Okolona Industrial School

Okolona, Mississippi

1902-1965

E-Travel

The Okolona Messenger carried some school news.  The University of Mississippi Archives provided a scan of the 1943 Special Bulletin Our Church Schools for Negroes by the American Church Institute has an illustrated profile of the school. The National Park Service application for the inclusion of the campus on the National Register has a description of extant buildings.  A number of good photos of student groups is included in the Episcopal Archives (https://www.episcopalarchives.org/church-awakens/...colleges/black-colleges-2). The University of Virginia Archives also contain school photos.

 

History

After receiving the support of the white residents of Okolona, Wallace Battle, a Black graduate of Berea College, opened Okolona Industrial School on October 7, 1902. In an area in which half the Blacks “cannot read or write a single word,” the school began as an elementary and high school with a vocational focus.  In 1904 Battle noted that enrollment was upward of 400 with many turned away because of lack of space.  And since Battle asserted that even educated persons should be able to “plow corn, to use the spade, to saw wood, and to see after the sewerage,” teachers and students worked together both in the classroom and out.

 

In 1922 Our Church Schools for Negroes reported that enrollment was down to 100 because the elementary grades had been dropped.  The Special Bulletin calls OIS a high school and junior college.  By 1959 the high school had been eliminated so that school continued as a junior college.  In 1908 the vocational emphasis was demonstrated by commencement exhibitions  in which students demonstrated the eleven industries taught.  By 1943 the bulletin shows that teacher education, typing and shorthand, and music had joined "problems of rural living" in the curriculum.  

 

In 1914 the Messenger notes that a school choir sang “old plantation melodies” making music “as only Colored people can make.”  Later images in the Episcopal Archives show a debate team in addition to the choir..

 

In 1921 OIS became affiliated with the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi.  Following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, Okolona College lost funding, and so closed.

 

The most famous son of Okolona was journalist William Raspberry, who attended high school there and whose parents taught there.

 

Bricks and Mortar

The campus of OIS was located on the west side of  Highway 245 inside the city limits.  Classes began in a derelict blacksmith shop.  The first two frame buildings were destroyed by fires in 1904 and 1906.   Each time both black and white residents of Okolona provided funds to replace them.  Andrew Carnegie contributed $10,000 in 1907.  That year the Messenger notes that a four-story brick recitation building was under construction, in addition to an “enormous barn, a two story boys’ dormitory and laundry, [and] a two-story carpentry shop.”  A major fire after 1945 destroyed the recitation building and the boys’ dormitory.

 

When Battle left OIS in 1927, it was debt free, The campus then consisted of twelve buildings on a 380-acre farm, which helped make the school self-supporting.  

 

In 2002 the campus was placed on the National Register.  At that time, it contained four extant brick buildings from the 1930’s and 1950’s, in addition to other lesser structures.

 

(right)This 1922 image is identified as the "Main Building." The size suggests that it is the 1907 recitation building.  Since it has not survived, the building is likely the "Old Okolona Hall," destroyed by fire after 1945.  https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47df-b7d7-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.   Accessed 8-18-2018

When Battle left OIS in 1927, it was debt free, The campus then consisted of twelve buildings on a 380-acre farm, which helped make the school self-supporting.  

In 2002 the campus was placed on the National Register.  At that time, it contained four extant brick buildings from the 1930’s and 1950’s, in addition to other lesser structures.

Sports

            Team name:  Blue Devils

            School colors: Blue and Gold

 

Between 1935 and 1947 OIS was a member of the South Central Athletic Association, the major regional conference for Black Schools.  College Football Data Warehouse shows football games between 1932 and 1962.  While records are notoriously incomplete, they show that OIS was sadly overmatched in most years.  The most common opponents were the other Mississippi Black schools—Rust, Tougaloo, Coahoma CC, Alcorn, Mary Holmes, Mississippi Industrial, Southern Christian Institute, Campbell, Ministerial Institute and Piney Woods.

 

Under “athletics” the Special Bulletin lists “football, basketball, baseball, tennis and ping pong.”   In 1962 the Mississippi Free Press shows that OIS had both men’s and women’s basketball teams playing in Southern Intercollegiate Junior College Basketball Tournament.

 

 

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