Georgia's Booker T. Washington
William Merida Hubbard wasn't Booker T. Washington. But, he is as close to the iconic educator as the State of Georgia, and especially Central Georgia, ever had. William was born into poverty and died one of the wealthiest men in the state. His wealth was not measured in the thickness of his wallet or the digits in his bank accounts, but by the thousands and thousands of students who were given opportunities to learn a trade through is undying devotion to education.
William Merida Hubbard was born in Wilkinson County, Georgia on July 19, 1865, just months after the end of the Civil War. His parents, Edinboro and Betsy Hubbard, both natives of Virginia, worked as slaves until they received their freedom after the end of hostilities.
From his earliest years, William yearned to learn. Living in the South in the decades following the war was not easy for any family, black or white. Black farmers were relegated to inequitable share cropping or rent agreements. Getting ahead was impossible. Getting by was wonderful. William toiled on farms, often earning as much as six dollars a month, to finance his tuition at Ballard Normal School in Macon. William worked hard in his studies. Success came soon and often, despite the need to constantly keep working at odd jobs to stay in school.
William Hubbard began his educational career by teaching two terms at Calvary Hill School near his hometown of Irwinton. Professor Hubbard graduated from Ballard School in 1891 and entered Fiske University in Nashville, Tennessee.
Before his graduation from Fiske, Hubbard taught three terms in Monroe County, Georgia and a single term in Jacksonville, Florida. After his graduation from Cornell University, Professor Hubbard taught in Cuthbert, Georgia for four years before finally settling down in Forsyth, Georgia, where he found the ideal place for his wife, the former Mollie Helena Worthy, who frequently suffered from ill health.
Although Hubbard was trained as an educator, he attempted to make a living at photography, a rare occupation for a young black man at the turn of the 20th Century in the rural South. Adequate schools were rare in the poor regions of Middle Georgia for either of the races. So in the mean time, William Hubbard took pictures to support his family.
In 1902, a minister and several friends encouraged William to return to teaching. The minister of the Kynett Methodist Church arranged an agreement whereby Hubbard would teach seven students in exchange for allowing him to maintain his photographic gallery in the basement of the church. Described as a "shabby, forlorn building with holes in the floor and more wind inside than out," Hubbard's first school would eventually, with the aid of generous white citizens of Forsyth, became the Forsyth Normal and Industrial School in a meager building on ten acres of land. In the early years, Professor Hubbard worked day and night, often performing most of the duties and spending his own meager money to keep the school open, all on a salary of five to six dollars a month.
Hubbard's primary mission was to educate the black youth of Monroe County to become teachers. The school, after adding 10th and 11th grade classes, was accredited in 1917. In the following year, the Forsyth school became the State of Georgia's first vocational school for African-American students. That same year, Professor Hubbard and his students were saluted for doing their share to win World War I. The students maintained 35 mini-farms and raised two hundred head of hogs and several hundred chickens in support of the war effort.
The Georgia legislature enacted a law in 1922 to make the Forsyth Normal and Industrial School the state's School of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts for the Training of Negroes. Five years later, the school officially became a junior college. The elation of that distinction was dampened by the total loss of the main building in a fire.
In 1931, the State of Georgia changed the name of the school to State Teachers and Agricultural College for Negroes, one of the three state colleges for African Americans in the university system. Many of the teaching graduates were sent to positions in the Rosenwald schools in the state.
Hubbard sought out donations and began a bold building program. By the mid 1930s, the Hubbard Alumni Association records show that several brick buildings were completed, including an auditorium, the president's house, an administration building, gymnasium, and home economics buildings as well as adequate dormitories.
State Teachers Agricultural College was closed in 1938 and was effectively merged with the nearby Fort Valley State College. William Hubbard continued to work at Fort Valley State as a director of public relations until his last illness.
The facilities were turned over to the Monroe County School system. Samuel Hubbard, William's son, carried on his father's legacy until the early 1970s. Today, most of the school's buildings are gone, but the Hubbard Alumni Association continues to honor the undying legacy of the school's founder. The Alumni Association and the Monroe Board of Education helped to establish a museum and cultural center in the former Women's dormitory. The museum and the old teacher's cottage were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
William and Mollie Hubbard had six children, Dr. Leola Peoples, Maceo Hubbard, Ruth Hubbard, Samuel Hubbard, Ruth Birchette, and Clifton Hubbard.
William Merida Hubbard died on March 22, 1941. Seven weeks after his death, Fort Valley State held a memorial service in his honor. In attendance was Georgia governor Eugene Talmadge, who paid tribute to Hubbard as "a man of sincerity and simplicity who always honored his obligations." Talmadge saluted Hubbard's work in advancing education of Negroes and called for more educators like him. Two of Fort Valley State's newest male dorms, which cost students a monthly rent of seven dollars, were dedicated in Hubbard's honor during the ceremonies.
William Merida Hubbard overcame the obstacles in his way for all of his seventy years on earth. A devout Christian who desperately attempted to devoid himself from politics, William Hubbard kept his faith in the precious abilities of the human mind and triumph of a good education.