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Posted: September 4, 2012 11:39 p.m.

Historic Oxford property to be park

The historic all-black Oxford School property on Mitchell Street will soon be converted into a small public park after the property's owner, attorney Don Ballard, agreed to lease the property to the city for 10 years.

Oxford City Manager Clark Miller said the city will put up a fence and clean up the area to create a park on the property, on which only a portion of the historic school's foundation remains. Work is expected to start within a few months as the property has already been surveyed.

Last fall, the city dedicated a historical plaque at the site telling the history of the Oxford School, an all-black three-room school built in 1921 through the Rosenwald School Building Program.

Thousands of black schools were built across the country through the Rosenwald program, which was created by the partnership of activist and educator Booker T. Washington and Sears & Roebuck President Julius Rosenwald.

The Oxford School was built in 1921 for $3,300, including $1,200 from Oxford's African-American community, $1,100 from Newton County and $1,000 from the Rosenwald fund, Ballard said previously. The school was open for 35 years.

At the dedication ceremony, students 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," former student Julia 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 etched in 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 needs to be remembered as a part of the whole of unvarnished history.

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