The University of Pennsylvania and Tuskegee University are both committed to the development of a sustainable long-term preservation plan for the St Paul Missionary Baptist Church, The Armstrong School, and its cultural landscape. This effort is part of a larger, longer-term partnership between the two schools.

Already, the Tuskegee-Penn partnership has secured a small grant for emergency stabilization of the Armstrong School from the J.M. Kaplan Fund and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Since Spring 2021, Tuskegee architecture students and Penn historic preservation students have worked to document and record the conditions of The Armstrong School in preparation for future preservation planning. Students have produced measured drawings of the school building and a list of recommendations for future interventions.  This project is also part of an effort to strengthen the relationship between Tuskegee University’s Robert R. Taylor School and rural communities in Macon County. Re-establishing these ties should ultimately lead to stronger stewardship plans and larger national audience. 


On December 10, 1900, eight black farmers united to purchased two acres of land in Macon County, Alabama twenty miles south of Tuskegee Institute (now University), to establish the St. Paul Baptist Church and The Armstrong School. A wooden frame church building and schoolhouse was promptly erected under the leadership of Reverend Moses Ellington and became the geographic nexus of the surrounding Armstrong community.

Upon arriving to Macon in 1881 to establish the Tuskegee Normal School for Colored Teachers, Booker T. Washington visited the “surrounding countryside, [to find] out exactly under what conditions the people were living and what their needs were, and advertised the school among the class of people whom he wanted to have attend it.” [1] Washington developed a teaching curriculum that would improve rural education and foster a legacy of self-sufficiency in Black communities. As stated by Washington, “While students at Tuskegee, our men and women are instructed constantly in methods of building schoolhouses and prolonging the school term […] one of the problems of our teacher is to show the people how through private effort they can build schoolhouses and prolong the school term.” [2] Washington sent new teachers into the remote countryside to make schools where none has been before or the extend existing three-month sessions that were held in cabins and churches into more permeant institutions [3] For Washington, the teacher’s ability to build a schoolhouse was as essential as growing one’s own food. [4] Washington insisted, that Tuskegee-teacher schoolhouses should be intelligently organized, and attractively finished frame structures so they could be agents of uplift in bedraggled log and board hamlets. [5]

In 1892, Washington brought Robert R. Taylor, a recent graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) School of Architecture and first known Black architecture school graduate, to Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute to establish Tuskegee’s architecture program. Washington believed that Tuskegee should not only produce teachers who could build schoolhouses, but teachers who could read architectural drawings as well.  The wooden building located south of the St. Paul Baptist Church, now known as The Armstrong School, c. 1901, is the earliest known remaining one-room schoolhouse designed by Robert R. Taylor and built by a Tuskegee trained teacher from Macon County, John Taylor “J.T.” Hollis. The building illustrates the early and on-going relationship between Tuskegee and rural Black communities in Macon County to improve education, over a decade before the well-known Tuskegee Rosenwald Community Schools.

By January 1904 Hollis was commencing his third term teaching in the Armstrong School. In addition to teaching during the daytime, Hollis taught “a night school three nights in the week” for “the young men and woman” as well as the “much interested” “old people.” [6] Hollis had collected over 500 in the library, which were used by “the young people […] interested in reading good books, and the minister [who] comes to the library to read.” Hollis also “lecture[d] to each of the four churches in [the] district once a month” and noted that he “seem[ed] to have an influence for good over the attendants of the various churches.” [7] As summarized by Booker T. Washington in 1903, “What is true of Mr. Hollis, is true of most of our graduates who teach. After their school terms are over the work at the trades learned at Tuskegee." [8]

The wooden building located south of the St. Paul Baptist Church, now known as The Armstrong School, is the earliest known remaining one-room schoolhouse designed by Robert R. Taylor, the first known Black architecture school graduate, and built by a Tuskegee trained teacher from Macon County, John T. Hollis.

The Armstrong School served as a one-room schoolhouse from 1906 to 1954. Following the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling to integrate schools, children from the Armstrong community were transported and/or bussed three miles away to another South Macon County school, Cotton Valley School. Cotton Valley School was a semi-private, grade school established for African American children in the area by the American Missionary Association in 1884 at the behest of Booker T. Washington. The main school building was burned in 1961. Classes continued in the teachers' cottage and the vocational agriculture building for grades one through six until c. 1967 when the school was consolidated with the Macon County Training School in the nearby Roba community. 

Despite being a place of community gathering, the legacy of the St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church and The Armstrong School also have significance related to the unethical medical history of the U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study, Macon County, Alabama. The church served as a “roundup” site for health officials to meet community members and transport them to Tuskegee or carry out examinations in the farming communities of Macon County.  Participants who were a part of the study’s control group are buried in the graveyard on site and their descendants are congregants of the Church.

[1] Emmett J Scott and Lyman Beecher Stowe, Booker T. Washington: Builder of a Civilization (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1917): 11.
[2] Booker T. Washington, The Successful Training of the Negro, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1903): 20.
[3] Ellen Weiss, Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee: An African American Architect Designs for Booker T. Washington. (Montgomery, Alabama: NewSouth Books, 2012): 42.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] J.T. Hollis, “A Wide-Awake Country School,” The School Journal 68. (January 1904): 10.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Booker, T. Washington, The Southern Letter, June 1903.