Marker #2650 Douglass Graded and High School

Historical marker #2650 lies near the site of the former Douglass Graded & High School, a historically Black school once located along North L. P. Miller Street in Murray, Kentucky. This marker was dedicated in August of 2023 during the 53rd annual reunion for Douglass alumni, their families, and many other community members.

Following the Civil War, a strict system of racial segregation was imposed by law within the Commonwealth of Kentucky. It affected all aspects of daily life for Black Kentuckians, including their access to educational opportunities. According to the 1895-97 Biennial Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, at that time there were seven “colored” schools in Calloway County, where African American students attended classes for five months out of the year. Two of these schools were made of logs, and the rest existed inside wood-frame buildings. By 1925, these separate institutions had been consolidated into three “colored” schools outside the city limits and one “colored” school within Murray itself. That same year, the City Council abolished the separate school board for Murray’s Black community, handing its governing duties over to the board of education that already managed the school system for the city’s white students.

By this time, the Douglass Graded School was already in existence at this site. Named in honor of the famous 19th-century orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, its modest, two-story building housed African American students in grades 1 through 8. Sadly, in May 1930, the four-room wooden structure burned. However, it was quickly rebuilt before the year ended thanks to funding provided by insurance money, the city board of education, and a grant from the Julius Rosenwald Fund. This development added an additional three classrooms and an expansion to include high school grades as well. Local newspaper reports indicate that Douglass School’s enrollment had risen to around 200 students by this time.

In May 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that the so-called “separate but equal” system of racial segregation that had defined most public schools across the country was, in fact, inherently unequal and in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment guaranteeing everyone equal protection under the law. This decision paved the way for the gradual integration of public school systems in Kentucky and beyond during the decade that followed.

In December 1955, Murray’s board of education passed a resolution mandating the integration of the city’s public schools. Beginning with the 1956-57 school year, local high school students of any race could pick where they attended classes: Murray High School (which had served white students up to that point) or Douglass Graded & High School. The following school year, middle school students were granted the same choice. And by 1958, elementary school students could choose between Douglass and Austin Graded School. Even so, Douglass School’s student body continued to draw most of its members from the surrounding African American community.

After its final high school class graduated in 1962, Douglass reverted to being an elementary and middle school serving grades 1 through 8. According to school board records from the 1966-67 school year, the student body was comprised of 55 Black pupils and 26 white pupils taught by one Black teacher and two white teachers. As the smallest school by far of Murray’s four elementary-level institutions, Douglass was selected for closure at the end of that academic year, with its students being dispersed among the city’s other remaining schools by the fall of 1967. Eventually, the school building itself was demolished. Today Kenlake Foods, a subsidiary of the Kroger Company, operates a plant on the site where the school once stood.

What brief newspaper clippings and school board meeting minutes fail to capture is the great fondness that Douglass Graded & High School students felt for their alma mater while they attended it and the enduring affection for this institution that remains within Murray’s Black community to this day. During its many years in existence, Douglass served as an important gathering place for African Americans living in Calloway County. Beyond academics, Douglass School’s students exceled in extracurricular activities, the arts, and athletics. They carried their hard-earned knowledge and their considerable skills out into the wider community after graduation in such a way that the school’s impact is still felt today.

Perhaps the greatest testament to the enduring legacy of Douglass Graded & High School is the alumni reunions that have occurred annually since 1969. These gatherings have grown to be about much more than just the school itself by serving as a celebratory occasion and a homecoming event for members of Murray’s African American community regardless of where they now reside or whether they even attended Douglass as students many decades ago.

This longstanding affinity for Douglass Graded & High School and all that it has symbolized is best expressed in the words of the official school song written by Mae Ola Cogdell Jones and still sung each year by alumni and their descendants at the well-attended reunions:
I’m always thinking of you
When the shadows round me creep.
I’m always thinking of you
When I lay me down to sleep.
Dear old Douglass High School,
I’m in love with you.

The marker reads:


Named after the famous orator and
abolitionist Frederick Douglass,
this school served Murray’s
African American community during
the era of racial segregation. A
19th-century wood-frame building
housed grades 1 – 8 until it
burned in 1930. Quickly rebuilt,
it expanded to include a high
school for Murray’s African
American students.


In 1956, spurred by the 1954
Brown v. Board of Education
decision, the Murray Ind. School
District integrated its schools.
Douglass School’s final high
school class graduated in 1962,
and its elementary school closed
in 1967. Annual reunions have
gathered alumni since 1969 to
celebrate its significance within
the Murray community.



226 North L. P. Miller Street, Murray, KY 42071 ~ The Kenlake Foods facility now occupies the site where Douglass Graded & High School once stood. Please obey all local signage governing access and parking near the site.