1947 Cameron Jr. High Faculty, Staff and Administration
CAMERON SCHOOL located in Nashville, Tennessee literally came into being on Monday night November 26, 1928 when the Nashville City School Board voted by unanimous consent to rename Pearl Jr. High to Cameron in honor of Professor Henry Alvin Cameron, a black science teacher who taught at Pearl High School from 1897-1917. Professor Cameron, who had taken a leave of absence from teaching at Pearl High in June 1917 to serve in World War I, was killed in the Battle of Argonne Forest, France on October 30th, 1918 - just two weeks before the war’s end. Cameron was the fourth public school in Nashville named by the city school board after an African-American.
The first Cameron School was located at 217 5th Avenue South -- across the street from what is currently the Country Music Hall of Fame in downtown Nashville. The building underwent many transformations during its 60 year existence. Constructed in 1883, the schoolhouse began as Pearl Grammar School serving grades 1-8. In 1897, the high school department was transferred from Meigs to Pearl by the Nashville Board of Education due to student growth in the area (Meigs was Nashville’s 1st black public high school from 1886-1897) and the building became the first Pearl High. In 1917 Pearl High moved to a new facility on 16th Avenue in North Nashville. The 5th Avenue schoolhouse remained vacant until the Fall of 1924 when it reopened as Pearl Jr. High serving grades 1-9. Four years later on November 26, 1928, the Nashville City School Board voted during a regular meeting to rename Pearl Jr. High to Cameron in honor of Professor Cameron. This marked the beginning of Cameron School.
The old Cameron schoolhouse at left (click picture to enlarge) was a two-story brick structure with no indoor plumbing but one that the community was proud to have. The heating source consisted of several stoves and grates located throughout the building. Fourteen to twenty-two teachers taught there at any one time and though the structure was designed for 800 students, the student population consistently soared above 1,000 with a perpetual waiting list. The school continued to serve grades 1-9. The elementary grades 1-6 were taught on the first floor while the upper grades 7-9 were taught on the second floor. The campus consisted of the main building on 5th Avenue and a smaller structure in the rear called the Annex which housed the Home Economics and Industrial Arts departments and a small cafeteria. Cameron principals during its time on 5th Avenue South were William B. Vassar (1928-1929) and Hugh J. Johnson (1929-1949). Hugh J. Johnson would be the longest serving principal at Cameron with 20 dedicated years on the job.
In the Fall of 1940, with funding provided by the Federal Works Agency and the city of Nashville, Cameron moved into a new school building at right on 1st Avenue South. Mr. Johnson was Cameron’s principal also at this time. This spacious Gothic Revivalist style facility was designed by one of the foremost architects in the country, Mr. Henry Hibbs, who planned the NES building in downtown Nashville and numerous college and university structures at Vanderbilt, Fisk, Peabody, Scarritt, Belmont, Meharry and other southern schools. This facility “…. had fire resistive construction, acoustical treatment, hardwood floors, radio and public address systems, and is fully equipped with the most up-to-date, comfortable and useful types of equipment…” according to a school board publication. The new Cameron consisted of four floors with a combined area of over 106,000 square feet. It had 23 classrooms, 2 office areas, a large library, three Home Economics rooms, a clinic, two laboratories (General Science and Physics/Chemistry), two shops, a cafeteria, kitchen, boiler room, teacher’s Lounge, storage and janitor’s rooms. The campus comprised over 7 acres and was constructed at the former location of the old Walden University and Meharry Medical College.
In August 1949, Principal Johnson passed at the age of 65 and a distinguished, nationally recognized educator named John C. Hull was appointed Cameron’s third principal in the Fall of 1949. During Mr. Hull’s tenure Cameron became a Senior High School in the Fall of 1955 finally fulfilling the community dream of such a school in South Nashville. The elementary grades (1-6) that had been housed at Cameron were moved that year to the newly constructed Johnson Elementary School on 2nd Avenue South - named in honor of former principal Johnson. Physical additions to Cameron such as the East Wing (consisting of the boy’s gym, auditorium, band/vocal rooms and arcade) built in 1954, and the Stadium which opened in the Fall of 1956 provided the necessary resources for the school’s upgraded status. In June 1957, diplomas were issued to Cameron’s first senior high graduating class.
Oscar R. Jackson replaced John C. Hull as principal of Cameron in the Fall of 1958 following Mr. Hull’s reassignment as principal of Pearl High. Mr. Jackson would become one of the most beloved and venerated leaders in the history of Cameron High. His tenure at Cameron is still referred today as the “Jacksonian Era” because of his dominant impact on the school. (In 1997, in honor of Mr. Jackson and Mr. John C. Hull, the new Hull-Jackson Montessori School was named after them). During his administration, several new programs were added to the curriculum with many garnering national attention. The Fall of 1970 brought another change in leadership when James M. Robinson became the fifth principal of Cameron upon the retirement of Mr. Jackson in the Spring of 1970. Mr. Robinson served in that position until June 1971 when the last senior class graduated from Cameron High.
Cameron High had always earned its distinctive nationwide reputation for solid academics and competitive sports. To encourage the highest development of its students scholastically, Cameron participated in such programs as the Ford Foundation funded Nashville Education Improvement Project and the Danforth Foundation funded Project Opportunity. Cameron’s faculty has taken part in the Overseas Teacher Exchange Program sending teachers to London, England and Frankfort, Germany. The school’s choral groups, marching band, athletic departments and player’s guild have won numerous city, state, and national honors. Coach Eugene Stevenson began Cameron’s legendary football dynasty in 1958 by going undefeated that year. Also, back-to-back state championships by the men’s basketball team pictured at right in 1970 and 1971 coached by the former Pearl High and UCLA standout, Ronald Lawson Sr., will be forever forged into the history of the school. For over 75 years, Cameron’s alumni and faculty have served with distinction around the world in business, medicine, politics, technology, music, education, law, science, religion and other fields of endeavor.
As a direct result of a federal mandate to desegregate public schools in Nashville, Cameron returned to Junior High status as a 9th grade school in the Fall of 1971. In 1978, it became the pilot institution for the first middle school in Nashville for grades 5-8 which eventually became the model for the entire system. As of 2006, it still serves as a middle school accommodating one of the most ethically diverse student populations within the Metropolitan Nashville system. Other principals serving Cameron during these periods: Luther “Dick” Hays (1971-1972), James Coots (1972-1978), Hoyte Snow (1978-1985), Gerald Martin (1985-2003), Karl Lang (2003-2004) and Beverly W. Bell (2004-?). Also, during this time, both boys’ and girls’ athletic teams continued the school’s heralded tradition by winning city championships in their division. Cameron has incorporated all grade levels from 1-12 during its remarkable history. Beginning in 1928 until 1954, the school served grades 1-9. In the Fall of 1955 through June 1971, when the last senior class graduated, Cameron encompassed grades 7-12. From 1971-1978 the school comprised only the 9th grade. In Fall 1978, Cameron became a pilot as one of the first middle schools in Nashville consisting of grades 5-8.
In Fall 2003, a $4.5 million dollar modernization project was completed at the school that renovated many areas of the building. Also, in 2003 an Alumni Room was established at Cameron that houses memorabilia of the school including trophies from the 1940’s, senior class pictures from all high school years and other items of historical interest to the school. As of 2006, the school is now listed among those distinguished properties on the National Register of Historic Places and has also become designated by the Metropolitan Nashville Historical Commission as a local Historic Landmark District. As a Middle School, Cameron continues its long-standing commitment to serving the educational needs of the students of Nashville, Tennessee.
(Historical Note: The historical marker outside of Cameron is incorrect on several facts regarding the school. Click here to see a picture of the marker and errors which have been highlighted in black. Efforts are underway to get this marker corrected as soon as possible).
--researched and compiled by Donald L. Johnson '71,