Former African American schools produced many leaders in communities today, 39 News takes a look


Education is a key part of a child’s growth. There were schools in and near Jackson that helped educate African Americans when discrimination caused limited access to learning.


One of the oldest schools that is still standing is the Old West Bemis Elementary School, which also was a Rosenwald school.


In 1960 Bemis, Tennessee was chosen to build a school for black children in the area.


The community joined in with Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington to make sure their youth was given a good education.


“And then children in the surrounding areas also went to the schools, some of them had to walk a pretty good way, but they was determined to get an education. This is where they came west Bemis Elementary school," says Director of the schools museum, Ida "Lucy" Smith.


Merry High School was also a school in the area that produced many of today’s lawyers doctors and entrepreneurs.


Once integration occurred the name changed to Jackson Central Merry, but many former students still remember how merry high played a big part in the east Jackson community culture.


“First of all it was centrally located. Most black people in the time that i grew up were situated in east jackson and it’s right in the heart of the community. So, it was very important that it was here, students at that time, there wasn’t any bussing so you could walk to school," adds Merry High 1968 graduate, Richard Donnell.


I also spoke with a West High School graduate that was actually nick named after the school for his school spirit.


William "West High" Nelson Jr. was devastated when the school closed a year after he graduated.


“We fought and went down to the county commission to ask them to not close the school, but they had already made the choice. It just hurt the whole community," says Nelson.


As many of the former students looked back at their education they realized that the school as a whole continues to add value to their success today.

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