Happy Hill Remembered

Wendi Watts, the Daily News Journal, February 22, 1995

Black education changed through the years in Rutherford County

Happy Hill School, once located in Christiana. (compliments of the Center for Historic Preservation at MTSU in cooperation with the Tennessee Historical Commission and ‘Arbors and Bricks’.

Black Education in Rutherford County has gone through a lot of changes in the past 50 years.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Thelma Marie Turrentine Marshall went to class in a one-room school house called Happy Hill near Christiana.

Happy Hill was one of the first black schools in the local community. The school had no electricity nor running water.

Willie Patton Miller was a teacher at Happy Hill School, one of the first black schools in Rutherford County. The school served students in the first through eight grades. This photo was provided by one of Miller’s students. According to Marshall, Miller is now living in Shelbyville.

“Happy Hill was a one teacher school with grades one through eight,” Marshall said. “It had very strict discipline.”

“There were about 30 to 35 kids there,” Marshall recalled. “It had a little stage and coatroom and outdoor toilet, and we went to a cave to get drinking water.”

The little school house on U.S. Hwy. 231 South (Shelbyville Highway), like many other black schools in Rutherford County, is no longer standing.

According to ‘Arbors to Bricks: A hundred Years of African American Education in Rutherford County, Tennessee 1865 to 1965’, Happy Hill was built in 1913 on a site donated by C.C. and Hattie Henderson and was torn down and another site purchased in 1947.

In 1948, the school moved to the new site. In 1952, Happy Hill was consolidated with Christiana School and closed.

“We made on corner of the room into a kitchen,” Marshall said. “There was a potbellied stove in the middle of the room. We brought our lunches to school. Most of us had biscuits and ham. Those that had money would bring peanut butter and crackers.”

At one point, Happy Hill School was a wooden structure on three sides with the fourth side a part of a rock hill.

“All around the school there were rocks, rocks, rocks and we played on the rocks,” Marshall said.

There were few books to go around for the students.

“Books were scarce. I remember my daddy had to buy books,” Marshall said. “One time, we had got this book from Africa, and the people there didn’t wear any clothes and we didn’t know anything about nudity.”

The only transportation to school was walking.

“We walked. We had to unless our parents would get us a way to go,” Susye Mack Rucker, a Happy Hill student is quoted in ‘Arbors to Bricks’.

“For the most part, we walked two and a half or three miles to school. It wasn’t so bad because everybody else was walking, except the white folks,” Rucker said.

The kids came as far as Rucker Road and Barfield Lane,” Marshall said. “Everybody was on the same level. Everybody’s parents were sharecroppers.”

The school calendar took into account that the students were needed by their parents to work the land.

“We went to school in July and August. Then we got out six weeks to pick cotton. Then you went back to school,” Marshall said.

Her parents sent her to Holloway School to finish school. She later went to Tennessee State University and majored in home economics and got her master’s degree from Georgia State College. Marshall went on to teach for 33 years in Harris County, Georgia.

“I think I am a super product of Happy Hill,”Marshall said.

She believes that it is important for students today to know what education was like when she was a student.

“Children today have too much,” Marshall said. “They are not disciplined. We didn’t even have electric lights. When you tell children that now, they don’t believe it. Parent have to instill in children that they can be somebody. It has to start way down.”

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