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Dozens of people gathered by the side of Old Madisonville Road near Samuel Walker Houston Elementary School on Saturday to celebrate the dedication of the newest historical marker in Walker County.

The marker paid recognition to the Bishop Ward Normal and Collegiate Institute which, according to information inscribed on the marker, had a profound impact on the local African American community and symbolized their efforts to secure the promises of freedom.

Following the end of slavery, African American communities established educational institutions for freed African Americans. After the end of the reconstruction, federal funding for African American schools had decreased, so churches often funded these schools. While primary schools opened in Huntsville soon after the Emancipation Proclamation, there were no normal or collegiate institutions for African Americans.

That was until Bishops Richard H. Cain and Thomas M.D. Ward, along with Rev. Charles W. Porter of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, led a movement to expand opportunities for higher education.

The original board of trustees for the college consisted of prominent African American leaders, such as Joshua Houston, Memphis Allen, Joseph Mettawer and John “Tip” Hightower.

The institute was purchased by the board of trustees in September 1883 and the two-story school opened on Sept. 17, 1883 with ten students enrolled. The school followed a classical liberal arts curriculum, teaching Latin, Greet, mathematics and grammar. The school also had domestic arts and manual labor teaching departments.

By 1884, about 164 students attended the school. However, it would close just a few years due to a lack of funding.

“Places like this really shows you the importance of education, and the realization on the part of the black community of Walker County,” said Tom Rogers, the chairman of the Walker County Historical Commission. “They recognized that education was a way out and a way up. We celebrate those people who had that vision and their efforts at that time.”

This historical marker is located at the intersection of Old Madisonville Road and Pleasant Street in Huntsville.