Former students at all-Black school working to preserve history

2 weeks ago 42

HIGGINSVILLE, Mo. — For astir 70 years from the post-Civil War period, to the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement, Lafayette County and the greater Higginsville, Missouri, country had 1 schoolhouse for Black children.

It has sat vacant for years, and present a erstwhile pupil is starring an effort to reconstruct and sphere its history.

"I learned to person joyousness and bid with people," said Minnie Williams-Elmore, a erstwhile pupil astatine the Douglass School.

She returned to its beforehand steps, reminiscing with her friends Wilbur Conway, Frederick Smith and Travis Benton.

"Great memories," Benton said.

"I truly enjoyed it," Conway said. "Taught america backmost past the 3 R's — reading, writing, arithmetic. We got our past and math, I felt beauteous bully astir going to schoolhouse here."

Williams-Elmore says she came retired of her ammunition backmost successful the day.

"I learned to beryllium capable to speech to people, and beryllium capable to interaction people's lives and they interaction mine, and that's the mode you marque it successful life," she said.

Their schoolhouse lives, and those of chap Black students, started connected those beforehand steps.

"We didn't cognize immoderate different, really. We enjoyed beingness itself arsenic kids," Conway said.

Through 8 grade, the Douglass School was the lone enactment for Black children successful Lafayette County.

"Many of our desks and books were hand-me-down types from the achromatic schools," Conway said.

"We were treated bad, but we didn't cognize we were treated atrocious due to the fact that we were taught to obey," Benton adds.

For precocious school, they were bused to Lexington, Missouri.

"Segregation and integration wasn't a portion of our vocabulary astatine the time," Conway said.

The Douglass School closed erstwhile the Brown versus Board of Education determination integrated classrooms successful 1955.

After graduation, these erstwhile Douglass students weren't welcomed everywhere.

"There was nary spot astir that would prosecute Blacks similar that, the lone happening that was astir was the military," Benton, who spent 20 years successful the U.S. Air Force, said.

He returned to Higginsville, and bought the Douglass School gathering successful 1990.

Original desks and wood store instrumentality are conscionable immoderate of the artifacts near successful a gathering that's present a ammunition of itself, sitting bare for decades.

Now, Benton and his household person launched a restoration effort, the Douglass School Project, to crook Douglass into a museum.

"It's a portion of past a batch of radical request to cognize about," Conway said.

The task hopes to reconstruct and sphere that history.

"What was here, and however we were treated and however we lived and everything," Benton said.

These 4 students, pb by Travis, are each 84 and older. Their last act, they say, is to archer the communicative of this school.

"I anticipation that Travis tin get much help, if I'm not present contiguous oregon tomorrow, but I anticipation that helium tin support connected pursuing his imagination that he's trying to do," Smith said.

To larn much astir the Douglass School Project, and for the accidental to donate to the effort, click here.

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