Former students fight to save old Gulfport high school from demolition

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Some residents in Gulfport are in an uproar over plans to tear down an old high school building. They met Monday night, hoping to get the city to step in and spare the building from being bulldozed.

The old 33rd Avenue High School opened in 1954. It was the only black high school in Gulfport.  It closed because of school integration. The school's reunion committee and the Quarters Group say the building is a part of this community's history and they don't want it wiped away.

Shattered windows allow rain water to seep in. The rooms are still torn-up. The old 33rd Avenue High School looks much like it did the day Katrina hammered the building.

"It goes through my mind of neglect, not concern. Because right after the hurricane, nothing was done for several years to even look at the building," said Jimmie Woullard, President of the 33rd Avenue High School Reunion Committee.

Those who went to school there say they also feel neglected when it comes to deciding the fate of the building.

"We want preservation and I guess that's negotiable. We want to be at the table to make decisions and why we feel left out," said Gayle Tart, an alumna of the school.

Tart is also president of the Quarters Group, an organization dedicated to historic preservation. The old 33rd Avenue High was the last black segregated school in Gulfport.

"So many people got their start here," said Tart. "So many people, black people, went on to do good things. We have Lem Barney, the famous football player. We have an opera singer who went here, Miss Potter."

After the school closed in 1969, the building housed Head Start, then the Job Corps Program. School alumni say they are angry and frustrated after learning that the U.S.Labor Department plans to demolish the battered building to rebuild the campus.

"I want them to save 33rd, save something I remember, save some of our history," said Woullard.

"The culture, our history, there's nothing. Go looking. We don't exist," said Ruthie Thaggart-White, Vice President of the Reunion Committee.

An empty lot right next to the high school used to be home to the old 33rd Avenue Elementary School. The alumni say it was torn down right after Katrina without their knowledge. That's why they are so determined to save the old high school building.

"I feel like it's been a violation committed," said Glenda Collins, a 1963 graduate. "And we would like that it be preserved, if not the whole building, a distinct amount of frontage here. So we can know what our school looked like. Know where we graduated from and be a part of history."

A spokesman for the city of Gulfport said the city owns the building and wants to see the Labor Department use as much of the original structure as possible.

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