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Selden Normal and Industrial Institute

Brunswick, Georgia



There are several short histories available online. The History of Selden Normal and Industrial Institute is from the 1982 alumni association meeting; Genoa Martin Friends of Historic Selden Park has a history and timeline; "Selden Park Once the Pulse of Local African American Community" is by Larry Hobbs of the Brunswick NewsGullah Geechee Heritage in the Golden Isles by Amy Lotson Roberts and Patrick J. Holiday has a chapter on the school.  The ad (right) is from the 1919 city directory.


Genoa Martin notes that as early as 1892 the Blacks of Brunswick, Georgia were discussing the need for a normal school.  Through the efforts of Miss Carrie E. Bemus, a white teacher from Pennsylvania, and Reverend H. L. Bleach, the school became a reality.  Its aim, according to an ad in the Macon Telegraph, was to prepare students “not only to teach successfully, but to become true leaders among their race.”  Classes opened on October 6, 1903.   The school later became Selden Normal and Industrial Institute, named for Dr. Charles Selden.  After the death of Miss Bemus in 1909, Selden Institute came under the care of the Presbyterian Church.

Among the courses of study were cooking, domestic science, sewing, millenary, farming, gardening, carpentry, and shoemaking.  Later Selden added nurse training, teacher training, and business.  Era of Progress and Promise reported that teacher training students had to take at least four industrial courses.  The school had a printing office, published a paper called “The Work,” and did print jobs in the Black community.    


The John F. Slater Report of 1907-8 shows 103 students—74 doing elementary-level work. Two years later, Slater reported 141 students.  The Presbyterian Home Missions report of 1914 shows 147 students with nine faculty.


Even with the industrial bias, Selden had an arts component.  Ads from 1911 and 1916 show performances by a school choral society and a dramatics club.  A school quartet toured in 1917 to raise funds.  Students had chapters of the Y.M.C.A. and Y.W.C.A.  Founder’s Day was celebrated each April.


In 1933 Selden merged with a similar Presbyterian school, the Gillespie Normal Institute in Cordele, Georgia.  The Gillespie-Selden Institute continued in Cordele until 1956 when a city-wide school reorganization ended the school.

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1911 Brunswick News ad (Chronicling America).

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Bricks and Mortar

Classes began in a building at the corner of Wolfe and H streets, a building Roberts and Holiday identify as a former saloon.  The Sanborn Fire Insurance map of 1908 shows that it was two-story brick structure heated by stoves and lighted by oil lamps.  Some time before 1910, Miss Bemus bought 65 acres for a new campus at 3400 Ross Road.  The images from Era of Progress and Progress show frame buildings.  Apparently the carpentry classes helped construct some campus buildings. In 1914 Dr. Charles Selden furnished funds for a new administration building—the first brick structure on campus.  The first floor had seven large classrooms; the upper floor had twenty dormitory rooms for girls. 


When Selden merged with Gillespie, the school moved to the Cordele campus.  The Brunswick campus and Selden Park remained as the center for Negro social cultural, and recreational life.  Most buildings were razed at the end of World War II; the gymnasium remained until 2007.  Only the frame headmaster’s cottage remains.

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Y.W.C.A. members in front of the 1914 building.  Image from a 1915 Home Mission Monthly


Selden, like most Black colleges and institutes, likely had underreported sports activity.  Also like many small black schools, Selden played both high school and college opponents.


The first reported baseball game I found was part of the 1915 Founder’s Day program, Selden defeated a Brunswick city team 9-5.  In 1923 Selden played a series of games against Americus Institute.  In 1928 the team lost a game to Georgia State College of Savannah.


Between 1927 and the merger, Selden played football well. The 1928 team was called the Eastern high school champions.  Described as a “terrible smashing machine,” they also had collegiate wins over Edward Waters, Georgia State and Alabama Junior College.  Other college opponents included Bethune-Cookman, Florida Normal, and Claflin,

Note: Images are used in accordance with their “terms of use” as I understand those terms.  Recopying or republishing these images may be restricted or forbidden.

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