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Posted: November 27, 2011 12:00 a.m.

Old Oxford School dedicated Sunday

By Douglas Moser/

The first things many of the alumni of the Oxford School mentioned when asked about their time there were the vignettes of elementary school life in many places in many times: certain teachers who still stand out in memory, the principal, the café down the street that sold hot dogs at lunch time, someone giving out fresh apples and oranges occasionally.

Julia Clark, who attended the school, also called the Rosenwald School, when she was a child remembered the fresh fruit. "We went home for lunch every day," she said.

They 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 enforced 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," 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 colored 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 need to be remembered as a part of the whole of unvarnished history.

"I guess it needs to be remembered, but I'd just as soon forget," Clark said. "Although, I have grandkids that can't relate. They can't imagine us living like that and having to go through that. I guess they need to know because it's history and there's nothing you can do about it. You just have to move forward and make the best of it."

Today at 2:30 p.m., the City of Oxford plans to dedicate an historical marker to the site of the school on Mitchell Street. It was built in 1921 with $1,000 from the Rosenwald Fund, which was started several years before by Julius Rosenwald, then the president of Sears & Roebuck.
The fund built hundreds of schools for black children in the South from 1919 until 1937. The foundation was initially run with the assistance of activist Booker T. Washington of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

In all, the Oxford School was built with the Rosenwald donation, $1,200 raise from the African American community and $1,100 from Newton County, said Oxford City Councilor Frank Davis.

The property the foundation sits on now belongs to attorney W.D. Ballard, who gave the city permission to erect the memorial plaque.

The Oxford School was closed in 1957 after the Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka ruled segregation unconstitutional. Children in the Oxford Schools were integrated afterward, alumni said.

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