Remembering Black School History in Charleston

The home, school and church have always been influential forces in the small, black community of Charleston, Mississippi. The church performed a dual role- church on Sunday and school on weekdays.

Our school history began when John Neely started a school for black children. He felt that all individuals should learn to read and write in order to become productive citizens. The school housed all grade levels in one room. Later Anthony Phillip Pollard, Sr. assumed leadership of the school.  Then in the early 1890’s Newton Anthony Wilson from Oxford became principal. The school was non-graded and the curriculum included English, Reading, Spelling, Geography, Hygiene, Arithmetic and History.

Between 1900 and 1910 the first school was built. This building was located on “Chinch Row” off North Pleasant Street, known today as Martin Luther King Drive. The staff included three teachers and a principal. Newton Wilson later resigned to accept a principal job in Winona.

John Henry Hopkins was selected as the next principal. John and his wife, Archie Beatrice Hopkins, and other dedicated teachers worked to upgrade the school to the level of high school. Some students began attending Scurlock Church for classes during this time. (This school later became known as the “Low School”).

The Tallahatchie County Association under the leadership of Rev. G. W. Smith (presiding Moderator at the time), deeded a building and eleven acres of land to the city and county for use as a school. The school was named Tallahatchie County Training School (T.C.T.S.), known today as Charleston Middle School. Other principals who served were S.N. Drake and Sallye P. Williams.

The following courses were eventually added to the curriculum: Algebra, Latin I & II, Geometry, Home Economics, Agriculture, Biology and Science. John Hopkins taught all high school Math and Latin courses. The first eighth grade graduation was held in the early 1900’s in which there were three graduates: Janie Harris Boclair, Cornelia Bolden Harvey and Charlie Walton. Two years later the first tenth grade graduation was held and the graduates were: Sallye Pollard Williams, Bessie Drake Skipper, Virgie Carson, Hazel Moore, and Roy Roberson.

In 1932 the Tallahatchie County Training School held its first high school graduation with the following graduates: Leonia Harris Watkins, Irene Williams, Irma Burkhalter Ross, Dorothy Phillips, Almeda Lemons, S.P. Hoskins, and Willie A. Venerable.

There were other schools founded in the surrounding community which became feeder schools for T.C.T.S.: Mt. Zion (Sherman Creek) Holly Grove, Little Hubbard, Blue Cane, Tippo, Gray School, Bailey, Taylor, Providence, and Locopolis. During World War II, a female teacher, Parthenia Dunbar Blackmon, was named high school football head coach and the team went undefeated.

Other principals who served during this time include: Richard Ernie Williams, W.R. Gray Jr., J.B. McKay, J.H. Mosley, J.H. Ford and J.W. Allen. Also, the school’s name changed several times- Tallahatchie County Agricultural High School and Allen-Carver High School (named after J.W. Allen and George Washington Carver). In 1960 J.W. Allen resigned and David Alford was elected principal. David had previously served as assistant principal to J.H. Moseley and J.H. Ford. Marzell Smith was elected assistant principal.

During the school year 1965-66, Willie Keglar from Allen-Carver High School, was the first black student selected to attend East Tallahatchie High School. Then the next school year these students began attending: Tom Willis, Walter Ryan Dogan, and Isaiah Jackson. Tom Willis became the first black student to graduate from East Tallahatchie High School in 1967.

During the school year 1971-72, the schools in Charleston were integrated. East Tallahatchie High School was renamed Charleston High School (grades 9-12) and Fred Hinton, Jr. was named principal. Allen-Carver High School was renamed Charleston Middle School (grades 7-8) and David Alford was named principal. Sallye P. Williams was named principal of Charleston Elementary School which included grades 1-6. She served as principal until her retirement in 1976.

Integration of the schools did not occur without turmoil and difficulty- schools were boycotted by black students as well as white students who were being sent to private schools. Approximately 65 to 70 black students were arrested and remanded to the state penitentiary at Parchman, Mississippi.

We witnessed positive changes in the community during the 1980’s. The Robert Hill Youth Foundation, under the guidance of Cedric Terry, contributed to the community through the summer sports leagues offered through the years. Also, Craig Walker made significant contributions to the community through the track team he founded, Mississippi Road Runners.

Some notable events from the 1990’s include: David Alford retired as principal of Charleston Middle School after forty years of service. James Micou retired after serving as band director for both schools- 11 years at Allen-Carver and 23 years at Charleston High School. The following individuals succeeded David Alford as principal of Charleston Middle School: Levan Miller, Greg McCord, Ricky Garvin, and Sammie Armstrong.

Some notable achievements from the 2000’s include: The Charleston High School football team won a state championship in 2011 and was runner-up in 2012. The championship team was under the leadership of Coach Tony Vance, the first black head coach in the school’s history. The Charleston High School girl’s power lifting team won state championships in 2012 and 2013. Morgan Freeman, a renowned Hollywood actor, sponsored an integrated prom for Charleston High School in 2008.

We appreciate John Neely, all the principals and teachers, and the Tallahatchie County Association for their contributions to our educational successes in Charleston. We also salute our parents and forefathers who did not have the opportunity for advancement, but made sacrifices so the future generations could “bring that college degree home.”

History provided by the late Mamie Bellamy Brown, Mary Wilson, Sallye Pollard Williams, Leonia Harris Watkins, and David Alford with excerpts from the late N.A. Boclair, Sr.

Content compiled by Louise Bellamy Terry with contributions from Evelyn Tensely, Tom Willis, and Alvin (A.C.) Johnson.

Content edited by Infusion Web Designs.