COMMUNITY SPOTLIGHT —By Noah Hopkins - tourismresource@gmail.com

Grover and Janice Fountain had their reasons for moving to Macon County. But whether it was fate or divine intervention, something spiritual was also maneuvering to get them here.

Originally from Indiana, they had long planned to spend their retirement years in Alabama. The couple bought land in Notasulga and — to their surprise — this connected Janice to lost family history.

She is related to Harris Barrett, a man who made a major contribution to education in Macon County. Growing up, Janice knew nothing about the school right outside Tuskegee that bears her grandfather’s name. She stumbled on books and papers about her grandparents while packing up the family home in preparation for her mother’s move into a nursing home. 

Through a twist of fate, they met doctoral candidate Phillip Butterbaugh who was conducting his thesis on Janice’s grandmother, Janie Porter Barrett. With each having treasure troves concerning Janie Porter Barrett, they have shared extensive information about this trailblazing woman.

Janie Porter Barrett was a pioneering welfare worker in Virginia and educator at Hampton Institute. In 1889 she married Harris Barrett, the cashier and bookkeeper at Hampton Institute. Also in 1889, he co-founded a savings and loan association in Hampton, one of the first black-owned banking operations in this country.

In 1903, Harris Barrett was chairman of the bank that funded a small school on the outskirts of Tuskegee. Under the direction of Booker T. Washington, Tuskegee University students built this school, named after the benefactor — Harris Barrett.

Operated from 1903 to 1958, the legacy remains alive through the commitment and actions of former students. Several of them established the Harris Barrett School Reunion Group, Inc. as a vehicle for maintaining the building and grounds.

Janice Fountain was reading The Tuskegee News one night in 2003 and discovered an article about a milestone event celebrating Harris Barrett School. It was the 100th Anniversary Banquet, which she and Grover were delighted to attend.

When the group learned that the granddaughter of Harris Barrett lived practically in the school’s backyard, the members were ecstatic. Since then, Janice and Grover have become active volunteers who work on various projects alongside former students such as Mr. Alphonso Moore, Mrs. Memphis Boston, Mr. Henry Howard, Mrs. Louise Campbell, Mr. Rocellius Hudson and Mrs. Juanita Trotter.

Their work includes fundraising to support upkeep of the former school building, which is now a museum preserving precious educational artifacts. The reunion group holds a fish fry on the first and third Saturdays of each month.

They are currently planning an event to be held this coming September to celebrate the school’s 113th anniversary as well as a community flea market in the spring of next year.

For tours and other information, call 334.727.3184.

Noah Hopkins shares observations and insights through his weekly column - COMMUNITY SPOTLIGHT. He can be contacted at tourismresource@gmail.com.

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