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.
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.
This is the 2nd in the Katrina Survivors series–want to see others in the series?
- Katrina Survivors: Beauvoir
- Katrina Survivors: Charnley Houses(s), Ocean Springs
- Katrina Survivors: Regular People Saving Their History