South Highland graduating class

The 1933 graduating class of South Highland High School, the last class to graduate before the school merged with Barber Memorial Seminary that year. Students are posed at the house of Principal Allen W. Rice and his wife, Marie, seated in the foreground. 

Sometimes history lives at home.

Adraine Graham grew up in a house at 430 D St. in Anniston with her mother, Rhodin Baker, where prominent figures in the local black community visited often, and NAACP delegates stayed on business. Graham was just a kid then — her family bought the home in 1956 — and the comings and goings at the house didn’t mean anything to her. But after researching the property, Graham realized the house had a story: It was built by the Rev. Allen W. Rice, a key figure in education in Anniston’s African-American community, in 1926.

“I said, ‘Oh wow, that makes a lot of sense. No wonder all these people stayed in this house,” she said. “It served as a line of communication for a lot of stuff that was going on.”

Graham shared her findings with the Alabama Historical Commission, and the organization agreed to list the home on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage. According to an AHC email, the title is an honorary designation that exists to bring attention to and promote a property’s historical significance. Properties have to be at least 40 years old and their construction date must be verified.

“The Rice Home was listed on Oct. 25, 2018 for its association with African American heritage and architecture,” an AHC spokesperson said via email.

Rice and his wife, Marie, were Presbyterian missionaries just out of college when they moved to Calhoun County in 1913. Rice founded and became principal of South Highland High School that year as a project of the Board of Missions for Freedmen, a church organization that built schools and churches for freed slaves and, later, their descendants.

In 1933, the school consolidated with Barber High School (later Barber Memorial Seminary), an all-girls school until the merger. Rice served as its principal until the school closed in 1940.

“How is it that I grew up in this community and I never knew this?” asked Graham. “It’s not something talked about and not celebrated, but that’s where our education began. Can you imagine the risks that people were taking, learning and teaching?”

State Rep. Barbara Boyd frequented the Rice household as a junior high student. She said that the Rice family didn’t allow many young students into their library, but made an exception in her case. The bookshelves were so tall and the ceilings so high, she said, that she couldn’t reach the top shelves without help. She said that their encyclopedia collection was of special interest.

“I am the way I am because my parents, church people and reverend and Mrs. Rice saw something in me at a young age,” she noted.

Graham said that she has no intent to sell the property, though she no longer lives there. She instead provides housing to community members in need who help maintain the house and provide utilities. She wants to start an organization called The Baker Home in the house, with a health center and public computers.

“It’s always been a place of comfort for the African American community, so why can’t it stay that?”

Assistant Metro Editor Ben Nunnally: 256-235-3560. 

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