By the 1960s the idea of desegregating schools was a national topic and the Rome public school system began developing a plan on how to handle the desegregation of its schools.
On March 22, 1960, the school board met with the city commission to discuss the issue of desegregation and the possibility that they may have to close some of their schools. Like many systems in the southern United States, the system had been operating as a “separate but equal” school system.
The schools and the city were concerned over a loss of federal and state funding, which would come about if schools shut their doors. The officials at the time agreed to make every effort to keep all of the schools open.
As a contingency plan, the school system planned to cut salary supplements and only keep essential school operations running. The board of education also said if they closed some of the schools they could still make use of the buildings for other purposes.
According to a report written by Cal Owens located in the Rome-Floyd County Library, the financial cuts never came to pass. While the system did shut down several schools in the 1960s, the federal government worked with the system on their desegregation plan.
On Dec. 27, 1962, Rome’s second oldest school, Main Elementary, burned down during a fire in the mid-morning. An article from the Rome News-Tribune called it a “spectacular blaze” and photos depicted Main School Principal C.W. Aycock and Rome City Schools Superintendent M.S. McDonald standing in front of the burning building discussing what to do next.
A new Main Elementary began construction down the hill from the old one in 1963. The same location is being used for the new Main Elementary, which will scheduled to be completed by August 2019.
The Rome City Schools desegregation efforts began in January 1963, when the board of education appointed a committee comprised of PTA members from the system’s black schools. This committee was set up to be the spokespeople for the black communities during the transition.
On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, ending segregation in public places. In April 1965, the board of education met with representatives of the black community to discuss desegregation of grades first, second and third. The desegregation was done on a freedom of choice basis.
After a trip to Washington, D.C., board members were advised by Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) officials that this needed to also be extended to older grades. When the board returned they directed that all staff meetings be held on a desegregation basis.
During the 1966-1967 school year, HEW officials informed the board that while desegregation efforts of students was satisfactory, the desegregation of teachers and faculty was not. At the start of the 1967-1968 school year all students were given the chance to attend the school of their choice under the freedom of choice desegregation plan.
During the fall term of 1966, over 200 students transferred from Main High to the all-white county schools and around the same amount transferred to East and West Rome. Grades 7 through 12 were housed at Main until 1968 with 9th and 10th grades transferring during the 1968-1969 school year. The final grades were absorbed in 1969 and Main High School ceased operations.