Tennessee School for the Blind, Colored Department (Nashville)
- Established 1883
- Integrated with The Tennessee School for the Blind, 1965
The Colored Department of the Tennessee School for the Blind was created in 1883, by an act of the state legislature. It formalized an organized program which had been taught for several years by Susan Lowe, an African-American woman, who "gathered a group of blind children of her race in order to teach them in her home."1 Ms. Lowe was made the first "matron" of the Colored Department and continued in that position until she retired in 1932.
The inequality of the facilities for black and white children made newspaper headlines in 1952 when the white students, housed since the 1870s in a downtown Nashville mansion, moved to a new $3.5 million complex. The 422 students in the Colored Department were transferred to the former mansion property, by then—after nearly 80 years of use and spotty upkeep—decaying, unsafe, and unclean. Vigorous protests by the NAACP, as well as outraged Nashvillians, white and black, succeeded in having the mansion declared unsuitable in 1953, and the Colored Department students moved once again.
In 1954 the American Foundation for the Blind's evaluation of the Tennessee School for the Blind (made at the superintendent's request) was not favorable; problems were found in the programs for both the African-American and the white students. For the Colored Department, the study indicated the following problems: overcrowding, poor conditions in the infirmary, lower salaries for the African-American teachers than for their white counterparts, and the lack of secretarial help for the principal. The report encouraged the school to live up to the claim of "separate but equal facilities."
According to John Waddey, who wrote a history of the Tennessee school, the colored department was integrated with the white school only "when court rulings made further segregation of educational programs impossible."2 In 1965, African-American students were transferred to the main campus to begin classes with their white counterparts. All their teachers joined the faculty, and the principal of the Colored Department was named assistant principal of the combined schools.
- George Zepp, "Mansion Serves as 2nd Home," The Tennesseean, February 22, 2006.
- John Waddey, The Tennessee School for the Blind: The First 150 Years, 1966, p. 200.