Edwards High School Gymnasium, designed by architect James Manly Spain in the Art Moderne style, was constructed 1941 by the National Youth Administration (Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Historic Resources Inventory).
Only a year prior, Governor Paul Johnson vetoed a senate bill to authorize Kosciusko to issue bonds to equip a school building, auditorium, and gymnasium, citing the opposition to “play houses” (Veto Gym Bill, April 25, 1940, Hattiesburg American, p. 10).
I have reached the conclusion after mature deliberation, much study and after having consulted with the leading educators of our country that we have gone wild over athletics, the chief executive stated in his veto message. …I do not believe it is necessary to build play houses…
I can see no good, but much harm in taxing our people to build gymnasiums and I respectfully decline to sign the bill.
Earlier in the month, Governor Johnson vetoed a bill to permit Pontotoc to vote bonds to build a gymnasium in cooperation with the WPA, saying there was a greater need for school books than play houses. In contrast only 3 days later, the Biloxi Daily Herald reported:
The biggest drawback to southern basketball, according to Roy Mundorff, veteran coach of Georgia Tech, has been a lack of adequate playing space. There are far fewer top-notch gymnasiums in Dixie than elsewhere. Many secondary schools play on outdoor courts. And good basketball players can’t be developed outdoors. (Brondfield, J. April 8, 1940. The Payoff. Biloxi Daily Herald, p. 5)
Johnson’s take on the importance of physical education differed from the progressive education movement in Mississippi.
Good nutrition and regimented exercise became the keystones for health education, and broadened the original consolidated school goal of educating “mind and hands” to “mind, body, and hands.” (Jennifer V. Opager Baughn, 2012, A modern school plant: Rural consolidated schools in Mississippi, 1910-1955. Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum, 19(1), 43-72)
The National Youth Administration planned eight new school buildings, 23 new vocational buildings, two new gymnasiums and six teachers’ homes for construction at various locations in Mississippi, scheduled for June 1941 completion (Non-defense works continue, February 8, 1941, Biloxi Daily Herald, p. 3) and the Edwards Gymnasium might have been one of the two.