Stephens paved way for education of blacks in Warner Robins

October 24, 2012 

Pearl Jackson Stephens was born Feb. 22, 1887, in Wellston, which would later become Warner Robins. It was a different world back then.

Schools were segregated. Stephens herself only finished the seventh grade and became a teacher by taking an exam. She married Isom Stephens at 19 and, with that, ended her teaching career before it even started. At the time, married women were not allowed to teach in Houston County schools.

So she turned her attention to raising her family. She gave birth 13 times. Nine of those children survived. She also took in four children, adopting them and giving them a home.

Eventually the rule that forbade married women from teaching was lifted, and Stephens took her first job at Sandy Run Baptist Church.

Schools for black children, it seems, were not deemed necessary during the ’30s and ’40s. So local churches provided the classrooms.

As World War II brought a boom to Warner Robins, workers -- black and white -- arrived with their families. The population of black children swelled around the Union Grove Baptist Church area, and Stephens appealed to the Houston County Board of Education to open a school. They didn’t, but they provided two teachers and books for the 90 children who went to school at the church.

She appealed to the board again and pleaded for a proper school to be built for black children. The board said it couldn’t afford any land for a school.

So Stephens decided to give her own land, which she had inherited from family, to the board for a school.

The board accepted the offer, and in 1949 a two-room building with an outhouse opened as Pearl Stephens School. A more modern, brick facility was built in 1955.

“One of the things I remember the most about her was her desire to help others. She always found a way, whether you were playing in the yard or helping around the house, it didn’t matter what you were doing, she found a way to turn the situation into a learning experience. Everything to her was about education, but not just for her family but for all children,” said Jerome Stephens, one of the grandsons of Pearl Stephens.

Stephens received little pay as a teacher. She averaged about $20 a month, and she never received a pension or benefits from her years as an educator. But her contribution to education in Houston County, not only to black children but to all children, cannot be judged by what she was paid but rather by the impact that generations of children have made after receiving an education in the building that bears her name.

Contact Alline Kent at 396-2467 or allinekent@cox.net.

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