Mississippi’s Outstanding Post-War Schools

It’s totally normal (I’m sure you would agree) to collect books like American School and University, and as I was flipping through the 1950-51 (22nd annual) edition, I came across a chapter called “America’s Outstanding School Buildings (built since 1945).” In that chapter was a series of school photos and a longer listing of “best” schools in each state.

This is a period of school building that’s very important in Mississippi’s history, as it was around the time of Brown v. Board of Education and there was an attempt to “equalize” the schools for black and white students in order to preserve segregation. As you may recall from the News Roundup a week ago, the equalization period was the same one in which the Liberty Elementary School was built.

Anyway, the list for Mississippi really gives us a perspective on what the “experts” of the time thought about individual schools. The buildings were chosen based on such criteria as number of stories (one story was the ideal), acoustics, lighting, sturdy materials (i.e. not Dryvet), and special facilities such as health clinics or multi-use areas. There’s no mention of “modern style” or anything like that, and in fact, look at the difference below between the two pictured schools–one very modern, one trying to look like an old Natchez mansion.

Be prepared to not know what these buildings look like–they’re not the familiar landmark schools we’ve all come to know and preserve. But maybe we ought to give the buildings on this list (the ones that are still standing and intact, that is) a second look–not only for their architectural merit but also considering their important historic context.

Here’s the list, from page 202, with my notes in brackets and those non-extant in red:

  • Benton Elem. School, Benton, E.B. Golding, Supt. [Yazoo County–more about this school maybe later this week]
  • Clarksdale Negro Elem. School, Clarksdale, H.B. Heidelberg, Supt. [I believe this is the now-closed Myrtle Hall School, designed by N.W. Overstreet & Assoc. in association with John Pritchard, and built in 1949]
  • Greenville Elem. School, Greenville, R.J. Koonce, Supt. [I think this would be the old Susie Trigg School, now called McBride–maybe one of our Greenville readers can verify. If so, the building was built 1949 and designed by N.W. Overstreet & Associates]
  • West End Elem. School, Hattiesburg, S.H. Blair, Supt. [this is the school now known as Woodley Elementary that’s in the Parkhaven neighborhood, which I mentioned in the last News Roundup, built c.1949 and also designed by N.W. Overstreet & Assoc.]
  • Nora Davis Elem. School, Laurel, J.M. Caughman, Supt. [built 1948 and designed by Meridian architect Chris Risher]
Nora Davis Elementary School (Negro), Laurel, built 1948, designed by Meridian architect Chris Risher

Nora Davis Elementary School (Negro), Laurel, built 1948, designed by Meridian architect Chris Risher

  • Wm. H. Braden Elem. School, Natchez, W.H. Braden, Supt.[this building is now the school district offices and is almost completely intact inside]
Braden Elementary School, Natchez, built 1949, R.W. Naef, principal archt., Beverley W. Martin, associate (courtesy HABS)

Braden Elementary School, Natchez, built 1949, R.W. Naef, principal archt., Beverley W. Martin, associate (courtesy HABS)

  • Picayune High School, Picayune, J.E. Bond, Supt. [I only vaguely recall this school and don’t remember the architect]
  • Prentiss High School, Prentiss, W.K. McKay, Supt.[ditto above]
  • Grove Street Elem. School, Vicksburg, H.V. Cooper, Supt. [very cool school built 1949 and designed by Jackson firm Gates & Birchett. Listed on the National Register as part of the Grove St.-Jackson St. Historic District in 2007]
  • Winona High School, Winona, Robert Taylor, Supt. [this is one of those schools it took me a while to love because it’s attached to a 1920s school so you’re looking at classic old school on one side and modern school on the other, but once I got inside a few years ago and looked around, I liked it, and I like the quirkiness of the combination. Could the fact that the modern addition was designed by E.L. Malvaney have anything to do with my acceptance? Maybe :-)]


Categories: African American History, Architectural Research, Clarksdale, Cool Old Places, Greenville, Hattiesburg, Laurel, Natchez, Picayune, Prentiss, Recent Past, Schools, Vicksburg, Winona

4 replies

  1. Neat! I’ve been thinking about schools from this period a lot lately (and fire stations and other municipal, etc. buildings), but I don’t get out of Jackson very often so it’s really cool to hear about these things in other places in the state.

    I’m very curious, though, why none of the new-at-the-time Jackson schools made it onto that list.

    I love that Braden school; very playful that center traditional element on the long modern box. Ayn Rand would have hated it; good going, Mr. Naef!

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  2. Yes, Ayn Rand would have written a long diatribe about Braden, wouldn’t she? I think it may be “Early Post-Modern” which would make ol’ R.W. a very forward-thinking guy. I think he was one of our better 20th-century classicists, esp. looking at his Ole Miss dormitories, but this one does make me wonder if he was pulling one over on the Natchez garden clubs.

    As for Jackson schools not being present in the list, I wondered that myself. We did have a number of schools built between 1945 and the publication of this book in 1950/51, including of course, the Schools for the Blind and the Deaf, Boyd School on Northside Drive, and Bradley Elem off of Medgar Evers (an Overstreet that was designated a Mississippi Landmark last year). But the bulk of Jackson’s schools of the period were built beginning in 1950 and 1951 (Lester, French, Isable, etc.) and probably wouldn’t have shown up here because they weren’t quite done yet.

    Regardless, I would definitely have added Bradley to that list if I had been around to make the list.

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  3. I attend W H Braden Elm. Early 60’s. I remember the entire school called to the Auditourium. We were told about JFK’s Death!!! 5TH and 6Th Grades.

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  1. Lost Mississippi: Benton Elementary School « Preservation in Mississippi

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