What happened to historically black high schools?

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If you are black and graduated from a high school in the southern US prior to 1970, you graduated from a historically black high school. I graduated from the historically black Eva H Harris High School in Brookhaven, MS in 1964. In 1954, the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision of the United States Supreme Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional. The decision set forth a sudden futile effort by whites to keep segregated schools under the separate but equal legal doctrine by building new schools for blacks. I believe that Eva H Harris was built-in 1958, as were many other historically black southern schools, in a scheme to influence black leaders to stay segregated. The scheme was to build new upgraded schools for blacks, we will be overjoyed, and we will not want to go to school with white folks. Our goal was not to just go to school with white folks; we wanted an equal opportunity to live without fear of injury or death.

I will admit that the new schools that were built were better than the old schools. The curriculum was better than at the old one or two classroom schools that my older siblings graduated. My older siblings went to a one-room school that sat behind one of the churches in our community. The school went only to the eighth grade. If you wanted to continue your education past the eighth grade, you had to find a school outside of the community.

The new schools were beautiful brick buildings with a gymnasium that had a varnished hardwood floor, attached cafeteria, a biology lab and a modern high school shop with a few power tools. However, the new schools still did not equal white schools. We sometimes got used classroom desks, chairs and textbooks. Our Biology lab had a few test tubes and Bunsen burners that we shared but that did not compare to what the white kids had.

Most historically black high schools in the south are gone. They have either been torn down or converted to elementary or middle schools. In some cases, I can find no evidence that some of the schools ever existed.

Give a shout-out in the comments to your old historically black high school.

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Reversal of Fortune

The Great Migration Of 1910-60 Saw Black Americans Leaving The South For Better Prospects “Up North”. Now, They And Succeeding Generations Are Returning – Lured By Economic And Racial Progress.

After World War II, Melton McMorris taught for 18 years in the segregated public schools of Lincoln County before he finally gave up on Mississippi and headed west. He got a job teaching high school social studies in Santa Maria, Calif. His wife, Mary, joined him there two years later, and taught home economics, science, and history in the same school system.

The people were great, she said. You had a variety of people – Chicanos, Mexicans, whites, all different races. They treated us superb.

Both of them loved the climate, the community’s racial diversity, the fact that the system gave them the tools to do their jobs. However, when they retired, they felt the tug of the South. In 1991, the McMorrises returned to Bogue Chitto, about 70 miles south of Jackson, to a four-bedroom, brick home they built on land adjoining his family’s old homestead.

They were pleasantly surprised at some of the social changes that almost three decades had etched on the face of their hometown.

There was a change in relations between whites and blacks when I got back here, Melton McMorris said. They would speak and socialize with each other. It was kind of a shock, to see them seated together at games and so on.

Vevelyn Foster, a professor of history at Jackson State University who was born in Lincoln County, agrees with the McMorrises – up to a point – about the changes.

It’s more open in terms of public facilities, she said. Economic opportunities are much more available to African Americans. Even, to a degree, social relationships are better. It’s not unusual to see interracial friendships, genuine friendships. But the subtle racism, the subtle discrimination is still here, she said. Black children are not graduating at the rates they should from high school. Some of the young parents are organizing now. They’re beginning to insist that the system provide what it should for their children.

For the McMorrises, who bought a little general store up the road from their new home, the test of Bogue Chitto’s racial progress was economic: Would white customers continue to patronize the store now that blacks owned it?

The town passed: When they sold McMorris’ Groceries in 1995, they estimate that about 40 percent of their customers were white.

Since we are not there anymore, they tell us how much they miss us and they want us to come by, Melton McMorris said.

In fact, Mary added, we’ve got lots of white friends. We might be sitting here, and they’ll knock on the door, bringing you vegetables or fruit, or inviting you over to see them. You wouldn’t have seen that before.

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Initial Reunion Notification

The first 1964 Class Reunion Notification Letter, Registration and T-shirt order forms were mailed to classmates on January 30, 2012. The notification has information on when and where the reunion will take place and where to send reunion and T-shirt order fees.

Please check out our website periodically for more information:



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Class Reunion Registration Information

You must register yourself and your guests prior to the reunion. We must give our vendors a headcount for food preparations and we need to know in advance how many t-shirts to order and pick them up in time for the reunion events.

Please register! Even if you do not plan to attend the reunion, we’d love to have your information on file to share with our classmates and to keep in touch with you for future reunions.

Please watch your mailbox for our first mail out of Registration and T-shirt Order forms.


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Tillman discusses history of black schools

Tillman discusses history of black schools

Wednesday, April 14, 2010 2:25 pm

When Brookhaven’s Annie Tillman reached the eighth grade, she found herself alone.

Tillman, a 32-year educator who retired from the Brookhaven School District in 2004, was the only member of her small class who made it that far at the all-black Pilgrim’s Rest School. It was time to move on.

For blacks, Brookhaven’s Alexander High School was the only choice.

“Back then, unless you were in the city school system, you had to stay at your school until you finished eighth grade. I wrote Mr. (A.A.) Alexander and asked him if I could attend, and he wrote me back and I said I could,” Tillman said.

AHS has long since been integrated and now serves the city school district as Alexander Junior High School. Pilgrim’s Rest School was swept up in consolidation and abandoned long ago, though the building still stands on Highway 583.

The times have changed, but Tillman remembers them well.

Speaking to a meeting of the Lincoln County Historical and Genealogical Society Tuesday night, she gave a short history of rural Negro Schools in Lincoln County based on her own research. Like all early rural schools, black schools were scattered, numerous and community-oriented.

“In the county there were many community schools. Basically, every church had its own little school,” Tillman said. “Most of them only went to the eighth grade, and once you passed the eighth grade you had to move on somewhere else. Back then it was Alexander.”

By transferring to AHS, Tillman was afforded new education opportunities, but the transportation was tough. Her father would drive her into town in the mornings, and when school was out she’d catch a bus that took her as far as Hog Chain. From there, it was a two-mile walk through the woods to get home.

Later on, Tillman had to make the two-mile walk twice a day to get back and forth to Alexander. The district didn’t extend its buses to transport black students, causing many to drop out. Others were lucky enough to make arrangements to stay with families in Brookhaven and journey back to their homes in the county on the weekends.

Tillman walked.

“In those days you got to school as best you could,” she said.

The story was basically the same for the students of all Lincoln County’s black schools, and there were many – Damascus, Topisaw, Norfield, New Hope, Antioch, Mt. Moriah and more. Tillman said most of the schools had five to 10 students per grade and were staffed by a single teacher, sometimes two.

Eventually, the small community schools were consolidated into three major black schools – Progress High School, Friendship High School and Lincoln County Training School.

Friendship was one of the oldest schools, Tillman said, and existed prior to consolidation. Lincoln County Training School was built in 1924 with money donated by Sears, Roebuck and Co., and served southern Lincoln County. Several schools in the northwest area of the county joined to form Progress, which was built in 1950 and saw its first class attend in 1951.

In 1958, construction began on Eva Harris School in Brookhaven, and soon all three black consolidated county schools were combined there. The first class graduated in 1961, and later that year parts of the county were annexed into the Brookhaven district, extended transportation to black students for the first time.

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Lillie Mae Watson Turner

Lillie Mae Watson Turner

Services for Lillie Mae Watson Turner of Brookhaven are 2 p.m., Saturday, March 31, at Center Street Church of Christ with burial in Rosehill Church Cemetery.

Visitation is Friday from noon till 8 p.m. with family hour from 7-8 p.m. at Williams Mortuary.

Mrs. Watson, 53, died March 26, 2001, at Baptist Medical Center. She was born in Lincoln County on April 10, 1947, to Willie Watson and Mardessie Mae Watson. She was a graduate of Eva Harris High School. She received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Jackson State University. She held a double M.S. degree in guidance counseling and administration supervision. She received her education specialist degree in counseling and educational psychology from the University of Southern Mississippi.

She was a guidance counselor and school test coordinator at Mullins School. She also served as elementary, junior high and vocational counselor in the McComb School District. She served for 13 years as a counselor at Wesson High School.

She was a past president of the Ebonette Club and vice president of the Bertha L. Johnson Literary and Garden Club. In 1995 she was chosen Mississippi School Counselor of the Year. In 1996 she was chosen as one of THE DAILY LEADER’s Unsung Heroes for her charitable and youth work.

She was a member of the Mississippi Counseling Association, American Counseling Association, Mississippi School Counseling Association, Mississippi Association of Multicultural Counseling and Development, Federation of Colored Women’s and Youth Club, Inc., and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

She was a member of Center Street Church of Christ.

Preceding her in death were her father and four siblings.

In addition to her mother, she is survived by her children, Thomas Turner Jr. and Ashley Christina Turner, both of Brookhaven; her sisters, Katherine Bolds of Las Vegas, Willie Mae Smith of Milwaukee, Wis.; Julia Mallett of Lansing, Mich., Mardessie Black and Lizzie McGee, both of Brookhaven, and Dorothy McDaniel of Wesson; her brothers, Willie Watson Jr. of Frostproof, Fla., Henry Lee Watson of Brookhaven and Randy Charles Watson of Hazlehurst; and one grandchild and a host of nieces and nephews.

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Clarence B. “Doc” Johnson

Clarence B. “Doc” Johnson

Thursday, December 29, 2005 12:00 am

Funeral services for former Ward Three Alderman Clarence B. “Doc” Johnson are Friday at 11 a.m. at Bethel A.M.E. Church with burial in Carver Heights Cemetery.

Johnson, 78, served two terms on the city board, from 1981-85 and from 1989-93.

Former Ward One Alderman J.W. Morgan recalled his fellow board member as a man who loved his work and loved serving people. He recalled Johnson’s efforts to address flooding and other issues facing the community.

“He was very conscientious about the City of Brookhaven and his ward,” Morgan said of Johnson.

Morgan also mentioned Johnson’s service as a school teacher and his other efforts to help citizens.

“He just loved people,” Morgan said.

Johnson taught science at Durant High School in Durant; McCullough High School in Monticello; and Progress High School and Eva Harris High School, both in Brookhaven. He coached girl’s basketball and he took the team to the state championship in 1961.

Ward Two Alderman Terry Bates expressed sympathy to Johnsons’ family.

“Clarence Johnson was one of the men I watched growing up over the years,” Bates said. “He was a great man to look up to.”

Bates said Johnson was a good family man. He said Johnson was hard-working and believed in doing what was right.

“He tried to be a friend to everybody in the community,” Bates said. “He’s going to be missed.”

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