“Our Town” is more than a play

Attending class reunions has never appealed to me, but the invitation to this one was special. Bevelle School, named for Gov. Braxton Bragg Comer’s daughter, opened its doors to the children of Avondale Mills’ employees in 1920. Attending school was compulsory for mill kids from age four through the ninth grade. This benefit lasted until 1970 when the company reduced its patriarchal role by selling mill-owned houses and closing Bevelle School.

Subsequently, the brick building on mill property was demolished as its students were transferred to the city school system. Recently, all former students were invited to a reunion in Alex City. Hundreds showed up the first Saturday in June, including a dozen members of my 1948 ninth-grade class. The 50 year history of our beloved school came alive again as we perused a display of pictures of our younger selves and listened to slightly exaggerated tales of Bevelle survivors.

Next year the State of Alabama will recognize and celebrate the Year of Small Towns. What an opportunity for those of us who sought our fortunes away from home to return and honor the seedbeds or our values, visions and ambitions!

A trio of former teachers glowed in the shower of elaborate well-deserved praises, but they also endured some good-natured ribbing about how they had exercised the then-accepted in loco parentis style of discipline—spare the rod and spoil the child. In those days our mill-hand parents reminded us that a spanking at school deserved equal treatment at home. Because time tends to mellow one’s perspective and memories of the past, testimonials of the former mill school students were fraught with a theme of “happy days.” 

Although WWII had shaped our visions of the world during those impressionable elementary school years, we emerged from the ninth grade unscathed, yea even optimistic about our futures.

The event organizer Laura Oliver introduced her boss, Mayor Young, who reminded everyone that next year the State of Alabama will recognize and celebrate the Year of Small Towns. What an opportunity for those of us who sought our fortunes away from home to return and honor the seedbeds or our values, visions and ambitions! 

It seems to me the Alabama Humanities Foundation can play an important role in supporting efforts to spotlight the historical significance of small towns in developing world-class citizenry. Museums, libraries and other civic institutions have a rare opportunity to collaborate and develop proposals to help fund programs and events to celebrate your small town. Although school reunions do not qualify for funding, keep us in mind for your other events.

Consider an AHF Road Scholar for your small-town celebration, or visit the AHF website for grant guidelines.

Written by: Bob W.