Katrina Survivors: Randolph School, Pass Christian

Randolph School (1928), Pass Christian, photo courtesy Fisk University Rosenwald Fund Card File Database
Randolph School (1928), Pass Christian, photo courtesy Fisk University Rosenwald Fund Card File Database

Across the Coast, the railroad tracks formed a levee that protected the neighborhoods to the north from the massive storm surge of Hurricane Katrina. Waveland and Pass Christian were the exceptions to that rule. In Pass Christian, the surge was so high that it washed houses intact from the south side to the north side, lodging them willy-nilly in cemeteries, trees, and other buildings. Pass Christian Middle School, the Colonial Revival school built for white children in the 1930s, was so completely demolished by the waters that only scattered bricks and lines of battered auditorium seats still bolted into the concrete floor remained to mark the spot.

Just over the tracks, almost within sight of the middle school, sat the campus known as Rudolph School. Built in 1928 for $24,000 with help from the Julius Rosenwald Fund, the school had educated generations of black students before being abandoned as a school around 2000. Mississippi was second in the number of Rosenwald schools constructed–over 550–but we have a very low survival rate, with only about 20 Rosenwald schools left in the state, including Randolph. Randolph doesn’t fit any of the standard plans published by the Rosenwald Fund, and I assume it was designed by a local architect, maybe from Gulfport or New Orleans.

By the time of Katrina, the U-shaped Rosenwald building, minimally maintained and altered so that some of its original character was obscured, was owned by the City of Pass Christian and mainly used for storage. Later buildings surrounded the Rosenwald school, including a 1950s classroom structure that closed off the open courtyard. This building also protected the Rosenwald building from the full force of the surge, and mostly collapsed during the storm. The main building still suffered massive damage, including the collapse of a section of the west wall, and of course, flooding up to the tops of the windows.

western wall partial collapse, photo courtesy Mississippi Heritage Trust

western wall partial collapse, photo Oct 2005, courtesy Mississippi Heritage Trust

After the storm, Pass Christian struggled even to establish basic city services, so Randolph’s future remained an open question. Many assumed it would be demolished, but as with the Waveland School and in contrast to East Ward in Gulfport, the city leadership and residents decided this was one landmark they wouldn’t lose. The city received a Hurricane Relief Grant from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in the February 2006 round, and a grant from the Lowe’s Foundation in early 2008. In addition to these grants, FEMA’s contribution to the project has helped put it on the path to completion.

When it’s finished, the building will be an all-purpose community center, catering to senior citizens’ activities in its five classrooms. The restored auditorium, with its grand arched entrances, will be opened back up after having been partitioned into classrooms in the 1960s or 70s and will host a variety of community events and meetings. The open hallway will once again be fully open, and the windows will be replaced to more closely resemble the original 9/9 wood sash. I’m excited about this project–it took a catastrophe to recognize this little gem that had been covered and hidden for so long in plain sight–and I hope the community will rally around it as Waveland has its restored school.

photo Oct 2007, courtesy MDAH

photo Oct 2007, courtesy MDAH. Although it looks bad, it has been shored and is mostly protected from the weather. The rest of the site has been cleared, including the mostly collapsed 1950s classroom building that had closed off the open courtyard.

photo Aug 2009, courtesy MDAH

photo Aug 2009, courtesy MDAH

photo August 2009, courtesy MDAH

photo August 2009, courtesy MDAH

Related Links:

Fisk University Rosenwald Fund Card File Database

This is the 2nd in the Katrina Survivors series–want to see others in the series?



Categories: Cool Old Places, Gulf Coast, Hurricane Katrina, National Trust, Pass Christian, Renovation Projects, Schools

5 replies

  1. Nice to see another story of survival and renewal here. It looks like it will be a real gem when restoration is complete.

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    • During my tenure as Director of the MDAH Gulf Coast Feld Office, I just remember an odd last-minute call to attend a meeting on The Randolph School Project that occured towards the end of my contract with MDAH. We had no advance indication of what the meeting’s agenda was and our directions to the meeting place were not clear. I and elements of my staff arrived late and the discussion was well along between primary funders of this project, its architect and Lolly Barnes, a Gulf Coast advocate for this project and many preservation efforts down there. Really don’t recall who all was there, except that in listening to the on-going discussion, it was clear things did not bode well for The Randoplh School and that pulling out primary funding for the project was being considered at that meeting, due to flood-plain and other concerns.

      It was an odd position to find oneself. When the discussion paused, I allowed that MDAH had no intention of abandoning their considerable financial commitment to this project through the NPS Hurricane Grants Program for reasons of what saving one historic public building would mean for the people of Pass Christian…a town that had lost some 80% of ts core public and commercial center, as well as this particular structure’s cultural and architectural significance as a most unique Rosenwald Schoold design and its importance to the African-American community and their own legacy of education in the South. The discussion then turned amiable once more and the other avenues of funding remained in place I was later told, largely due to MDAH’s resolve to stay the course. Looking at the soon-to-be-finished results…I’d say that MDAH’s position has been more than validated.

      On a somewhat odder note from that meeting’s sudden turn towards an amiable view of The Randolph School project had to do my friendship with a cemetery historian (Bobby Joe Mitchell in Holly Springs) who knew the location of a obscure cemetery in north Mississippi where some Revolutionary War soldiers were buried; a topic of some interest to one of the gentlemen there to render a decision. You just never know what remote sherd of information will lead you to an unexpected ally.

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      • I just noticed your post about the cemetery in north Mississippi where some Revolutionary War veterans are buried . Do you have any specific information about its location? I am extremely interested in this , and I would appreciate your reply.

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  2. Ms. Darden – My apologies for not responding before now…I haven’t visited this site in a while. Bobby Joe Mitchell would be the call to make, as concerns this cemtery and its Revelutionary War residents:

    Bobby Mitchell

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