Honoring W. A. Fountain High School
W. A. Fountain High School was found in 1953 under the direction of the Clayton County School Board for the education of colored children. A track of land beside Forest Chapel Church and cemetery was donated by Bishop Fountain for whom the school is named. That church, as well as one and two-room buildings throughout the county, served as schools for colored children until Fountain was completed. White children, on the other hand, were privileged to study in much better facilities. According to alumni Ms. Shirley Nichols, speaking on behalf of the original graduating classes, 1954-1969, Fountain was intended as an alternative to the impending mandate to desegregate schools in the south. Construction of the new consolidated school represented the county’s defiant effort to maintain a “separate but equal” educational system.
Interviews with other Fountain alumni, regarding the segregated facility they attended, are enlightening. For example, Mr. Michael Williams described his new school- having two hallways, lights, running water, a gym/cafeteria/stage, and intercoms - as “modern.” Dr. Adnee Bradford remembered how different Fountain was from the two-room elementary school she had once attended in Hapeville. For instance, in 1953 she boarded a school bus that transported her into another world. “Imagine walking into a brand-new school. Now I had teachers who knew my name and cared about me.” Ms. Betty Sanford, Adnee’s sister, said the school felt “fresh and new.” The Rev. Joseph Crawford, who acknowledged teachers at Fountain, said, “We were able to learn because of the teachers we had. We were able to participate because of the vision and dedication they had.”
Proudly, alumni point out the role the home, church, and community played in support of their educational and social growth. Teachers provided the framework and oversight conducive to learning. Therefore, in 1954, the first graduating class of 13 students, saw one of them, Jesse Blalock, matriculate to and graduate from college. Many more would enjoy similar accomplishments.
Over and above their scholastic acumen, students were afforded opportunities to engage in extracurricular activities heretofore unknown. For example, they participated in competitive sports, and creative dramatics, earning trophies, bringing recognition to their student body. As time passed, organizations such as 4-H Clubs, science clubs, an organized student government, Y-Teen, chorus, cheer leaders, and band were added. The spirit to win, coupled with the privilege to travel outside the borders of their school grounds, helped to enhance student enthusiasm and to bolster their sense of self-worth and teach them to appreciate experiences beyond their own environment.
In addition to a dedicated, holistic community of parents and teachers was the leader of Fountain, Mr. Moddie Decker “M. D.” Roberts. A friend and neighbor of Bishop Fountain of Atlanta, Georgia, Mr. Roberts became the first principal of the consolidated elementary/high school. Alumni today hold Mr. Roberts in high esteem recalling all he did to foster their educational development. He is attributed to having had a wealth of knowledge and an endless spring of support for his students who almost always dedicated their yearbooks to him. Michael Williams described his principal as a tall man with an “eagle eye”, adding how Mr. Roberts watched over his students and pushed them to succeed. The school continues to recognize this outstanding educator with a historical plaque naming the outdoor athletic complex in his honor.
Today, members of the 1954-1969 graduating classes meet annually to rekindle memories of years gone by, the days they walked the halls of their alma mater, attended different classes, and established the foundation that in some instances led to life-long relationships. Many went on to attend college and graduate school, becoming teachers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, ministers, politicians, and an untold number of white-and-blue-collar workers who accumulated wealth and earned positions of distinction.
The last such gathering of Fountain graduates occurred on August 31, 2019, at the Double Tree Hotel Atlanta Airport. Shirley Nichols, chair of the alumni planning committee, proudly boasts of the 300+ alumni in attendance. The 2020 meeting was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, plans are underway to reschedule the 2021 meeting later this year.
The graduates of Fountain Elementary and High School are thankful for our journey. We appreciate the sacrifices and the foresight of our parents, teachers, and mentors, all of whom poured into our lives, helping to mold us into the proud alumni we are today.
Adnee M. Bradford, Ph.D.
Class of 1955
Origin of the Name
William Alfred Fountain, Jr. was born February 12, 1895, in Athens, Georgia, the son of Bishop William Fountain, Sr. and Jessie Williams Fountain. He received the Bachelor of Arts degree from Morris Brown College (1917), Bachelor of Divinity degree from Garret Biblical Institute (1919) and master of arts degree from Northwestern University (1930). He did further study at the University of Chicago. He was married to Mabel Porter of Marietta, Georgia, and later to Lucille Hill of Athens, Georgia.
The 22 years (1928 - 1950) Fountain spent as president of Morris Brown College, Atlanta, Georgia, spanned all but 12 years of his entire career. When he became president in 1928, the country was on the verge of the Great Depression. With the African Methodist Episcopal Church as the only source of financial support, Fountain found the school heavily in debt, with no credit and foreclosure imminent, and with academic and spiritual morale decimated. He and his father, the chancellor, became a leadership team. Bankruptcy was the only alternative for continued operation, and for two years they had to operate the school as a corporation of Fountain, Harris (Dr. W.H.), and Fountain Company. Fountain himself received no salary during this time. Thus began the long and arduous task of reviving and preserving the tenuous thread of Morris Brown.
During the Fountain years Morris Brown was moved to a new site as a result of the purchase of the old Atlanta University; a college endowment of $476,577 was established; and a building program included new classroom buildings, teachers' cottages, dormitories, a gymnasium, a stadium and the president's home. In academics, Morris Brown achieved an "A" rating from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. In subsequent years Morris Brown College continued to build upon the foundation laid by the Fountain administration.
He was a great educator, statesman, theologian, philanthropist, and a world leader, in that he served several Episcopal Dioceses from America to Africa with pride, distinction and honor. It should be of interest for all to know and remember that he delivered one of the first major addresses at the school before his death in 1955.
The History and Legacy of William Alfred Fountain School
Fountain School was established in 1952 on a track of land beside Forest Chapel Church. The land was given to William Alfred Fountain and he in turn donated it to the county to become a school. On the property, there was an old church building, a two room school house and cemetery. At the time, African American students attended small “one room” school houses around Clayton County. The county had two distinct school systems: one was “The White Schools” and the other was “The Colored Schools,” which changed to the “Negro School” in 1957. These smaller schools were only for African American children and were consolidated into schools such as W. A. Fountain and Jonesboro Colored School (renamed J. W. Arnold in 1963).
At the time of construction, it was according to Alumni, Micheal Williams, “modern.” The school had two main hallways, lights, running water, a gym/cafeteria/stage and intercoms. According to Alumni, Dr. Adnee Bradford, the school was state of the art compared to the original schools she experienced. Dr. Bradford recalls that before entering Fountain in 1952, “I had gone to a one room school in Hapeville. My sister and I and all our classmates would load a bus from Hapeville to Forest Park to our Elementary school. Our elementary school was a world apart from the schools before that. Imagine two rooms, two rooms, a school house with two teachers. I did not know what we were learning! Imagine walking into a brand new school. It was like a whole new world opened up. Now, I had teachers who knew my name and cared about me.” Betty Sanford said the school felt “fresh and new.”
The first principal was Moddie Decker Roberts (whom M. D. Roberts middle school is named for). At the time, he was friends with W. A. Fountain who lived on the same street, Fountain Drive (named after W. A. Fountain) in Atlanta. The alumni respected him for all that he did. He was seen as a wealth of knowledge and an endless spring of support for his students. This love is seen in the yearbook dedications to him. Micheal Williams described him as a tall man who “like a hawk.” He watched out for his students and pushed them to succeed. The school continues to honor him by having a historical plaque naming the outdoor athletic complex in his honor.
The Early Years
The school served 1st-12th grade. Over the years, student life at Fountain became rich and plentiful. They had activities such as dramatics, student government, chorus, cheerleading, football, basketball, baseball, boy scouts and more. The students competed on field trips in dramatics and science fair competitions and won trophies. During the 1950s and 1960s, the students competed against other African American students in similar segregated schools. In 1965, Fountain High was undefeated in football.The mascot at the time was the mighty Rams and the school colors were burgundy and white.
The school had started with 169 high school students out of 634 in total. 1 The staff of the school consisted of African Americans and they pushed their students to compete nationally. By 1954, they had 20 classrooms.1
During the 1950s and 1960s, the school was segregated and only served African American students. At the time “in their youth” the alumni focused on the joy Fountain brought to their lives. They loved how it gave them a community and foundation from teachers such as Ms. Allen, Mr. Stewert, Ms. Ponds Perry and Ms. V. Roberts (M. D. Robert’s Wife).
However, cracks showed beneath the surface. According to Ms. Sandford, “It (Fountain) was not as well kept and the students received second hand books.” The older students realized upon graduation that they lived in an “unequal society,” but the school continued to grow and change with the times.
The 1960s and the times of change
The school continued to grow and add more to student life. Events such as homecomings, school plays, dancing, and organizations only grew. The event to attend each year was the Jamba Ramba where students presented dances on stage. Nationally, Fountain was recognized, as high school students at Fountain High were selected to be a part of the National Talent Search and life-long study. At its largest, Fountain served 1202 students, and 467 of those students were high school students.1 However, in the 1960s, Fountain life began to change. Clayton County became one school system in 1964, and integration began in 1967 with only some success.1
The school might have been a part of the school system, but the inequality became all the more apparent. According to Micheal Williams, in terms of sports, the school lacked a football field and had only away games due to the fact. They were not allowed to play at Forest Park High School’s football field. Additionally, the class of 1960 would donate the first electric clock to Fountain because the school was falling behind the times (the clock is still in the school today at the front of the gym).
However, the spirit of Fountain only got stronger. According to the alumni, the teachers made all the difference. They continued to push the students to grow. A teacher would even ride to a student’s house for a pop up conference if necessary. According to Mr. Crawford, “We were able to learn because of the teachers we had. We were able to participate because of the vision and dedication they had.”
Clayton Vs. State Integration and use as a middle school
In 1964, schools were ordered to integrate; however, the school systems were slow to change. Clayton county failed to make adequate progress.
In 1971, U.S. v. Bd. of Education of Clayton County was filed and went before the Supreme Court. In the case it was found that, “Clayton County Board of Education had recommended that W. A. Fountain School be converted to a junior high school, but because of the county's failure to pass a school bond referendum, there existed a special physical problem of not being able to accommodate additional children in the remaining elementary schools. Therefore, the Board planned to convert W. A. Fountain into a junior high school serving grades 7, 8 and 9 for the school year beginning September, 1971.”3
Additionally, the plan stated, “For the 1971-72 school year all seventh grades from elementary schools feeding the Forest Park Junior High School and G. P. Babb Junior High School will attend the W. A. Fountain School. Those students in the 1970-71 sixth grade class at W. A. Fountain School will attend the W. A. Fountain School. The elementary feeder schools referred to above are Mountain View; Hendricks Drive; East Clayton Edmonds; Ash Street; Lake City; Haynie; Morrow and Tara.C. No student assigned to the W. A. Fountain seventh grade will be permitted to transfer to any school where his race is in the majority. Under this plan, W. A. Fountain School would consist of a student population of seven hundred thirty-five (735) (91%) white students and seventy (70) (9%) black students and a faculty of twenty-four (24) white teachers and five (5) black teachers.”3
During the mid to late 70s the school integrated and served 7th grade students from this North section of Clayton including Babb and Forest Park Junior High. According to Robin Godbee (1974 attendee), students weren’t really aware of the history of the school. The school was ethnic diverse but the school has more white students. According to Robin “You just didn’t think about it (diversity of the school) because you were just kids. You just didn’t pay attention.” M. D. Roberts still was the Principal of the school; however, since the school just served 7th grade, activities were reduced to chorus and band.
This change did change the community and the way Fountain was viewed. Ms. Betty Sandford states when she returned in the 1970s, and drove up to the school, “It brought tears to my eyes. It was like a slap in the face.” The difference between segregation and integration was stark in terms of the appearance of the school. The streets were now paved. It had a playground, AC, and shrubbery. These features that did not exist earlier.
The school did team up with Clayton State Junior College as a place for student teachers to complete their studies. This was used to encourage diversity in the staff of the school. Fountain also opened its door to night classes for adults in the community.4
However, the alumni persevered. “We must learn it for the children and pass on our rich history.” As Ms. Shirley Nichols said, “We accomplished a lot and they (the students) can accomplish even more. They now ride on that foundation.”
1980s to Present
Fountain Elementary was established in 1989 and is located on 22 acres of beautiful land, which represents the highest point in Clayton County. The school colors were changed to blue and gold and the mascot was changed to the bears. The school is remembered fondly by students such as James Ojeda, “PE was always my favorite (memory) and after school we had a karate program.” He is the son of a former educator and he is now an educator at Fountain. Through the 1990s, the demographics of the school changed to reflect the changing population of Forest Park. The population of students was very diverse, however during his early years the school consisted of mostly white teachers and this swifted to more diverse as time went on. According to Mr. Ojeda, the history of Fountain was rarely mentioned beyond the fact it was once a high school in the past. However, the spirit of Fountain and dedication of teachers was still very much alive and continues to this day.
During the 2002 - 2003 school year, Fountain Elementary underwent an extensive renovation. The renovation included new HVAC units, storage shelves for reading centers, bright paint, an update to the cafeteria, and a new administrative wing. The brick structure is now composed of three main halls, one administrative suite, a counselor's suite, a gym, a cafeteria, and a media center.
Currently, Fountain houses students in grades pre-kindergarten (Pre-K) through 5th grade. The Forest Chapel Cemetery is still located adjacent to the baseball field and playground and current efforts are being employed to preserve the graves and add the cemetery to a national registry.
Additionally, several Fountain leaders have been honored by having a school named after them including M. D. Roberts Middle School (first principal), Eddie White Academy (Second principal of Fountain), Harper Elementary (named after Alfretta Allen Harper, a decided educator), and Perry Learning Center (Eula Wilborn Ponds Perry, who was a teacher at Fountain).
As far the students of Fountain School and Fountain High, the alumni have formed an active community, who still meet yearly. They were instrumental in preserving the history of the school they love and we are so grateful. As of 2023 the mascot and school colors were changed back to the original colors and we are once again the Home of the Rams.
In the words of David Miliba, “I do not speak Hebrew, but I understand that it has no word for ‘history’. The closest word for it is memory.” The Fountain Preservation Project aims to keep the history of the Fountain School alive by preserving the memories of the alumni. If you have a story you would like to record or pictures to share please email Natasha Letze at Natasha.firstname.lastname@example.org
1.School Statistics collected by Ms. Shirley Nichols
2.1960 Talent Search
3.1971, U.S. v. Bd. of Education of Clayton County
4.Clayton County Journal News Clipping
5.4/27/2021 Interview with Alumni
6.4/30/2021 Interview with James Ojeda
7.5/17/2021 Interview with Robin Godbee
A special thanks to Alumni who provided resources and took part in the interview:
Ms. Shirley Williams Nichols, Class of 1965
Dr. Adnee Byrom Bradford, Class of 1955
Ms. Betty J. Byrom Sandford, Class of 1958
Mr. Micheal Williams, Class of 1960
Rev. Dr. Joseph L. Crawford, Sr. Class of 1969
Ms. Gail Davenport, Class of 1965
Ms. Alice Brock, Class of 1969
Ms. Doris Clay Shedrick Class of 1968
Mr. James Ojeda, attended during the 1992-1997
Mrs. Robin Godbee, attended 1974
This history was consolidated by Natasha Letze with input from the Alumni Association of Fountain High.