Ordinance No. 21 of Hattiesburg was passed October 29, 1892, by the Board of Aldermen declaring the town of Hattiesburg a separate school district.
Reverend E.J. Currie, a Presbyterian Minister, was elected the first superintendent of the newly established school district which he served from 1892 – 1896. It was during this period that two small schools were built – one for Negroes and one for Whites. The White school was listed as being located between Gordon Creek and North Main Street. No reference was made as to where the school for Negroes was located. An interview with a retired teacher, who entered the public school in this system revealed “that the first school she remembers was”a yellow frame building on Sixth Street.” This school was reported to have been painted red a few years later.
Prior to the first public school, which was elementary only, a report of 1885 states that schools were held in churches and lodge halls; yet, these schools were operated under trustees appointed by the Mayor of the city. There were two trustee boards according to the article – one for Black and one for Whites.
In 1920, EB. Woodley proposed a school building program which provided for a school in each of the four (4) Wards of the City of Hattiesburg. Specifically, the report stated that Court Street School and Eaton School were the first to be built. Hardy Street School and Bouie Street School were built during 1907 – 1908. The first Hattiesburg High School on Main Street was reported built in 1911, which was replaced with a 3-story brick building in 1921. However, nothing was said of any buildings being built for Negroes. It can only be assumed that the elementary schools on Rebecca Avenue and the Sixteenth Section School were built during this period. Further, it can be assumed that the red building on Sixth Street remained as the school for Negroes in Ward Four. Segregation or “the separate but equal doctrine” was constitutional and, therefore, was the law at that time.
In 1918, Mr. W.H. Jones, newly elected Black principal, submitted to Superintendent F.B. Woodley a proposal to build a new structure to replace the “Red” frame school building on Sixth Street. Mr. Jones’ proposal recommended that high school grades be provided for in the new structure. Following board consideration, the domestic Science building was built as the first unit of the proposed new school being completed in November of 1918.
During the session 1919 – 1920, Professor Jones pursued further with the Board of Education the completion of the proposed modem high school for Negroes. In 1920, a bond issue for $75,000 was passed to build a new building with construction beginning shortly thereafter. Work was completed and the new school building was opened for classes the second Monday of September, 1921.
This structure was later acclaimed by the press as the second modem brick school building to be built for Negroes in Mississippi at that time. The school was later dedicated under the name of EUREKA in lieu of being unable to secure community consensus on any other name.
Eureka was a union school housing all grades from first through twelve during the period 1921 – 1949. Negro students in grades 7 – 12 throughout the city attended the school and students in grades one through six in Ward Four attended the school also.
Mr. S.H. Blair succeeded Mr. W.I. Thames as Superintendent on July 1, 1939. Shortly after he took office, World War II began making normal school operations difficult, especially within a camp city as Hattiesburg. In spite of circumstances of constant changes in teaching personnel, overcrowded classrooms, rationing of supplies, etc., the schools operated effectively.
Following the end of World War II, it became necessary to relieve the overcrowding at Eureka where the enrollment had grown from approximately 80 pupils in 1940 to approximately 1400 students by 1947.
The first proposal by the Board of Education to relieve this congestion was to convert the Sixth Street USO building into an elementary school and maintain the Eureka building as a Junior-Senior High School. Black leaders of the community supported an alternate plan submitted by Principal Burger to the Superintendent and Trustee Board which proposed the following: Select a new site of adequate land space on which to build a new Senior High School Plant which will provide for departments and services essential to meeting accredited standards of high school programs. Also, the site should have adequate land space and services for recreational facilities – as tennis courts, football stadium, gymnasium, baseball field, etc. Through the educational leadership of Mr. Blair and the support of an understanding Board of Trustees, several months later the plan of building a new school on another site was adopted. Nine acres on Royal Street near William Carey College were selected as the site.
A bond issue of $150,000 was passed in 1948 and the new school building was opened for classes in September on 1949 on the new site. The school was given the name ROYAL STREET in order that the contractors may proceed with a building title required in legal documents pursuant to construction. During the mid-1950’s the Trustee Board conducted a balloting among citizens of the Black communities for a name to be given the new high school. It was during this time that the Board named the school for LEVI J. ROWAN, since that name received the highest number of ballots cast. Dr. Rowan was a former president of Alcorn State University and a “renown educator” according to writings in Negro History.
The Rowan school plant was expanded in 1959 by adding these larger and more serviceable areas: an auditorium, library, cafeteria, music rooms, football stadium, tennis courts, and new offices. The school was then made a senior high school of grades 10, 11 & 12, making it the only senior high for Blacks at that time other than two such schools in Jackson, Mississippi. Through study and service of the faculty and administration, Rowan became an accredited High School by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, December 1962.
Summarily, there have been only two public schools for Blacks offering instructions through the 12th grade built since the establishment of the Hattiesburg School District in 1892. The first school was EUREKA, the other school on Royal Street was one school plant which bore two names: ROYAL STREET at first then changed to ROWAN.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, decided on May 17, 1954, decreed that integration of schools be the law of the land – making it mandatory that each school district comply. In 1964, the Hattiesburg School District sought compliance by adopting the “Freedom of Choice” plan which governed the school system through 1968 – 1970. During the academic school year of 1970 -1971, the “zoning” plan for integrating the schools was adapted. Integration by “zoning” brought into history Blair High School – which all high school students, whether they be black or white, north of the Southern railroad track were assigned. Likewise, all students Black and White, south of the Southern railroad track were assigned to Rowan High School.
During the academic school year of 1971 – 1972, the Hattiesburg Public School System made another change in the integration plans pursuant to having greater numbers of each racial group attend Rowan and Blair. This plan was known as pairing which reduced Rowan to the 10th grade level and maintained Blair as the 11th and 12th grade school. Blair later became known as Hattiesburg High School and serves 9th through 12th grade. Rowan is now serving as an elementary school, serving K – 6th grade. There is a new middle school, N.R. Burger that serves 7th – 8th grades.
Dr. S.L. Spinks became Superintendent in 1966 subsequently retired in 1985. Dr. Gordon Walker was appointed as his replacement in 1985 and retired in 1999. History was made in 1999 when Dr. James R. Davis was appointed superintendent and became the 1st African-American to serve in that position. Dr. Davis served from July 1, 1999 until June 30, 2005. The district has made another historical appointment, Dr. Annie P. Wimbish begins her tenure an July 1, 2005, becoming the 2nd African-American and the 1st female superintendent District of the Hattiesburg School District. We welcome her to our community and look forward to working with her.
Since 1892, several elementary schools have been built. There were: the Sixth Street School, Third Ward School, Sixteenth Section School, Jones Junior High School, and Lillie Burney junior High School. Grace Lave and Mary Bethune Schools were built to replace Third Ward and Sixteenth Section Schools, respectively.
This historical sketch of schools attended by Blacks in Hattiesburg is subject to further study and research before the information given can be considered authentic. Even though the primary concern of this historical sketch has been centered on schools for Blacks and the administration under whom they were built, it is appropriate that the listing of principals who headed these schools be given, the names to follow and the period of their services were difficult to document in some instances. However, the names of Black principals who have served since the turn of the century are: Mr. I. W. Crawford and Mr. J.E. Taylor served as principals during the time when schools for Blacks were held in churches and lodge halls. Mr. P.D. Jones, Mr. M.S. Lave, and Mr. W. H. Jones have been mentioned as serving during the time of the “Red” frame school on 6th Street.
It was during Mr. W.H. Jones first year there that he proposed the new school now known as Eureka. These principals serving at the Eureka School which was completed in 1921 were: Mr. W.H. Jones, Mr. J.W. Addison, Mr. E.L. Washburn, Mr. Edward Tademy and Mr. N.R. Burger. Serving as principals at Rowan have been Mr. N.R. Burger, Mr. J.W. Heath, Mr. James Ratliff, Mr. J.L. Kent, and Miss Yvonne Bryant.
In conclusion, this historical sketch is centered on the basic facets: building, naming and locating schools since 1892, listing superintendents and years of service, and naming principles, places and periods of service. In presenting the sketch in this manner, it is the belief that all former students may be able to trace their educational “roots” without difficulty. Efforts will be attempted in the future to put together a school history of Blacks in Hattiesburg. Such history will seek to list and document major events, activities, curricula information, student personnel, community relations and other significant data.
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