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Education, Segregation, and Modernization: Mississippi's School Equalization Building Program, 1946-1961 JENNIFER V. OPAGER BAUGHN F ollowing the end of World War II, Mississippi, along with every other state, faced the problem of educating its booming population of children. But unlike most other states, Mississippi also confronted the issue of separate school buildings for black and white children to prop up its entrenched system ofracial segregation. For the fifteen years from 1946-1961, a huge proportion offinancial resources at the state and local level would be directed toward this end. This so-called "Equalization Plan"period included two distinct phases: the first, lasting from 1946, was a rather halfhearted effort at improving conditions at existing black schools; the second, beginning in 1953 and continuing until the early 1960s, involved a radical overhaul of both black and white education that would attempt to wipe the slate clean and to start over with entirely new school buildings. The changes wrought in the state during the equalization period would reflect national movements as well-most importantly , educational progressivism, architectural modernism, and school consolidation-and would transform both the educational and physical landscape of Mississippi. Indeed, as far as the built environment for education is concerned, this short period was the most significant in Mississippi's history. Understanding what was to come in the post-war period requires an examination of the school-building situation as it existed in 1945. While the quality of public educational facilities in Mississippi had always lagged behind much of the rest of the country due to the state's poverty, after 1910 schools for white Fig. 1. N W Overstreet & A.H Town {Jackson, Miss., archts.), Administration Building, Stringer School {White), Stringer, jasper County, 1940, view ofJarade {c.1955). {Courtesy ofMississippi Department ofArchives and History, jackson, Miss., RG 50, Series 1513: School Photograph Scrapbooks, 1950-1969} ARRIS Volume Sixteen 37 JENNlFER V. OPAGER BAUGHN Fig. 2. Primary Lllphabet" plans built in Mississippi. (Plans compiled by authorfromjieldnotes) children had been steadily upgraded, mainly through school consolidation. Consolidation allowed small schools with only one or two teachers to band together to form a school district centered on one campus, creating an enlarged environment that many considered much more conducive to learning than the old decentralized system. By the mid-1940s, only a few unconsolidated white schools were still in operation, primarily in extremely rural areas, and most counties contained none at all.1 Typical of the facilities at white consolidated schools in use at the end of World War II were those at the Stringer School in Jasper County (Fig. 1). A rural consolidated school, the Stringer plant included a substantial brick administrative building-designed by the nationally recognized Jackson firm of N.W. Overstreet and A.H. Town2 and built in 1940-and a number of wood-frame secondary structures: a vocational building, a home-economics building, a gymnasium, and PRIMARY "ALPHABET" PLANS TYPICU. T-PLANSCHOOL TYPICAL X...PLAN SCHOOL N TYPICAL H-PLAN SCHOOL TYPICAL U-PLAN SCHOOL t N two teachers' houses. Most counties in the state contained several such rural school complexes for white children, in addition to the larger town school plants in the county seats. Thernajorityoftheselargeconsolidatedschool buildings assumed forms that were dictated by standards developed in the early decades of the twentiethcenturyandhighlyrefinedbythe 1940s. Around 1910, educational leaders like Fletcher B. Dresslar, joining with interested architects such as William Ittner, began advocating functional and practical one-story school buildings.3 By the 1920s, with the publication of various standardized plans, especially those by the Rosenwald Fund in Nashville, Tenn.,4 such designs became readily available to the State Department of Education in Mississippi, which began enforcing standards on local school districts. The plans for larger buildings, often called the "alphabet series'' because their shapes resembled the letters of the alphabet, usually ranged in scale from four to twelve classrooms 38 ARRIS Volume Sixteen JENNIFER V. OPAGER BAUGHN • I (Fig. 2). Thus, they were a good fit for the new consolidated schools that were appearing on the Mississippi landscape in the 1920s. The design philosophy for the alphabet series was straightforward yet progressive for its time. Using scientific research that stipulated children's light needs for reading...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2769-2434
Print ISSN
1048-5945
Pages
pp. 37-55
Launched on MUSE
2021-11-09
Open Access
No
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