Alabamiana: Professor Charles L. Floyd, 1858 – 1924

In August 1980, I began first grade at the school we all simply called Floyd. The school, which was located at the corner of Augusta Avenue and LeBron Road in Montgomery, Alabama, had an elementary that served grades one through six and an adjacent junior high with grades seven through nine. (At that time, kindergarten was being phased in and only had a few students, who were chosen by lottery.) My father had attended Floyd Junior High in the late 1950s, when his family moved into the then-new Normandale neighborhood in south Montgomery. By the mid-1970s, he was a married father of two who had inherited the house after his mother’s death, so my brother and I grew up there. That fall in 1980, my brother was beginning the fifth grade as I entered the first.

Floyd was where every kid in the neighborhood went. Its zone covered our neighborhood down to the Southern Boulevard as well as the eastern portions of Ridgecrest across Norman Bridge Road. About a block north of the school, Glen Grattan Drive was the cut-off line for families whose children would leave Floyd after sixth grade and attend Cloverdale Junior High instead, a fact that made the two schools into rivals in sports. (Cloverdale originally had elementary grades as well, but was only a junior high by the 1980s.)

Though none of us knew it back then, Floyd was named for Professor Charles Lewis Floyd, Montgomery’s first superintendent of schools. He was hired in June 1889 and moved to Montgomery from Atlanta, Georgia. According to information in The Montgomery Advertiser article about his hire, Floyd was born in Monroe County, Georgia, on the west side of Macon, and after his “early education” at Gordon Institute in Barnesville, he went to the University of Georgia on scholarship. His first teaching job came in 1879 in a tiny community called Colluden, then in 1881, he went to Means High School in Atlanta to teach math, Latin, and Greek. Two years later, in 1883, Floyd became the principal of the Crew Street School. It is also noted that Floyd choosing to leave “Atlanta is regarded as a calamity. His record is first class in every particular, and many of the prominent citizens have been his pupils.”

In the final paragraph of that 1889 article, we see that he was married to Rosa Bowie Floyd. She was born in 1863 in South Carolina, the daughter of Colonel John A. Bowie, then a Confederate officer. The couple married in 1885 in Atlanta. At the time of their move to Montgomery, she was also a teacher.

The high praise for Charles L. Floyd continued in Montgomery. His two-year contracts were renewed again and again. An 1896 article about the high quality of Montgomery’s schools called him “one of the best and most progressive superintendents.” In 1901, when he had been in Montgomery for more than ten years, he was called “a most competent official, who personally looks after the community’s welfare in regards to educating its children.”

Not only was Charles L. Floyd praised by the local school board and newspaper, he also receives a mention in another, unlikely source. In the “slave narrative” of a man called Uncle Daniel Taylor, Floyd is discussed as a man of great character. After slavery had ended, Taylor had worked as janitor in Montgomery’s public schools. In telling the story of the day that the Herron Street School burned, he shared that Superintendent Floyd was so concerned that even one student might still be inside that he “hastened back into the burning building” himself. Taylor waited a moment, then: “I could stand it no longer, so I rushed right into the smoke and flames, I found Mr. Floyd and dragged him out to safety. My God! I loved that white man, he was one of the finest men I ever knew.” He ends by saying, “No! Mister John, I have never sought a heroe’s [sic] medal for bravery for risking my life, my one great reward was in saving the life of my true friend Professor Charles L. Floyd.” (Unfortunately, it is hard to tell exactly when this episode occurred, but there was catastrophic fire at the Herron Street School in late 1901.)

In a sad twist, Floyd’s wife Rosa passed away in May 1903 from “uraemic convulsions,” a condition usually caused by kidney failure. She had become a teacher in Montgomery at Girls High School and was an officer in the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. When she died, she was in her thirties. The couple had no children.

Charles Floyd served as superintendent until June 1917, when he retired after twenty-eight years. His successor was William Robert Harrison of Florence, Alabama. After his retirement, Floyd did not continue to live in Montgomery, but went back to the area where he was raised in Georgia. He died in Oglethorpe County, Georgia in 1924.

Soon after he retired, Montgomery dedicated the Charles L. Floyd School in January 1918. Said to be located in north Montgomery, the school was for white children only but may have had a specific or special mission. The published remarks at the dedication, made by school board member Gustave Mertins, called it a “house of hope” and noted the location’s clean and healthy air several times. Also, in a June 1919 list of all public schools’ faculty members published in The Montgomery Advertiser, a teacher’s name is shown for each grade, except for the Charles L. Floyd School, which only lists a principal and one teacher with “mixed grades.” From 1921 through 1927, similar lists show two teachers with two grades each and the principal with three grades. The school disappears from these lists in 1928.

The Floyd that I attended came later and seems to have no connection to the previous school. This one was also named after Charles L. Floyd, and it opened in September 1952. During a time of fervent new construction, its zone took some of the pressure off of two adjacent schools: Cloverdale to its north and Bellingrath to its west.  The school operated as a traditional, zoned elementary and junior high combination, with the Falcons as our mascot, from the early 1950s until the mid-1990s. What had been Floyd Junior High School became a middle school within the city’s magnet program in 1996. Floyd Elementary remained a traditional, zoned school within this change. Twenty years later, as perhaps the final step in the evolution of the school that I attended, Floyd Middle Magnet School moved to the former Houston Hill school campus (near Cramton Bowl), and the elementary school was closed. The dilapidated state of the buildings and a declining school-age population in the area were cited as the reasons for the move and closure.

Read other Alabamiana posts.

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