Hidden Gems – Memphis Boston


If there was ever a personification of “Hidden Gems,” it is Memphis Boston, a lady with a unique name and roots firmly planted in this community.

Few of us know the history of our public education system here in Macon County. Yes, we are familiar with Booker T. Washington because he was the first principal of what is now Tuskegee University. But, few of us know of Harris Barrett. I know, you have heard the name before because some of you knew that your parents, grandparents and other relatives went to that little school in the country. Few, however know the importance of the Harris Barrett School, its role in public school education in Macon County, or the impact it had on the lives of many of the farmers in this area.

There is one person who remembers and has worked tirelessly to keep the history of Harris Barrett School alive. She wants to ensure that future generations do not forget. She is Memphis Boston of Chehaw, a rural community that hosted the famous train station that brought many students and renowned citizens to Tuskegee – the City and the University.

Mrs. Boston, the mother of eight children, was a student at Harris Barrett. She remembers well, her school days, walking with friends in the early morning and making sure they were not late. They were greeted by their teacher who lined up the students for inspection. The boys were in one line and the girls in another. After inspection, they walked quietly into the school house where there were only two rooms. One room held classes from first to the fourth grade and the other room housed the fifth through the eighth grades. At noon, the students gathered in their groups, no fraternizing between boys and girls, and played ball, hop scotch, dodge ball, hiding go seek and ring around the rosy. Lunch was comprised of food brought from home and they would share their lunch with each other. Parents brought commodities so that everyone had something to eat.

Memphis remembers well when Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt visited Tuskegee to fly with Chief Anderson. Harris Barrett sponsored a lunch and Mrs. Roosevelt was impressed that food was served on china and not paper plates. She remembers getting a hug from the first Lady and felt she was a real nice person.

Harris Barrett School was named after Harriss Barrett of Hampton, Virginia. He entered Hampton Institute as a teenager and went on to become a well known businessman. Upon his death, The Crisis Magazine printed:

The late Harris Barrett was born in Henderson, Kentucky, in 1865 and, entered Hampton Institute at the age of seventeen years. The oldest organized effort to encourage loan and home-buying among local Negroes was the People’s Building Loan Association of Hampton which Mr. Barrett founded soon after graduating in 1885. This company has loaned half a million to Colored people to aide in the buying of homes. (The Crisis, November 2017, Vol-II No. 1, Whole No.- 62)

He worked very closely with Booker T. Washington and others in the Southern Improvement Company, a philanthropic organization whose aim was to help newly freed slaves purchase land and own homes. Mrs. Boston noted her father heard about the program and moved from Florida to Tuskegee Macon County to participate. She continues to live on the land her father purchased and in the home built by her father for his family.

Harris Barrett school was built in 1903 by students at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial School who made the bricks. Today, you will find the original school still stands. It is a museum that is open to the public and has so many interesting and historic pieces to see and learn about. Everyone is encouraged to go to the corner of Macon County Road 27 and 36. You will be in for a treat. It is among Macon County’s best-kept secrets.