Editor’s note: This article was written by Urbana Junior High students as part of a Project Based Learning unit called “Lost Voices,” which helps preserve and share the history of African-Americans in Urbana. The junior high’s Social Studies Department (which includes 6th-8th graders) is working with the Champaign County and Delaware historical societies to present and preserve the story of Dr. EWB Curry, a pioneer in educational reform for African-Americans in the early twentieth century.
Many of his progressive schools were located throughout Champaign County, including in Urbana. The students’ first article on Curry appeared in the Oct. 9 edition of the Daily Citizen. The information below, as well as other information about Curry, is to be presented at the Champaign County Historical Museum in February 2021.
Where it all began! E.W.B. (Elmer Washington Bryant) Curry was just 17 years old when he started his very first school in Delaware, Ohio in January of 1889. Dr. Curry’s neighbor, Isaac Merriday, offered his kitchen shed, located at the back of his house, for Dr. Curry to use. Curry rented the kitchen shed for 50 cents per month.
Dr. Curry also taught at the Delaware Night School for 2 years and he was the first African American to teach at the night school. Once the Shed School started, he charged his students 25 cents per week for tuition. He called his school “The Place of Knowledge for Old and Young.”
Dr. Curry’s school accepted all genders, races, and ages (from 12 and up). For example, Curry’s first student was a 50-year-old man who was a day laborer.
Dr. Curry was such a distinguished person that on Wednesday, Oct. 9, the City of Delaware unveiled an honorary street sign commemorating the life and work of Elmer Washington Bryant Curry (1871-1930).
Dr. Curry moved his school to Mechanicsburg, Ohio in September of 1895. The school opened with 19 students and 3 teachers.
After the first year the school did not have any graduates and it started losing support in the community. So in order to keep up the school’s support Dr. Curry and his then fiancee held their wedding ceremony and invited everyone to it. Later in September of 1897 the Baptist Association removed the support and closed down the school.
Brothers Charles Swayne, W. T. Hill, D. R. Jones and J. H. Chavers recommended Urbana to Dr Curry.
Mary Ober and Jahna Sloat are Urbana Junior High students.