|Searching for the First Black Teacher in St. Augustine
Article for the St. Augustine Record
Searching for the First Black Teacher in St. Augustine
By Gil Wilson
The quest to identify the first black teacher for St. Johns County probably has some surprises yet for the researcher. Once
of the greatest problems is the lack of records from the early years of the school system.
The first candidate for the first black teacher is Harriet Greeley, the wife of Rev. Gorham Greeley of the American
Missionary Association. Rev. Greeley was originally sent to St. Augustine to start an African Methodist Episcopal Zion
Church. However, after he returned his African Methodist commission he became associated with the American
Missionary Association, he preached and his wife taught classes in the congregation that would eventually become Trinity
United Methodist Church.
At the time, he was 62 years old and his wife 58. On the 1865 Deep South census for St. Augustine they are listed as
having been from Maine.
Unfortunately there is no physical description of the Rev. or Mrs. Greeley listed in the census. They are the only two of
several hundred people without a physical description. Also, in all their writings no mention is made of their race. In any
case, they predate the current school system by about three years.
The second candidate for the first black teacher is a “Mr. Wright” from Fruit Cove. He was given $70 in July of 1870(for
teaching the first school year of our current system) on condition that he bring a certificate from his school trustees stating
that the school was “free.”
This was school No. 3 in the St. Johns County Public School System. It was a black school throughout its long history.
The Fruit Cove African Methodist Episcopal Church probably started the school. No records have been found of the early
years of the school. While the hiring is not documented Mr. Wright is probably the first black teacher hired by the St. Johns
County School system. It occurred in the year the system was created. With the addition this year of the new Fruit Cove
Elementary School, the tradition of school No. 3 is carried forward.
The third candidate for the first black teacher is Jacob Jordan.
On the 1870 census, he is listed as the son of Nelson and Amia L. Jordan. He attended school the 1869-70 school year
and by that time he had learned to read and write. His parents both worked.
His father was a laborer and his mother was a laundress. He originally attended school No. 2 and was taught by Abbie
Bowker, Lydia P. Auld and Miss Carrie Semple. He was sent to Atlanta University in 1872 and stayed at least two years
in Atlanta. He attended Atlanta with James Williams and David S. Young from St. Augustine, but there is no record of
either Williams or Young returning to St. Augustine to teach. By 1876, Jacob Jordan returned to St. Augustine and became
the teacher and principal of the No. 2 school. His wife was named Hannah. They were both 23 years old. He is the first
black principal in St. Johns County and the first teacher who can be documented to be black.
To be a black teacher was a difficult task. In 1880 as principal of school No. 2, Jordan was paid $30 a month. His
counterpart at school No. 1 was paid $75 per month. A teacher in a white school received $18.75 per month. The total
expenditure for school No. 2 was $510.74 for the 1880 school year. School No. 1 spent $1687.31 for the same year.
The comparison of dollars spent for black education would remain the same or decline as years progressed. By 1898, the
principal of school No. 2 would receive $60 per month while the counterpart at school No. 1 would be paid $120.
Average teacher pay at school No. 2 would equal $28.75 a month while the teachers at school No. 1 would average
$46.66 per month.
There have been hundreds of other black teachers to teach in the St. Johns County Public Schools.
They are all part of this proud tradition that dates to the founding of our schools. Receiving low pay, struggling with a lower
appropriation of money per school, they endured as pillars of our community.
Today’s teachers stand on the shoulders of those who have come before them.