Few people in Cleveland may remember Arlee E. Martin, principal of College Hill High School for more than a decade. But Dr. Cornell D. Lane has discovered a thesis submitted by Martin which gives a revealing look at “A history of the development of Negro public schools in Bradley County Tennessee from 1931 through 1951.”
Lane, a l958 graduate of College Hill, president of the College Hill School Alumni Association and one of the founding fathers of the National Association of School Psychologists, said Martin’s research will be used to restore and develop archived information relative to College Hill and the history of Bradley County.
The 91-page thesis includes Martin’s method of procedure, his findings, conclusions and recommendations. He also acknowledged Bradley County school superintendents T.C. Bowers and S.L. Beaty, along with the county judge, county court clerk and others “who responded so willingly to requests for information pertinent to the problem treated in this thesis.”
“He wrote this thesis to get his master’s degree while he was principal at College Hill,” Lane said. “I want to restore his contribution, his legacy, his thoughts. And really — it’s almost on behalf of all those who were there.
“As I looked at his thesis, which was talking about things decades ago — a very succinct historical perspective which has never been done before and never known was revealed — because his thesis had never been checked out until I checked it out.”
Lane, a retired university professor at Tennessee State University and active education psychologist for more than 50 years, said the thesis may have been checked out once before — he is not sure — but added, “In many ways I am bringing this alive.”
“The comments I wrote down were just some highlights I pulled from his thesis that I thought were relevant today.”
Lane said more senior citizens in Cleveland may be familiar with College Hill’s earlier principal, U.L. Knox, who preceded Martin and who is the only principal mentioned near the historic marker in Cleveland.
“But most blacks you meet in Bradley County were under professor Martin,” Lane said. “For me and the one’s I’ve talked with — they don’t understand why his name is not prominent in talking about College Hill. For the years I was at College Hill, Martin was the principal. He was the contemporary principal.
“In fact, before I said I would review his thesis, I talked with his grandson who is in Atlanta — Richard Shepard. He is puzzled too. My sisters and brothers are puzzled. So I became interested in letting people know that he did write a thesis. He was very much dedicated to the education of negroes in Bradley County.”
“With professor Knox, his contemporaries and the students who were there are very limited. The oldest living graduates were under professor Knox. But after that — when you see the ones around here now, they were under professor Martin.”
In his review of Martin’s thesis, Lane, a former director of the Division of Special Education for Metro Nashville schools, said, “Mr. Martin developed a rich resource that traced the historical development of the trials, failure and successes of dedicated citizens of Bradley County to develop and maintain negro public schools during the period of 1931-1951.”
Lane wrote, “Martin maintained that no previous study had been made that gave a systematic account of the development of Negro schools in Bradley County. His research was to present such a study.”
The former hearing officer for the Tennessee State Department of Education Right to Education Office, added “On the basis of his research and conclusion, Mr. Martin made many significant recommendations. Among them were services related to teachers training, lunch programs, nurses and doctors, attendance teachers, homebound teachers and playground facilities.
“In each of the aforementioned areas he found significant shortcomings and concluded that much still needed to be accomplished if Bradley County was to keep pace with the state, region and nation.”
As an honor student and graduate of College Hill, Lane said he holds a unique perspective and believes “the goal of separate but equal was not nearly attained” at College Hill when it burned in 1966.
Lane’s comment raised the question as to why so many College Hill graduates were such high academic achievers, leading very prominent and successful careers throughout the past six decades.
Lane’s response was, “In spite of slavery, in spite of legal delays in education of blacks, in spite of broken promises of equality of education, in spite of mixed perceptions in the pursuit of knowledge, in spite of schools being reduced to ashes, in spite of our education being provided in an atmosphere of fear — we proved to be resilient and said, ‘We overcame.’
“This was shown in our contributions and leadership locally, nationally and internationally — in politics, education, science and in our chosen way of life.”
According to Lane, the major difference proved to be their teachers and their parents who “built resilience, desire, commitment and acceptance of a challenge.”
“Although it was very clear that you were working at a disadvantage — you always knew you could achieve,” he said. “You could see the possibility of a brighter time — though it didn’t exist at the time.
“You knew you were going to get knocked down. But you also knew you were going to get up. We knew we didn’t have it, but we knew we were going to get it. We’re still on that journey.”
Lane, who was involved in several marches in Nashville during the Civil Rights movement in Tennessee, returned to Cleveland and attended the Museum Center’s latest exhibit, “We Shall Not be Moved: The 51st Anniversary of Tennessee’s Civil Rights Sit-Ins,” along with its oral history forum, “Cleveland Experiences Integration.”
Lane said he would encourage everyone in Cleveland to attend this landmark traveling exhibit. As far as making the research of professor Martin accessible to the Bradley County community, Lane said, “I’m going to try to make it available to the public. The resource I thought of is the Cleveland Bradley County Library’s historic branch and archives.”
Holding a copy of Martin’s research in his hand, Lane commented, “Records related to College Hill were destroyed in fires. His research helps to restore and develop the archived information relative to education of Negroes and College Hill. Unless you have a record to look at in the present or in the future, it cannot be corroborated. This is a journey for good. It is only telling the truth.”