Historic Detroit

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Bethune Elementary

School History

The Greenfield Township School District #2 erected the Edgar A. Guest Elementary School in 1922. The original unit included eight classrooms and a gym. In 1924, the school property was annexed to the City of Detroit and the property was transferred to Detroit Board of Education ownership. In 1925, the Detroit Board of Education purchased additional land along Meyers Road in anticipation of a future need to expand the school.

The Detroit Board of Education launched a $4,393,090 building campaign in 1929- 1930 in order to accommodate 8,000 new pupils. As a result of this campaign, the Guest School parcel was expanded a second time to support the erection of a new eight-room addition. The wing was erected at a cost of $101,105 in 1930 and provided capacity for an additional 320 pupils.

In 1931, a detached powerhouse and a third unit was added to the school building at a cost of $184,966.78. This new addition featured nine new classrooms, an auditorium, and a lunchroom. At this time the enrollment was 1500. Additional playground areas were established within the parcel in 1950.

From its initial construction through the 1950s, the Edgar Guest Elementary School served an all-white student body. This trend began to shift, beginning in October 1960, when the Detroit Board of Education determined that they would bus 314, 3rd and 4th graders from two overcrowded, predominantly-black elementary schools (McKerrow and Brady) to three nearby predominantly-white schools (Guest, Monnier, and Noble) which were located in neighborhoods that were declining in population due to "white flight" to the suburbs.

Newspaper articles report that Monnier, Guest, and Noble had empty seats and classrooms throughout the 1959-1960 school year while Brady and McKerrow's student population had grown by 6% from the year before. Black parents decried the over-crowded, under-resourced conditions at these schools and demanded a positive change. A group of white parents, known as the Northwest Parents Association, initiated a three-day boycott at the three white schools (Guest, Monnier, and Noble) to express their dissatisfaction towards the Detroit Board of Education's plan. They railed against the Detroit Board of Education, charging them with "integrating" their neighborhoods with the plan. The Detroit Board of Education denied the white parents' charges, stating that they were merely bussing students from overcrowded conditions to emptier nearby schools, regardless of race.

The Mayor at the time, Louis C. Miriani, supported the Detroit Board of Education's effort. On October 31, 1960, the first day of the boycott, 60% of the students at Guest were absent, while white parents and black counter-protestors picketed outside of the school. The black children were able to enter the school that day amongst the jeers of the white protestors. A mother of one of the black children involved was later interviewed about a contentious meeting she had attended with the white residents on November 1, 1960, the second day of the boycott. She reported that she left the meeting wondering if she was "...in Little Rock or Detroit."

By 1969, the school had an enrollment of 3500 pupils, 60% of whom were African American. At that time a contingent of the school's black parents had advocated for "community control" of the school. Community control was a wider movement within the City which involved black parents' desire to guide the curriculum towards black history and culture. These parents also sought greater control over the hiring and firing of staff. At Guest, in 1969, the parents demanded that the white principal Beatrice Wade, be replaced with a black principal and that school's name changed to the "Marcus Garvey School."

Ms. Wade was ultimately removed and replaced with the school's first black principal, Robert F. orison. In December 1977, the school was renamed as the "Mary McLeod Bethune School," after a prominent black educator.