Rockdale County resident Al Sadler displays some of the J.P. Carr School yearbooks included in the compilation that spans yearbooks from 1955 to 1969. Sadler graduated from J.P. Carr School in 1968. (Staff Photo: Karen Rohr)
On one page, a black and white photo depicts teens playing an intense game of basketball. On another page, a teacher assists students with a science experiment. Another image shows a counselor reviewing grades with a student, as they both intently study the paperwork.
These are just a few of the moments at the former J.P. Carr School captured on film for the school’s yearbook, The Eagle. The J.P. Carr School, formerly located at the site of the current J.P. Carr Center on Bryant Street in Conyers, served as the black school in Rockdale County from 1955 to 1969, prior to desegregation.
The school’s yearbooks have been the focus of Aldren Sadler’s attention for the past several months. A lifelong Rockdale resident, Sadler attended J.P. Carr School from first through 12th grade, and while he has all of his yearbooks (save one), thanks to his mother’s meticulous record-keeping, other students who attended the school have no yearbooks at all.
Out of that deficit has grown Sadler’s intention of supplying former students and the community with a history otherwise unavailable. Sadler, along with the Citizens Progressive Club of Rockdale County, a black community improvement group, has mounted a project to compile all the yearbooks of J.P. Carr School, from 1955 to 1969, into one book.
Though only a prototype exists of the book currently, Sadler envisions it as a thick hard cover book about the size of a traditional family Bible.
Dr. Aubrey Webb, a former student at the J.P. Carr School and the first black male to graduate from Rockdale County High School, and his son Eric Webb scanned the pages to create the book.
Sadler said the yearbooks illustrate a crucial part of black history in Rockdale County, showing a combination of what little resources the school had, the strong sense of community it maintained, and the ideas of students and teachers at the time.
The books offer “a snapshot of what the school looked like each year,” said Sadler.
Yearbook details such as an annual message from the superintendent; basketball scores for each game of the year; photos of clubs, chorus, band and superlative winners; tongue-in-cheek last will and testaments, written by the seniors; photos of administrators and teachers; and of course, the annual head shots of the students themselves, all add up to create a profile of school life for black children in Rockdale County at that time period.
“Whatever was on their mind that year, I feel like that’s what they wrote. That’s the history,” said Sadler.
Sadler said people may enjoy having images of themselves that they can share with their children and grandchildren, and the book will also educate the community on how many students at the school went on to become leaders in the community.
“I think what’s important to me is to let people know that some of the people they deal with today, you can see something about their background and some of the things they went through, what we were exposed to in Rockdale County in terms of a group of people,” said Sadler.
Sadler said the yearbook also shows the setting of the school, bare cement floors with exposed brick on the walls. Sadler said in addition to the bare bones building, students also had fewer resources available to them than in the white schools. He remembers used and out-of-date textbooks; a lack of science equipment in biology class; and a heating system so poor that in cold winter months students had to combine classes in the gym and library to get warm.
“In spite of all that, some of us were able to do very well and go off to college and get degrees and others went on to become successful business people,” said Sadler.
Sadler said the J.P. Carr yearbook compilation may be purchased from the Progressive Club for $100, and that those interested are also invited to a Bryant Street School (the former name of the J.P. Carr School) reunion scheduled for July 12. Books or tickets to the reunion may be purchased by calling Progressive Club Secretary Gloria Armstead at 770-388-9730.
“It’s an exciting project. I’ve gotten some real satisfaction out of it,” said Sadler.