This article was written by Urbana Junior High students Elaei Brown, Grady Lantz, Ethan Rose, Janaya Scott, Gavin Stacy and Michael Upchurch 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. The information below, as well as other information about Curry, is to be presented at the Champaign County Historical Museum in February 2021. (EVENT POSTPONED)
The students of Urbana Junior High School have selected Dr. Elmer Curry for their 2020 Project Based Learning assignment. They used primary and secondary resources to research his family history, educational background, and his different learning institutions. Dr. Curry was a pioneer in educational reform for African-Americans in the early twentieth century and many of his progressive schools were located throughout Champaign County.
Elmer Curry was born on March 23, 1871 in Delaware, Ohio. He lived in a log house on South Street with his mother Julia and his father George. His dad worked as a minister at The Second Baptist Church on Ross Street, which had a great impact on his future career in education. African-Americans that were freed from slavery were not permitted to an equal education that would have helped them to live a better life. Elmer was interested in helping solve that situation through education.
While attending Delaware City Schools at the age of 17 years old, Elmer rented a kitchen shed for 50 cents per month to start his own school for African-Americans. His school was called The Place of Knowledge for Old and Young. It was located at 19 Davis Street in Delaware, Ohio. The tuition was 25 cents per week and his first student was a 50-year-old man who was a day laborer. After attending Michael College and graduating from Ohio Wesleyan University, he went on to become the first African-American teacher at the desegregated Delaware City Schools.
In 1889 he moved to Urbana, Ohio and founded the Curry Normal and Industrial Institute. His school had a traditional education, which focused on reading, writing, and math. It also taught trade school skills, such as nursing, caretaking, farming, printing, and clothes making. The building still stands today and is located at 325 East Water Street.
Dr. Curry passed away June 19, 1930, in Springfield and was buried at Oakdale Cemetery in Urbana, Ohio. There were over 2,000 students who attended the various Curry Schools. Dr. Elmer Curry’s story illustrates activist African-Americans from Ohio utilizing the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments in an attempt to better the lives of African-Americans.
The Champaign County Historical Museum received “new” benches just in time for last weekend’s Oktoberfest thanks to the Urbana Parks and Recreation Department’s desire to recycle, and Urbana High Vo-Ag teachers Mallory Zachrich and Steve Wilhelm’s desire for a community service project for their students.
When the city donated 12 aging benches to the museum, Historical Society board member Candy Gilliam suggested contacting the school to see whether repairing and painting the benches would qualify as a school project. The teachers responded that it certainly would qualify.
The Historical Society provided the paint and now has 12 refurbished benches for museum visitors.
As awards were presented each student informed the audience of the nature of his or her project. One student, Bryant Chamberlain, a UJHS 7th grader (pictured), has been chosen to represent Ohio at the National History Day competition to be held at the U. of Maryland in June. His project focused on the Toledo War. All Champaign County schools were invited to participate.
The Champaign County Historical Society is an all-volunteer, not-for-profit organization that preserves, protects, archives and displays the artifacts that tell the Champaign County story. The Society depends upon donations and dues to provide a free public museum located at 809 E. Lawn Ave., Urbana.
Champaign County Historical Society Board President