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Today is September 24, 2020

Mississippi Seen

Back to school

By Walt Grayson

Back to school

We measured the school year with the Magnolia tree when we were kids. In May, the fragrance of the blossoms drifted through our classroom windows (no air conditioning) when it was almost time for summer vacation. And the seed cones started forming about the time to go back to school. It’s not so much that we were botanists, but we used the seed cones as footballs during recess. So, when we saw them on the trees, we started choosing sides.

School is different this year with COVID-19. Depending on the expert, going back to class is either the best thing we can do or the absolute worst. But whatever consensus the politicians and epidemiologists come up with, we will make sure our kids get an education.

That determined attitude toward education is what saved the old Poplar Hill School building that now serves as the Poplar Hill Museum of African American Culture near Fayette in Jefferson County.

Just after the Civil War, the first thing the freed enslaved people organized were churches. And the next thing was schools. Not big brick edifices, but classes. At first, they were held inside the churches. Then it became evident that a more adequate building was needed for education, so one-room schoolhouses were built next door on church property.

That is what the Poplar Hill School building is — a restored one-room school where children from every grade were taught in the same classroom by one, or maybe two teachers.

After the Civil War, public education for African American children wasn’t provided by the state. Then, in the early 20th century, the teachers in these one-room schools began to be paid by the county school system. And then by the late 1950s, the last of the students were absorbed into the public schools and the old one-room schoolhouses were closed.

The Poplar Hill School building was rescued from decay and restored over a period of several years around 2010 or 2012 — somewhere along in there — by a group of former students and other people who wanted to preserve the building to honor the dedication and show the hard work it took for the children just to get an education.

Google “Poplar Hill School Jefferson County, Mississippi” and you will find contact information and a web page with their history. You can find out how to go visit them and see the place for yourself — IF COVID-19 ever lets us visit anywhere again — depending on the expert.

On education I will say this — I was interviewing former Governor William Winter and the subject of how to get Mississippi to become more successful came up. Gov. Winter’s face took on a serious expression and his voice grew very deliberate and stern as he told me that, “As far as the road to success, it runs through the schoolhouse doors.”

And in tough times it takes determined people to make sure that road isn’t blocked.

 

Walt Grayson is the host of “Mississippi Roads” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting television and the author of two “Looking Around Mississippi” books and “Oh! That Reminds Me: More Mississippi Homegrown Stories.” He lives in Brandon and is a Central Electric member. Contact him at walt@waltgrayson.com.

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