PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - During Black History month, WLOX is spotlighting the work underway to restore the Randolph School in Pass Christian. Hurricane Katrina heavily damaged the school which was built in the late 1920s to educate black children.
It was constructed with help from a grant from the Rosenwald School Building program, that program eventually helped to construct more than 5,300 African American schools around the country.
Pass Christian's mayor says the Randolph School is one of the few Rosenwald buildings remaining, so it was important to save that history.
Every time George Watson visits Randolph school, the memories come flooding back of the many years he spent there, first as a student. Then later, he served as principal. He said during segregation, the school was the center of Pass Christian's black community.
"Unless you were affiliated with it, it is just another building. But to us, it's not another building," said Watson. "This is a part of us as much as our homes were. Maybe in some instances more than our homes were."
Now Watson's beloved school is in the middle of a $1.8 million upgrade thanks to grants and money chipped in by the city of Pass Christian. The old Randolph School is getting new life as a senior citizen center.
"The number one thing will be for the senior citizens, but there's a lot more room that can be used for other things like social events," said Mayor Chipper McDermott. "We're going to try to draw up a lease plan where people can lease it. It's going to be a nice place here."
Watson said students at Randolph knew the only way to make better lives for themselves was to get an education, albeit in a system that was separate but not equal.
"During those years most of our books came from Pass High. When they changed books, they gave us the books that they discarded for newer versions," Watson said. "They had a football field. We had to make ours. We didn't have a football field. We didn't have the things the had. We had to make our playgrounds. Make our tennis courts. But we did, and we made it. I think in the long run it made us better people. It made us appreciate what we had more. "
Watson said he appreciates the city of Pass Christian for not letting this historic treasure fall into ruin.
Mayor Chipper McDermott says the renovation has been slowed down because of a moisture problem but with the help of a specialist that is expected to be cleared up in the next few months.