The Friends of Brownsville School, a committee of the Underground Railroad Society of Cass County, is launching an oral history project.
Did you attend an integrated, one-room school in Cass County? If so, the Friends of Brownsville School would like to talk to you! As announced in November, 2022, the Underground Railroad Society of Cass County acquired Brownsville School #1, 20559 Osborne Street, Cassopolis, MI. URSCC plans to restore the building and establish Brownsville as a repository of information and artifacts from all of Cass County’s one-room, integrated schools. Stepping up to assist URSCC achieve this goal, the Friends of Brownsville School will be conducting interviews with former students of Cass County’s integrated, one-room schools.
If you attended an integrated, one-room school in Cass County, please consider sharing your story. Interviews will be conducted by trained volunteers at a time and in a place convenient and comfortable for you. E-mail Jennifer Ray, Friends of Brownsville School Chair, at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about this oral history initiative and to schedule an interview. Interviews will be archived and made accessible to the public, thus preserving and sharing an important piece of Cass County history and celebrating the legacy of the Underground Railroad’s operations here.
More about the Friends of Brownsville School:
Friends of Brownsville School (brownsvilleschool.org) has been formed to carry out this project, chaired by Jennifer Ray, retired Cass District Library Director. This group will guide the restoration of the school as a repository of photos and artifacts from all integrated, public, one-room schools in Cass County. Brownsville will also be a demonstration site for Michigan prairie education, inviting tours and education events. Brownsville School is a legacy of the Underground Railroad, operating primarily in Calvin, Penn and Porter Townships, from 1830s to 1850s. Over 1500 fugitive slaves, now called freedom seekers, were said to be helped on their journey to Canada. Many Free Black families arrived in the area in mid 1840s and early 1850s. The bought property, primarily in Calvin Township, and established thriving farms, becoming respected members of the community. Many descendants of these pioneer Black families still reside in the area. The 1850 census for Calvin Township shows both Black and white children going to school. The 1860 plat map of Calvin Township shows over a hundred Black owned properties, and four one-room schools, Brownsville School #1 is one of them. URSCC purchased Brownsville School and two acres of property it sits on in November, 2022 from the Richard and Dennis Wooden family, whose relatives went to the school. It was part of the Wooden family farm since 1960's, and required three years to clear title and zoning issues. URSCC has taken steps to save the structure during this interval, tarping the roof and shoring up the foundation.The extensive restoration will require funding from various sources. Friends of Brownsville School will take on this challenge, as well as historical research and collecting memorabilia from other integrated, public, one-room schools in Cass County. Jennifer Ray says "This humble schoolhouse has extraordinary stories to tell, valuable lessons to teach. FBS looks forward to assisting URSCC in raising Brownsville's voice. Come join us!" If you would like to support this project, or join Friends of Brownsville School, contact Jennifer or go to www.urscc.org