By Lena Mitchell
Daily Journal Corinth Bureau
OKOLONA – Dozens of alumni, children and grandchildren of alumni, and others attending Okolona’s fourth annual Okolona Magnolia Festival came to the former Okolona Industrial School and College Campus on Saturday morning to witness the unveiling and dedication of its Mississippi Historical Marker.
Mayor Louise Floyd Cole said she did not attend the school but three of her sisters did, and for her the campus was another place to play.
Nellie Minor Adams, a graduate of the high school in 1945 and the college in 1947, read the inscription from the historical marker:
“The Okolona Normal and Industrial School was founded in 1902 by Dr. Wallace A. Battle. It educated African-Americans through high school and provided industrial training for young adults. At its peak the school’s enrollment topped 200 students annually. In 1921, the school became affiliated with the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi and a member of the American Church Institute for Negroes. The school changed its name to Okolona College in 1934 and closed in 1965.”
Unable to attend Saturday’s ceremonies, the oldest living alumni of Okolona College is Willa Tucker Raspberry, 108, who lives with her daughter in Indianapolis, Indiana.The property remained vacant until 1990, when it was purchased by the National Council of Negro Women.
NCNW President Mary Gates, an Okolona College alumni and Okolona councilwoman, reported Saturday that the property is entirely debt-free.
The historical marker, said Okolona Area Chamber of Commerce President Perry Grubbs, should be considered a sign of reawakening on the campus.
The Mississippi Department of Archives and History has received an appropriation from the state Legislature to be used for Okolona College, the mayor said, and they will assess how to make best use of the funds.
Ambitious plans were developed in 1997 by the Small Town Center at Mississippi State University to revitalize the campus, and in 2002 MDAH helped the school receive designation as a National Historic Landmark.
Despite fires that destroyed many of the buildings on campus through the years, friends and alumni of the campus remain optimistic and determined to see it return to its former place that launched young people out into the world.
“We unveil the sign that marks the site of the historical Okolona College, a place that means so much to so many of us,” said 1956 alumni Herbert Floyd, 78. “It is a place where some of us left home for the first time to seek a higher education, a place where some of us met our spouses and went on to raise successful families. … There were people along the way – Effie T. Battle, A.M. Strange, R.T. Milton, W. Milan Davis and Walter Wiburn – and because of these individuals we still cherish these hallowed grounds.”