|Briarcrest Christian School|
76 S Houston Levee
|School type||Private coeducational|
|Motto||With Men, This Is Impossible; But With God, All Things Are Possible. Matthew 19:26|
|Religious affiliation(s)||Non-denominational Christian|
|Founder||W. Wayne Allen|
|Color(s)||Green and gold|
Briarcrest Christian School is a private, coeducational, Christian school in Eads, an unincorporated area of Shelby County, Tennessee. The school was founded as a segregation academy during the racial integration of public schools in Memphis, Tennessee. Today, it serves students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
In 1970, the leaders and members of East Park Baptist Church began to plan a collection of segregation academies -- schools that would allow white parents to avoid having their children in desegregated public schools -- in anticipation of the court-ordered racial integration of Memphis City Schools. That order arrived in 1972, and on March 15, 1973, the church incorporated the Briarcrest Baptist School System. Briarcrest's initial faculty consisted of teachers who left public schools after desegregation. Principal Joseph A. Clayton said he and others wanted to be "back among their own" with "less fear, less culture shock" and more "cultural homogeneity".:54 As part of the effort, the administration screened prospective teachers to ensure that all staff members believed in creationism and that no teacher would teach the theory of evolution.:63
In September 1973, the school system launched with 2,400 pupils attending kindergarten through 8th-grade classes at 11 Southern Baptist churches throughout the Memphis area. Tuition and fees were $650 per student (about $3,744 today), with $100 discounts for siblings. Few, if any, were black, despite a declared policy of nondiscrimination -- a requirement for the school's tax-exempt status -- and reported efforts by Briarcrest officials to attract African-American students. A 1976 book published by Christian Literature Crusade said those efforts included asking 10 African-American pastors in Memphis for recruiting help and advertising in the Tri-State Defender, a local minority newspaper.:42-43 W. Wayne Allen, the pastor of East Park Baptist Church and head of the school system, said the black community pressured its families not to attend Briarcrest schools. "A black pastor friend of mine told me, 'Brother Allen, if I had one of your satellite schools in my church I'd be ostracized as an Uncle Tom,'" Mr. Allen told the New York Times in August 1973. "I told him, 'It's too bad you folks are so segregationist.'"
In the fall of 1974, Briarcrest narrowly won an auction for a plot of land in East Memphis, beating out a Jewish group that sought to build a synagogue. School officials, who wanted the land for their high school campus, described the victory as a divine intervention in favor of Christianity over Judaism.:35:30-31
In its early years, the Briarcrest system continued to hold elementary-grade classes in various churches, paying minimal rent so it could concentrate capital spending on its high school campus.:36 Since the Briarcrest system was affiliated with a large church, it continued to attract students after other Memphis-area segregation academies shut down.
In 1979, six years after Briarcrest began operation, about 2,000 students attended classes in the churches, and another 1,800 students attended the high school. Allen, by now the chairman of the school board, proclaimed it "the largest private school in the world." Tuition in the lower grades was still $650; for high schoolers it was $1,100. A recent capital fundraising drive had netted about $400,000 to build a football stadium, and the school had recently created a development office to routinize solicitations for more funds.
None of its 3,800 students were black; indeed, only two black students had ever enrolled in Briarcrest's regular classes, and just 46 more in its summer programs, Allen said. Memphis NAACP chair Maxine Smith described the school as a "bastion of white segregation in a city with a 40% black population". Allen said the school's attempts at outreach were foiled by the black community, whose children were "pressured into staying away, feeling they'd be Uncle Toms if they came."
In February 1979, Allen was summoned to Washington, D.C., to testify at a hearing of the oversight subcommittee of the House Committee on Ways and Means. Rep. Harold Ford Sr., D-Tennessee, questioned Allen about why no black students attended Briarcrest. Allen said that "every possible effort has been made to encourage and enroll black students...Some of the black leadership in our city says, 'Stay away; it is a racial school.' And it is not." Ford, the first black person to represent Tennessee in Congress, responded that he had never heard black leaders say that.
In 1984, a group of black parents sued Allen in his official capacity, alleging that the school practiced discriminatory policies that require the revocation of its federal tax-exempt status. The case, Allen v. Wright, was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court, which held that the parents did not have standing to challenge the IRS ruling on the school's tax status. Afterward, Allen said he was glad the tax code could not be "used as a weapon" by those who disagreed with the school's "policies or politics."
By 1988 the school's enrollment had dwindled to 1,473 students and the school was in a precarious financial situation. School leaders feared the school would not have funds to reopen after the 1988-89 Christmas break, but a combination of teacher layoffs, staff pay cuts, and emergency fundraising allowed the school to continue classes. In 1989 the school split from the founding church and re-chartered as an independent school under the name Briarcrest Christian School.
The school and its history of racial segregation were portrayed in the 2009 film The Blind Side, though it was called "Wingate Christian School". Briarcrest officials said they did not permit the use of the school's real name because they felt that the script took excessive artistic license.
By 2010, the school had grown to 1,600 students and spent $43 million to build its campus.
In 2012, the school sold its Memphis campus to a church that had been a tenant there, though it continued to "lease space in the building for 200 students ranging from 2-year-olds to fifth graders," the Memphis Business Journal reported.
Briarcrest is a non-denominational Christian school. All students attend weekly chapel services, study the Bible, and are encouraged to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The school professes to teach Christian values and biblical morals; citing biblical verses, it forbids students to make statements in support of abortion, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, same-sex attraction, and alternate gender identity.
Briarcrest offers honors, advanced placement, and dual enrollment classes. Fine arts programs begin in preschool and continue through grade 12 in visual arts, choral music, instrumental music, general music, and theater arts.
The school has dual accreditation from the Southern Association of Independent Schools and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Briarcrest is also a member of the Association of Christian Schools International, Tennessee Association of Independent Schools, Memphis Association of Independent Schools, and the College Board.
Briarcrest offers athletic programs including football, baseball, basketball, wrestling, cross country, golf, bowling, swimming, trap shooting, softball, lacrosse, soccer, volleyball, track, tennis, and cheerleading. The school participates in Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) Division II West AA for large schools, competing with both private and public schools in the region. Since 1998, Briarcrest has won nine state championships. Two of the football titles and four in girls' basketball were won by teams coached by Hugh Freeze, who left in 2004 and went on to become head football coach at the University of Mississippi.
In 2017, Freeze resigned abruptly from Ole Miss after "a pattern of personal misconduct" came to light. Soon thereafter, some female former Briarcrest students alleged that Freeze had engaged in inappropriate conduct with them at the school. A Briarcrest spokeswoman said, "We are totally unaware of any allegations against Coach Freeze regarding any kind of inappropriate personal conduct while he was here at Briarcrest."
The term 'segregation academy' in the South has come to mean an institution which is one of 'a system of private schools operated on a racially segregated basis as an alternative available to white students seeking to avoid desegregated public schools.' Coffey v. State Educ. Fin. Comm'n, 296 F. Supp. 1389, 1392 (S.D. Miss. 1969). "The quality of instruction, teachers, and physical plant varies widely among such schools. Some private white schools are well-equipped and boast an excellent staff. For example, the Briarcrest Baptist School System, Inc., in Memphis, Tennessee, offers all the standard academic subjects in addition to religious training. All of Briarcrest's staff are certified by the state, and 20 hold master's degrees. Wall Street Journal, supra note 14, at 1, col. 4. However, many southern private schools are woefully inadequate.
TIME Correspondent Jack White has been investigating the 'segregation academies' ... Briarcrest Baptist High School, which opened two years ago after the courts ordered busing in the Memphis schools, has just about everything: a lavish $6.5 million building with earphones dangling from the ceiling in language labs, an electric kiln for would-be potters and an enthusiastic and well-educated corps of teachers (40% have master's degrees). ... What Briarcrest lacks, however, is blacks. All of its 1,432 students and 69 faculty and staff members are white."Many of the new private schools, like Briarcrest, insist that they have 'open' admissions and are segregated only because no blacks have applied. But they conceded that white hostility to desegregation accounts for much of their growth.