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Lessons Taught, Lessons Learned

Lessons Taught, Lessons Learned

Jekyll’s first school wouldn’t accept her, she returned to teach

BY REBECCA BURNS

Although she grew up in a small cottage on Jekyll, Anna Hill did not attend classes in the island’s lone schoolhouse. The school opened in 1901, a few years before Anna’s birth, but it was reserved for white children. Instead of taking classes on Schoolhouse Lane on Jekyll, then, Anna was forced to travel by boat to get an education in nearby Brunswick. She eventually ventured even further, moving to Atlanta to earn a teaching degree.
After she graduated, though, Hill returned home to the island, hired as a teacher in a different school. It had opened in the 1920s, becoming the first school for children of the Black employees of the historic Jekyll Island Club. Tucked into the first house on Red Row, the small community built for the club’s Black workers, the school was equipped with desks and a blackboard. At any given time, 10 to 15 students were enrolled in grades One through Five. By the 1930s, the school catered to the Black employees of the Club, too, and included some summer school.
The Brunswick Board of Education furnished books and materials for both the Red Row school and the original school for white students on Schoolhouse Lane. In both cases, members of the Jekyll Island Club paid the teacher’s salary and organized events for the island’s children. “The club members considered this an important philanthropy,” says Andrea Marroquin, curator of Mosaic, Jekyll Island Museum. One of the lead proponents of school funding was Frances Baker, one of several women who were members of the Jekyll Island Club.
Hill, who married a man named Jesse Arnette, eventually moved to Brunswick and continued teaching until she retired years later. She remained an active member of the Retired Teachers Association.
Taking over the Red Row schoolhouse was Catherine “Katye” Merchant, who moved to the island after her 1929 marriage to Jekyll Island Club employee Thomas Cash. Thomas was an avid hunter known for the carvings he made from wild boar tusks. Katye was more interested in dancing, and with her ballroom partner Arthur Hill won multiple dance competitions. The couple lived on Jekyll while their daughter, Elaine, was a toddler, but later moved to Brunswick. Elaine and her younger sister, Gloria, both worked as teachers until their retirement, continuing the family legacy as educators.

This article first appeared in Volume 6 Number 2 of 31•81, the Magazine of Jekyll Island.

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