His­toric prop­erty to be made a park

The Covington News - - The second front - STAFF RE­PORTS news@cov­news.com

The his­toric all-black Ox­ford School prop­erty on Mitchell Street will soon be con­verted into a small pub­lic park af­ter the prop­erty’s owner, at­tor­ney Don Bal­lard, agreed to lease the prop­erty to the city for 10 years.

Ox­ford City Man­ager Clark Miller said the city will put up a fence and clean up the area to cre­ate a park on the prop­erty, on which only a por­tion of the his­toric school’s foun­da­tion re­mains. Work is expected to start within a few months as the prop­erty has al­ready been sur­veyed.

Last fall, the city ded­i­cated a his­tor­i­cal plaque at the site telling the his­tory of the Ox­ford School, an all-black three-room school built in 1921 through the Rosen­wald School Build­ing Pro­gram.

Thou­sands of black schools were built across the coun­try through the Rosen­wald pro­gram, which was cre­ated by the part­ner­ship of ac­tivist and ed­u­ca­tor Booker T. Wash­ing­ton and Sears & Roe­buck Pres­i­dent Julius Rosen­wald.

The Ox­ford School was built in 1921 for $3,300, in­clud­ing $1,200 from Ox­ford’s African-Amer­i­can community, $1,100 from New­ton County and $1,000 from the Rosen­wald fund, Bal­lard said pre­vi­ously. The school was open for 35 years.

At the ded­i­ca­tion cer­e­mony, students re­mem­bered walk­ing to the Mitchell Street school be­cause all the students lived in Ox­ford nearby. There was no cafe­te­ria in the three-room school, so most students went home for lunch. A few, how­ever, walked down Soule Street to a café called The Nook for hot dogs.

An­der­son Wright, who at­tended from 1941 to 1949, said he re­mem­bered one in­struc­tor in par­tic­u­lar: third-grade teacher Sarah Fran­cis Thoma­son.

“She was very present and she would al­ways give me en­cour­age­ment to do bet­ter and to open up,” he said. “I was kind of bash­ful and shy, and she would help me to open up and talk. She was very en­cour­ag­ing.”

Though at the same time, they re­mem­ber the pain and stigma of en- forced seg­re­ga­tion, grow­ing up in a seg­re­gated blacks-only school, with bat­tered hand-me-down text­books miss­ing pages, no in­door bath­rooms or lunch­rooms.

“The con­di­tions were ter­ri­ble,” for­mer stu­dent Ju­lia Clark said.

Wright said that de­spite the dif­fi­cul­ties, many of the alumni grad­u­ated and, af­ter the dis­man­tling of Jim Crow, built pro­duc­tive and suc­cess­ful lives for them­selves.

“Some of us that grad­u­ated from that school, we went on to live a pretty de­cent life,” he said. “We did well be­cause we had some of the best ed­u­ca­tors there, I would say.”

That di­chotomy etched in their mem­o­ries and feel­ings about the ded­i­ca­tion of a plaque to what re­mains of the school later this month. Sev­eral said they would sooner for­get the school and leave it dead in his­tory.

At the same time, how­ever, alumni and oth­ers said that the school and the era that pro­duced it needs to be re­mem­bered as a part of the whole of un­var­nished his­tory.

Sub­mit­ted photo /The Cov­ing­ton News

At­tor­ney Don Bal­lard, mid­dle, agrees to lease his his­toric prop­erty for 10 years to the city of Ox­ford. He is flanked by Coun­cil­man Frank Davis and Mayor Jerry Rose­berry.

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