DEVINE HOMETOWN HISTORY: “Even a building in Ruins has a story to tell!” Devine Historical Committee: The History of the Colored Schoolhouse

By Nancy Ehlinger Saathoff
On an eastern hillside off Hester Street stand the unassuming ruins of a once thriving school for a small population of black children in Devine. This building, and previous buildings on this land, served as a place for education, social events, and worship for black families, for over 50 years.
Back in the earliest days of Devine, according to census records, there was not a large population of black families here, but they had their own school and teachers earlier than 1890! Records from those days called it the “colored” school and it was most likely wooden framed.
At this time two Devine school buildings were in close proximity to each other on the hill, as the east side of the railroad tracks were built up first as the main downtown area. So, the schools were in the main part of town, near the earliest built homes.
It appears that this land was home to a church before a school was located there: in 1906, “the colored people, headed by Joe LeBruce, one of our most substantial colored citizens, have moved an old Baptist church and put it up on north side Briscoe addition. They have a large sign painted, One Lord, One Faith and One Baptism.” The building may have been used for Methodist, as well as Baptist church services at times, according to old city maps. On the 1913 map of Devine this was the location of the Colored Baptist Church. The colored school was actually located on the northeast corner of Upson and Galbreath streets, closer to the two-story red brick Devine School on the corner of College & Upson Streets, which was built in 1905. In 1930 a red brick school was specially built for the “colored” children of Devine. It was made of hollow brick tile on a concrete floor and iron roof to be more fire proof. A fire thought to be started in the dry wood pile by the stove, burned the school in 1931. The building was insured and was quickly rebuilt. The school had its own PTA, held parties and carnival for Halloween & other holidays. In January 1939, the school burned again and in June of that year a new hollow tile building was built by the National Youth Administration (NYA) which was a New Deal agency sponsored by Franklin D. Roosevelt during his presidency. It focused on providing work and education for Americans between the ages of 16 and 25. Local carpenter, Alfred Brieden was assigned by the school board to oversee the project. (According to what I can find, this appears to be the building that is in ruins today on Hester Street. If I find any other information, I will add it to this story at a later time. – NS)
This old red tile one-room school building might look like something that is about ready to fall down; but actually it has been “falling down” for over 60 years, and still stands today! It’s crumbling walls have withstood the test of time, but its legacy and story still lives on in its ruins, and in our town’s history as a special place for a special group of Devine citizens.
Joe Lebruce was a well-respected Devine citizen and was instrumental in providing a place for education and worship for the black families, and their children, in Devine. His wife, Mary, was a teacher at the school until 1941, when her health declined. She attended a black community college in San Antonio for her teaching certification. (Limited information on Joe Lebruce said that his father was a former slave, but further researching is needed to discover more about his life and how he came to live in Devine.)
*Much of the information for this article was found in the master’s thesis written by Zulema Klingman in 1952. She was the superintendent’s wife and used DISD school board minutes, as well as old Devine News articles for her research. Other information used was from the archive of articles by Don Lawrence, written from oral interviews in the 1980s.
Next Meeting of the DEVINE HISTORICAL COMMITTEE: Thursday, MARCH 30, 2023 – Room #9 – Devine VFW – 211 W. College St. Two sessions: 10am-12noon – Open Topic, 1:00-3:00pm – Old Devine in pictures & stories. EVERYONE IS WELCOME TO ATTEND – Bring your curiosity, stories, pictures, or just come to hear about old Devine!