Mrs. Annie Colbert was hired by the school board and became the first black teacher of record in the Dayton public school system. Her tenure began sometimes in the 1890's and lasted until near the beginning of World War I.
Miss Annie Fairchild attended public school in Houston, and then went on to attend Tillotson Institute in Austin to further her education. She began teaching in Houston at the Gregory School.
At that time, there were nineteen black teachers in Houston. She later married Mr. Tony Colbert, a railroad porter, at which time she was forbidden to teach school in Houston being a married woman. Shortly after that, she moved to Dayton to continue her teaching career.
Here in Dayton, she was assigned to a one-room shack. Almost immediately, she and her students took on the job of building a school thirty feet wide and forty feet long. She took pride in the fact that the building even had a stage. The school was situated in the vicinity of present day Luke Street and Prater.
Mrs. Colbert was known for her strict and demanding performance, but she always took a personal interest in the children even to the extent of adopting a young, motherless girl, Willie Speights (aka Willie B. Smith). She boasted of one of her students Aaron Day, Jr. who was commissioned a captain in World War I. Mr. Day later became vice president of an insurance company based in North Carolina. Mrs. Colbert's favorite saying was "Tis better to engrave your name in the hearts of people than to have it carved on cold stone". After her husband died, Mrs. Colbert returned to Houston and eventually went to teach in Virginia.
Dayton grew and school enrollment increased. The school site was moved to Beauty Street. The teaching staff was increased to three, and with the arrival of the sawmill, the box factory, and the migration of Creoles from Louisiana, enrollment continued to increase. After World War I, the school was moved once more, this time to the Cleveland Road, site of the present day Anson Rigby Memorial Rodeo Arena. The facility consisted of a three-room frame building with a stage and folding doors that opened into an auditorium. The enrollment was approximately 100, but the regular attendance was about sixty. Weather, distance, family needs, apathy, and parental attitude about the need for education were factors governing attendance. Other schools were opened in the outlying communities of Eastgate, Five Mile Settlement, and Stilson to accommodate the children of sharecroppers.
Around 1927, a four-room brick building became the Dayton Black School, with the old frame structure becoming the home economics and NFA (National Farmers of America) shop. When the school at Five Mile Settlement closed, its teacher joined the staff in Dayton and its children were bussed to town in a Model "T" truck with a homemade cover. Sometime after 1931, the school burned and arson was rumored to be the cause. By 1933, a new school was completed and ready for occupancy. It was another four-room brick structure with folding doors to provide space for assemblies.
The name Colbert was chosen for the new school as a result of petitioning by the black community. Although Colbert school was not dedicated until the 1934-35 school year, the first class graduated in May 1934. Mrs. Colbert was present for the dedication and talked about her experiences in education.
Mrs. Annie Fairchild Colbert died in June 1961 at the age of 95. She successfully paved the way for many people in Dayton with an unrelenting spirit, one that neither time nor adverse conditions could ever cool...one that has lived in the hearts of countless people long after she has been gone. Honoring her father and mother, she was a woman who had foresight, courage, and the unparalleled energy that comes from proven character. She not only walked by faith, but possessed a strong faith in the promise of public education for all people. She personified the promises that education can bring to a community by inspiring past, present and future generations of educators and students alike...instilling in them a burning desire for self-improvement and enlightenment.
The spirit of Mrs. Annie Colbert will forever reside in Dayton. And the school that bears her name remains as a monument to the lasting profound impact one dedicated teacher can have.
- Wall of Honor Inductee 2001