Black History Month spotlights education pioneer

Published: Feb. 14, 2014 at 12:59 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2014 at 11:50 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - During this Black History month, WLOX is paying tribute to a Coast woman considered to be a pioneer in education. The late Elizabeth Keys worked for decades in Ocean Springs as both a teacher and a principal during a time of segregated schools.

In 1917 after graduating Dillard University, Keys began her teaching career in small wooden schoolhouse. Like all black teachers during segregation, her great niece said Keys faced many obstacles.

"We always got what our white counterpart no longer had to use," said Earline Spillers, Keys' niece. "Secondhand books. Second hand typewriters. Secondhand football equipment. You name it we got it secondhand."

By 1922 Keys had been promoted to principal and in 1958 the school that served the black children of Ocean Springs was renamed in her honor. The school still stands today as the E.H. Keys Alternative School. People who attended Keys school during segregation say they were always encouraged.

Alumnus Debra Eddington-Jones said "You are equal to anyone else. Everybody is the same. We are all God's children. He made us the same way. So they always instilled in us to do better."

"They always made us feel like we were just as important as the next person," said Theresa Todd-Dantzler, alumnus. "Whatever someone else achieved we could achieve it as well."

After her retirement Keys' love and dedication to children never faded. At her death in 1976 she donated the land that is now Dr. Martin Luther King park in Ocean Springs.

"She really loved young people, young children," said Spillers. "As a matter of fact that was adjacent to her home in Ocean Springs right across from Macedonia [Baptist Church]. She gave that property to the community way back because black children had nowhere to play so she willed that to them."

Spillers said her aunt was convinced education was the way to a better future for young black children.

"The one thing she would impress on us as young people was you will have to get an education if you want to move forward," Spillers said. "You'll have to because if you don't you'll always be second or third or fourth or maybe forgotten."

Nearly 100 years after, Elizabeth Keys stepped into a classroom she's still inspiring people.

Todd-Dantzler said, "She would be happy that now we have lawyers and we have doctors. We have nurses. We have people who are directors. We have people who are vice Presidents of companies and I think she would be just cheering us on."

Some Ocean Springs High school students doing an oral history project on Elizabeth Keys and the Keys school in 2012 discovered her grave had no headstone. So officials say a fundraiser was organized and this past November a marker was put down. She is buried in Evergreen Cemetery next to her husband and son.

Copyright 2014 WLOX. All rights reserved.