- Associated Press - Monday, March 3, 2014

ABBEVILLE, Miss. (AP) - Several original school desks remain inside the former Abbeville School, their hinges rusted. The wood tops remain clear, though, free of evidence that students once sat in the seats more than 60 years ago.

Ben Isom remembers sitting in those desks and wasn’t surprised there were no marks or carvings in the wood.

“You didn’t want to be caught doing that to the desks back then or you’d likely get a whoopin’,” Isom said.

Isom is one of many former students of Abbeville’s first black school that opened in 1950 who have joined together in recent years to renovate the old school. Today it is called the Gordon Community and Cultural Center.

The school was built in 1949 and opened to students in January 1950 for grades first through eighth. The land for the school was donated by the Gordon family who lived in Abbeville.

“There were a lot of one-room, church schools throughout the community but all the children were going to different places,” said Janice Carr, who serves on the center’s board of directors as vice president.

“There was a woman who worked in the superintendent’s office who overheard someone talking about funds being available for black schools so she came back and told some people in the community about it.”

The one-room church schools included Jefferies, Liberty Hill, Mt. Vernon, Providence and Springfield.

The Lafayette County Board of Supervisors agreed to pay $4,000 toward the new school, but the community had to raise another $4,000 to match those funds.

“They did a lot of fish fries and a lot of the same kinds of events we still do today to raise the money,” Carr said.

The new school had four classrooms; however, it didn’t have indoor bathrooms, running water or a kitchen. The building was heated with wood heaters. But it was the first “real” school many of Abbeville’s black children attended.

“It was a big move,” Frankie Logan said. “Was a big thing for us.”

A second building was built a few years later for ninth through 12th grades. In the 1960s, a third building was built for grades first through sixth and the original building served as a middle school for seventh and eighth-grade students.

When schools were integrated in the late 1960s, the Abbeville School was closed and its students were transported to the public schools in Oxford.

Bernice Herod remembers that day well.

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