Marker #2050, "West Side School"

Marker #2050, “West Side School,” in Harrodsburg, tells the story of a historically Black school that operated during an era of racial segregation.

Erected in 1930, West Side School in Harrodsburg was one of more than 5,000 Rosenwald Schools built across the southern United States. The Rosenwald Fund, established in 1917 by philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, is most known for constructing African American schools after southern states passed laws prohibiting interracial education. Kentucky had passed such a measure in 1904, the Day Law, which kept Kentucky schools segregated for the next half-century. Rosenwald Schools served as vital centers of family, religion, and community in African American life in the Jim Crow era. Principals, teachers, parents, and students invested heavily, both financially and socially, in their schools, which became important sources of pride and identity among African American communities.

West Side School continued a history of African American education in Mercer County that dated to the 1860s. The lack of state funding for education, coupled with racial inequalities that intensified in the decades after Reconstruction, forced many African American communities to make do with few resources. Some locals offered schooling in their homes. Ellen Crag Harris, for example, opened her home to nearly fifty students at the cost of one dollar per month of instruction. Churches often served dual roles as schools, including the First Baptist Church on Broadway. By 1893 Mercer County operated 10 African American schools, and by 1911 Mercer County also offered African American moonlight schools that offered adult education and night courses.

At an estimated cost of $20,000, the West Side School was funded in part by a $4,000 grant from the Rosenwald Fund. The school was constructed on the site of Harrodsburg Colored School, which had opened in 1903. West Side joined other Rosenwald Schools in Mercer County, including ones in Mayo, Salvisa, and Unity. Despite opening in the midst of the Great Depression, West Side’s amenities were among the most modern of its time. The brick structure was steam-heated, contained seven classrooms, office spaces, an auditorium with a seating capacity of 600, and three entrance halls. The first principal was Maynette M. Elliott, who had previously served as principal of the Harrodsburg Colored School since 1919. Her initial salary at West Side was $900, and she was joined by six other teachers whose salaries ranged from $675 to $855.

West Side School employed some of the region’s brightest teachers, including Cecilia Jackson, who joined the teaching staff in 1932. Jackson was a graduate of Harrodsburg Colored School and Kentucky State University, and she also studied at Howard University in Washington, DC. At West Side she taught junior high school history, math, and music. In addition to classroom teaching, Jackson offered piano lessons and started a junior high school choir. Like other African American teachers at the time, Hill believed in the importance of offering outreach programs that connected students with the wider community. Her students were featured on local radio broadcasts, and she worked with the local YWCA. Jackson eventually left West Side after twenty years of teaching. She married Frank Hill of Los Angeles, where she lived and worked before retiring home to Harrodsburg.

Maynette Elliott served as principal until her resignation in 1938, having served 18 years as a school principal. She was succeeded by Clara Clelland, who served as principal for 21 years. In 1939, the high school boys’ basketball team won the Kentucky High School Athletic Association championship, defeating Lexington Dunbar by a score of 16-12. By the 1950-1951 school year, West Side School was the only African American school within the Harrodsburg Independent School District. It enrolled 62 elementary students, 66 high school students, and employed five teachers across all grades.

Even as West Side School provided modern facilities and employed highly qualified teachers, it nonetheless reflected the realities of segregation. William Taylor, who attended West Side School until 1960, remembered over-crowded classrooms and inferior school supplies. He said, “We were too young to understand the social implications of it, but we knew that we got the used books from the white school.” The landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education mandated the desegregation of America’s school and rendered schools like West Side obsolete. On the heels of the Brown decision, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled the infamous Day Law unconstitutional in 1955. Integration of Mercer County’s high schools, including Mercer County High School, Burgin Independent, and Harrodsburg High School, took place in 1956. From that point until its closing in 1961, West Side served only elementary students. The National Trust estimates that only 10-12 percent of Rosenwald Schools survive today.

The marker reads:

This African American school was erected on this property in 1930, thanks to a donation from the Julius Rosenwald Fund. West Side was the only elementary and high school for African American children in Mercer County. It united the faculty, students, administration, and community in a common goal - education.

Three principals served the school: Mrs. Maynette Elliott Sneed (1930-38), Miss Clara B. Clelland (1938-59), and Mr. Robert Jackson, Jr. (1959-61). In 1939, West Side beat Lexington Dunbar, 16-12, to win K.H.S.A.L. State Basketball Championship. Closed 1961 when local schools desegregated. Presented by West Side School Reunion Com. and Ky. African American Heritage Commission.

Further Reading:

“African American Schools in Mercer County, KY,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database,

Ellis, William E. A History of Education in Kentucky. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2011.

Fairclough, Adam. A Class of Their Own: Black Teachers in the Segregated South. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007.

Hoffschwelle, Mary S. The Rosenwald Schools of the American South. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2006.

The Kentucky Negro Education Journal 2, No. 1 (October-November 1931).

“Kentucky Public School Directory, 1950-51,” Commonwealth of Kentucky Educational Bulletin 28, No. 9 (November 1950).



100 S. Magnolia St., Harrodsburg, KY 40330