Pass Christian's first school for African Americans is restored - - The News for South Mississippi

Pass Christian celebrates restoration of city's first school for African Americans

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The city of Pass Christian celebrated the rebuilding of a historic school Tuesday. Randolph School on Clark Avenue was the city's first public school for African American students.  Hurricane Katrina's storm surge left the building in ruins, but people in the community fought to save it.

"It's like a safe haven to come to the school and I remember all the young people, my classmates," recalled George Watson.

The 88-year-old Pass Christian resident once walked the campus as a high school student. He later returned to serve as the school's principal. Now, the west wing of the school bears his name.

"Oh, I love it! I really do. I don't know why they put it there," Watson said with a laugh.

Randolph School is filled with history and fond memories for so many African American families in Pass Christian. The school was established in the 1800s.  With a $28,000 grant from the Rosenwald Foundation, the school was rebuilt in 1928. It was named Harrison County Training School for Colored, becoming the city's first elementary through high school for black students.

"It was all we had away from our home. We didn't have much, but we can always believe in the school," said Watson.

The school's name changed to Randolph High School in honor of the late educator John William Randolph. After integration and damage from Hurricane Camille, the school was rebuilt and reopened as Pass Christian Middle School.

The school closed in 2000, but continued to be used by community organizations. The district eventually donated the school complex to the city. Then Katrina struck in 2005.

"It made me cry, because all of that, nothing but debris. Rooms that were there were gone. My old office is gone. I didn't see any way that this building could be saved," Watson said.

Randolph School was considered for demolition. But a group of school alumni, city leaders, and other supporters pushed to save the 85 year old structure. With $1.9 million in funding from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and other sources, the landmark was restored to its original state.

"It's got a tremendous amount of history behind it and, as you know, Katrina just about wiped us out in Pass Christian. So any history we had, we wanted to save. It was well worth it," said Pass Christian Mayor Chipper McDermott.

"It's just wonderful, because we didn't think it could be done," said Watson. "A note of gratitude to the city fathers and all those people who worked so diligently to bring this building back, because they realized what it meant to us."

Randolph School is now used as a senior citizen's center and a community center. It is still a place where memories are made.

The east wing of the building was dedicated Tuesday in honor of Victoria Webb, a former teacher at Randolph School. She will turn 105-years-old on Saturday.

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