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State's Historical Marker Honors School's Historical Impact

Post Date:05/30/2019

Picture- From left, Dr. James T. McGlowan II, the son of Hernando Central's first principal, and Rev. Andrew Miller, who headed the committee that made it a reality, unveil the State Historical Marker recognizing what is now Oak Grove Central Elementary as DeSoto County's first African-American high school between 1958-1970.  Picture courtesy of Bob Bakken, DeSoto Times Tribune.

In a place known for its historical importance to DeSoto County and the state of Mississippi, the place called Hernando now has another marker which will always tell the story of education in the midst of racial discord. 

It is but a marker, but it will have quite a story to tell, about how African-American children moved from being taught inside churches into their own public school building before full integration of the school system took place in the early 1970s.

"We can tell the whole story behind the school," said Rev. Andrew Miller. "I graduated in 1969 and I was in the next-to-the-last class they graduated. It was a village raising a village."

Miller was speaking Saturday about his school, what was called Hernando Central and now is called Oak Grove Central Elementary School.

Saturday, a Mississippi State Historical Marker was unveiled at a ceremony in front of the building at 893 West Oak Grove Road in Hernando. The marker details information about the school, the first African-American public high school in DeSoto County, which ran as such from 1958-1970 during what was called the Equalization Period of American education.

It was in the 1950s that school systems, primarily in the South, were building "equalization schools." It was a last-ditch effort to stave off full integration of the public school system, to make schools "separate but equal."

Hernando Central became one such school, a building for African-American students from grades 1-12, with James T. McGlowan as its first principal. It ran from 1958-1970 with Miller's class of 1969 being the next-to-last class to earn diplomas from Hernando Central.

Prior to Hernando Central, many of its children were being taught scattered in various places, including churches.

For the last year-and-a-half, Miller and his committee have worked to get a state historical marker placed at the school site and Saturday was the date for its official "unveiling."

There were dozens of former students, teachers, school district officials and others interested watching this piece of history come to reality.

DeSoto County Schools Supt. Cory Uselton, arriving just in time from commencement exercises for Lewisburg High School Saturday morning, noted the impact the students who walked the halls of Hernando Central have had since they moved on from the school.

"Even though there are 12 years listed in the marker, its legacy lives on forward," Uselton said. "Here we are 49 years later standing in front of this school and that speaks volumes to the alumni of this high school. It's our job to make sure that legacy lives on forever and we'll do that for you."

Mayor Tom Ferguson added his greetings and proclaimed Saturday as "Hernando Central Day" in the city.

Much of the Saturday ceremony centered on the legacy left by the school's first principal, James T. McGlowan Sr. McGlowan was in charge of the school from its inception until 1960, when R.C. Lamon became its principal until integration in 1970.

It then became Oak Grove Elementary and later took its current name of Oak Grove Central, adding the "Central" to recognize its past.

"He was truly a pioneer and leader in education," said daughter Debra Buford. "He was an exceptional visionary and a man of great courage, who created a path of generations of professionals, many of whom he mentored in a way they never saw possible. Professor McGlowan flourished in the struggle of making the impossible, possible. One such example was building Hernando Central."

Angela McGlowan, also a daughter of the first Hernando Central principal, went on to become the first woman and first African-American candidate to run for Congress in Mississippi's 1st Congressional District, although she did lose to eventual Congressman Alan Nunnelee in the Republican primary.

McGlowan is now a FOX News political analyst, an author and is CEO of a government affairs, political strategy, public relations, and advocacy consulting firm based in Oxford with an office in Washington, D.C.

"To come back here is a dream and nostalgia," McGlowan said. "I feel my father's spirit, I feel my father's success and I feel my father's legacy. My daddy taught me that in America you can do whatever you want to do."

Stacey Pirtle is the current principal of the school and recognized the history it has in her remarks Saturday.

"This place is home to me as it is to many of you," Pirtle said. "This building is full of history and tradition and so much character. Though she is 61 years old, and she very often shows her age, Oak Grove Central is still very beautiful."

Saturday reinforced Hernando's place in county history, and as Miller said after the ceremony, "Hernando now has more historical places than any other place in DeSoto County."

Bob Bakken is Managing Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.

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