When the need for education in San Angelo’s African American community became reality, Lula Hammond fought a long battle that successfully resulted in the first black elementary school in the city.
During an interview, laughter could be heard down the halls of the University Center when the West Texas Collection staff had the honor of talking with Bobbye L. Williams, a past resident of San Angelo, Texas. Though the meeting was intended to help Bobbye, her daughters, and granddaughters discover more information about her mother, Lula Hammond, and Hammond Elementary School, the WTC was given the incredible opportunity to not only enrich their collection of African American History in San Angelo but meet an incredible family.
“She was an educator all her life,” Bobbye said as she spoke about her mother. Born Lula Vantwilla Blue, she grew up in Somerville, Texas. She had a total of fourteen brothers and sisters, though three passed away at young ages. She attended Prairie View Normal School where she received her BA in Education. Bobbye remembers, “She loved teaching people.”
Lula married her husband, Charles Hammond, and they had three children: Alton, Charles III, and Bobbye. In the mid-1920s, the couple relocated to San Angelo and resided on Third Street. Little did they know how the move would forever impact the city.
Bobbye told the WTC she and her brothers were able to read by the age of four. When walking throughout the town, Lula told her children to read every street sign, so they would always know where they were and how to get back home.
Once while buying vegetables in the Lake View district of San Angelo, Lula noticed that a woman was cheated by a man during a monetary exchange. She quickly stepped in to correct the error and then spent the time teaching the lady how to properly count change. After that day, Lula walked to the woman’s house on 17th Street in order to provide tutoring lessons. Quickly the word spread throughout the African American community, and soon children, teenagers, and adults gathered in homes so that Lula could teach them basic reading, writing, and arithmetic. Eventually Mrs. Hammond decided the community needed a school building.
Up to this point, San Angelo had no dedicated elementary school for African American children as Blackshear encompassed all grades. The school was also not in a convenient location for those who lived on 15th Street to 18th Street. Mrs. Hammond visited the school board, often being told the superintendent was unable to meet with her. But Lula, with encouragement from her husband, did not give up, and returned month after month asking for a meeting. Finally, the superintendent met with Lula and told her he did not believe the black community wanted education, but he said if she collected thirty-five signatures, he would consider her request for an elementary school. Less than a week later, Lula found herself back at his office with the required signatures. The superintendent dismissed her saying she really needed 100 names. Two days passed, and she easily collected the amount needed. Convinced of the community’s desire, the superintendent approved the plans for a one-room school building.
It took a year to finalize, but the first African American elementary school opened at the corner of 17th Street and Lillie in 1935, with Mrs. Hammond as the only teacher. Two years later, Mrs. Minnie L. Walker joined her, and the building grew to three rooms.
After integration, the children attended other schools in the area; however, the building did not stop being used. Benjamin Kelly, the namesake of the Center for Human Performance at ASU, started the Boys and Girls Club of San Angelo in Hammond Elementary. Bobbye said, “As long as children are benefitting, that would have been beautiful. She wouldn’t have cared. The joy would have still been there because that’s who she was.”