This date in Columbia history: Remembering Beulah Ralph and her namesake elementary school
On January 31, 1921, Beulah Ralph was born in Hardin, Missouri. Beulah moved to Columbia as a child and graduated from the Blacks-only Douglass High School at a time when public education was still segregated by race. After graduating she returned to Columbia Public Schools and Douglass as an employee.
Her almost 60-year long career as an educator would span the period of desegregation, a process she helped guide the district through. In 1960, Douglass High School closed, six years after the landmark 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. In 1967, during the civil rights era Beulah Ralph founded Columbia Public School’s Home School Communicator Program, which she developed and directed.
A tireless community leader and mentor, “Beulah was probably the most well-known person in the Columbia Public Schools by the entire citizenry,” said Eliot Battle.
Former Columbia Mayor Darwin Hindman spoke about her saying: “If there ever was a person who carried the zeal for fostering individual dignity, racial equality, understanding, peace-making and solving problems through non-violence, it was Beulah Ralph.” She died, at the age of 83, on Nov. 17, 2010. In 2016, Beulah Ralph Elementary School was dedicated to her memory.
Beulah Ralph Elementary School opened August 16, 2016. It is located in southwest Columbia, at the corner of Scott Boulevard and Highway KK, near the Thornbrook subdivision. When it opened it was Columbia’s 21st elementary school, built to address growth and overcrowding at nearby schools, especially Mill Creek Elementary. It was designed by Columbia based PWArchitects Inc. and used the design of Eliot Battle Elementary school as a prototype. Its architectural style is contemporary.
The project cost $16 million to build an 89,000-square-foot building on a 36-acre site. Designed to accommodate 450 students, school features include: a studio classroom with a one-way mirror for teachers in training to observe, temperature-controlled computer storage cupboards for student laptops and iPads, energy-efficient climate control, lighting operated by sensors, and stormwater management facilities.
Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Peter Stiepleman remarked at the dedication ceremony that Beulah Ralph had been “a living legend, one of the most valuable players” in CPS history. The school enrolled 690 students in 2021—65 percent white, 11 percent black—and is more ethnically diverse than Columbia’s demographics as a whole (76 percent white, 11 percent black).
Beulah Ralph’s only daughter spoke to the Columbia Missourian, after her mother’s death in 2010 saying Ralph’s work “wasn’t for minority students, it was for everyone …To her, children and families were all the same. A child with a problem is a child with a problem, regardless of the color of their skin.”
Inspired by the honoring of a historic Columbian with a contemporary building, our group, CoMo Preservation, hopes to help homeowners, landlords, and institutions prevent the destruction of historic architecture. Original period styles might be replicated, but will forever lack the social history of authentic structures. The preservation of historic buildings is necessary for Columbia’s residents, students, and visitors to achieve a sense of place and, it follows, for our city’s continued economic success.
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This CoMo 365 blog entry was constructed by Matt Fetterly using these sources:
- Tucker, Sarah (November 18, 2010). Family, friends remember Beulah Ralph’s dedication, service. Columbia, Missouri: Columbia Missourian. Accessed January 31, 2023.
- Truong, Huong (August 12, 2016). Beulah Ralph’s legacy lives on at elementary school dedication event. Columbia, Missouri: Columbia Missourian. Accessed January 31, 2023.
- Beulah Ralph Elementary School (2016). About Our School: Who Was Beulah Ralph?. Columbia, Missouri: Columbia Public Schools. Accessed January 31, 2023.
- PWArchitects, Inc. (2022). Beulah Ralph Elementary School. Columbia, Missouri: PWArchitects, Inc. Accessed January 23, 2023.
- Columbia Public Schools (2023). Enrollment Data 2021-2022. Columbia, Missouri: Columbia Public Schools. Accessed January 23, 2023.
- Wikipedia contributors. (January 20, 2023). “Brown v. Board of Education.” In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:32, January 31, 2023.
COMO 365 is written by Matt Fetterly for comopreservation.org. The mission of COMO Preservation is to preserve the historic architecture of Columbia, Missouri. You may contact Matt at [email protected].