The Closing of South Media School

While I was helping in Martha Burton Park recently, Nannette Whitsett told me that the school the park was once attached to was located across the street where there is now a church. In March of 1950 a news story says that local residents were renewing efforts to close South Media School. At that time, the school had two rooms, two teachers and two bathrooms (one boys, one girls). Students were divided into grades 1/2 and 3/4 (so each class was two years together). In 1950, 44 of the students were black and three white. But it seems there was little education at this school, the article states that the first grade schedule was 15 minutes a day on each of reading, writing and arithmetic with a 90 minute lunch and a 20 minute rest period then 55 minutes for what we now call specials (music, art, PE, etc). Then a 30 minute recess. But in article after article the school district board assured the public that the education was equal.

A church now stands where South Media School was.

The school was located three feet away from a wooden barn (and had a wooden roof) and local residents at the time claimed it was a fire hazard (among other grievances). Over the summer of 1950, the community and local NAACP continued to seek to close the school with no effect. But the district did modernize the bathrooms! I’m sure the modern plumbing was very reassuring. Mrs. Dickerson of South Media “reported to the meeting that Howard A. Wentz, supervising principal of Nether Providence school, had characterized South Media children in the early elementary school brackets as “backward” and not qualified for admittance to the Wallingford school.” but E. A. Quackenbush, director of school administration for the department of public instruction insisted “no discrimination is being practiced against pupils attending the South Media school.”

In July of 1950 local residents had retained the services of Philadelphia lawyer Rufus S. Watson for possible legal action. By 1953 the school board had finally relented and sent two of the grades to WES and two to Garden City and closed the school. This is effectively the date Nether Providence schools were desegregated. In 1955 the district sold the South Media School building. A news story in 1961 tells of a fire at the old school building (which had become a church). The building was considered a total loss in the fire, “At the peak of the fire, flames roared about 50 feet into the air. About half of the wood shingle roof burned and collapsed before firemen brought the fire under control.” Clearly residents’ concerns in 1950 were well justified.

Categories: History