Massachusetts shut it down, charging the paper had “sundry doubtful and uncertain Reports” (the first charge of fake news, I suppose) and that the publisher had not sought government license to print the paper. As a result, the honor of the first continuously published newspaper goes to John Campbell’s Boston News-Letter, which debuted on April 24, 1704, and continued until the British left Boston in March 1776. It reportedly was the only newspaper in the colonies to report in detail how Blackbeard the pirate was killed in hand-to-hand combat on Nov. 22, 1718.