Early Black Education

Early Black Education ray Tue, 04/20/2010 - 20:48

Black education at Ocean Springs was in place as early as early as 1877, as indicated by the Jackson County School Enumeration of that year.  It can be determined with a high degree of certitude that Alfred Stuart (1862-1928) and his sister, Violet Stuart Battle (1863-1925+), the children of Tempy Burton (1821-1925) attended school at Ocean Springs in this year.

At the meeting of the Mayor and Board of Alderman on September 9, 1909, Alderman W.T. Ames made a motion "that a suitable building be erected for a school building for the colored people for a sum not to exceed $450 and that a commission of three be appointed to receive bids and have the same built according to plans and specifications adopted by the Board of School Trustees with power to act.  Said building to be erected on land purchased by the Negroes for a school site, and same to be deeded to the town".(Town of Ocean Springs Minute Book (1907-1915), pp.

The motion passed unanimously.  Aldermen George L. Friar (1869-1924), J.O. Whittle, and W.T. Ames (1880-1969) were appointed by Mayor F.M. Weed (1850-1926) to the commission to build the colored school house.  Before the first black school building was built on Vermont Avenue (M.L. King, Jr. today) in September 1909, school for black children was held in the colored church or in a home.  In November 1891, there were sixty-six black students (forty females and twenty-six males) at Ocean Springs.  W.L. Murphy, the teacher, was paid $55 per month while his assistant, Annie Andrews, was remunerated $20 per month.  In 1891, the colored school trustees were:  Charles Satcher (d. 1913), C.W. Washington, and Thomas I. Keys (1861-1931) .

Other early teachers at the Ocean Springs colored school were: L.D. Fairley and L.B. Fairley (1888), E.L. Howze and Lottie Fairley (1889), and W.H. Hardy and Martha Harding (1893-1894).  Additional trustees were: Jules Seymour (1855-1894+), O.R. Bradford, A.B. Stuart, W. Lyman, H. Blount, and E. Keys.

The City of Ocean Springs paid rent for the building where the colored school was held.  It was decided that money could be saved by constructing a building on City property.  A site for the school was chosen on Vermont where the M.L. King, Jr. park is now located.

The first black school consisted of a wood frame structure with an area of 1000 square feet.  It cost $450 to erect, and was heated by a coal burning stove.  John Burr (1875-1916), a native of West Virginia, was the building contractor.  Burr built his home on the site of the old First Baptist Church on Desoto and Church a few months before he built the Negro school.



Professor Franklin Marshall Nichols (1878-1945) was one of the first black teachers here.  He taught at the Ocean Springs school from 1910 to 1915.  Franklin Marshall Nichols was born on a farm near Decatur, Newton County, Mississippi.  His father was a preacher.  Young Nichols attended grammar school held in a rural church.  He attended high school at Collinsville and Meridian, Mississippi.  Nichols received a B.S. degree in Agriculture from Alcorn College, and a Master's degree from Atlanta University.  He also studied at the Meridian Baptist College, and the Virginia Theological College at Lynchburg.  Nichols taught for forty-seven years.


Professor Nichols married Fannie Birch (1894-1982), the daughter of Thomas Peirson Birch and Ella Campbell of Kemper County, Mississippi on January 28, 1914.  She finished high school at the Baptist Seminary in Meridian, and got degrees from Rusk College and the Tuskegee Institute.  She taught school at Ocean Springs in 1915-1916. 


The Nichols moved to Biloxi in 1916, and taught there for many years at the black school on Nixon Street.  This school was also constructed in 1909.  Prior to this the City of Biloxi rented a house from the colored Baptist Church as a classroom for $17.50 per month.  The street and middle school at 340 Nichols Drive in Biloxi dedicated in 1959, are named in honor and respect of Professor Franklin Marshall Nichols.


During the tenure of Professor Nichols, black children of the following families were being educated at Ocean Springs:  Rochon, Carter, Green, Satcher, Williams, Ramsay, Bradford, Smith, Jones, Mayfield, King, Huff, Stuart, Thomas, Vincent, Seymour, Keys, Ford, Byrd, Washington, Stewart, Jenkins, Brown, Douglas, Malasham, McInnis, Jassell, Lyman, and Filassa.


After the departure of Professor Nichols in 1916, E.M Nichols (1891-1920+) was appointed principal.  Elizabeth Smith (later Keys), was his assistant.  Other black educators who taught here in the 1920s and 1930s were:  Doris Louise Paige (1898-1933+), Ruth O. Keys, Elizabeth H. Keys (1892-1976), and Nellie Jeanine Thompson (1904-1931+). 


Miss Doris Paige (1898-1933+) was the stepdaughter of Edward Watson and Kate Paige Watson.  She was educated at Tuskegee Institute and began teaching in 1922.  It is believed that Miss Paige later moved to Gary, Indiana.


Nellie Jeanine Thompson (1904-1931+) was probably reared at Lucedale.  She began teaching in 1925, and came to the Ocean Springs school in 1928.  Miss Thompson received her education at the Alabama Normal School (Montgomery), Alcorn, and the Hoven Institute (Meridian).


Elizabeth H. Keys (1892-1976) was born at Vossburg, Jasper County, Mississippi.  She was educated at the New Orleans University (now Dillard).  Keys initiated her career in education at Ocean Springs in 1917.  Elizabeth H. Keys, nee Smith, married Marshall H. Keys (1895-1963), the son of Postmaster and businessman, Thomas I. Keys (1861-1931), and Amelia Kinler (1867-1899).  Marshall Keys is credited with saving the school land from developers after it burned.  The Martin Luther King Jr. City Park is located here today.       


Eureka Lodge

It is believed that the Vermont Avenue colored school was abandoned in the 1920s, after a fire destroyed it.  The children were then educated at the Eureka Lodge No. 4884 Grand United Order of Odd Fellows Hall on the northwest corner of Desoto and State Street.  This structure was built in November 1909, on land sold to the Lodge by Joseph Kotzum in June 1903, for $100.  The two-story lodge room and hall cost over $2000 to erect.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 35, p. 67)


1927 Black school

Black education continued at the Eureka Lodge until 1927, when a new school was built on 3.68 acres of land in the SE/4, SW/4 of Section 20, T7S-R8W.  This school tract, known as Lot 1 of the Nelson Grove Subdivision and located on School Street, was donated by Gus R. Nelson (1886-1970) to the Ocean Springs Municipal Separate School District in May 1927, for the purpose of erecting and maintaining a school for children of the Negro race.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 60, pp. 367-368)


The trustees of the School District accepting the Nelson gift were:  Louis J.B. Mestier, C.D. Hodges (1893-1958), E.C. Brou (1896-1949), Schuyler Poitevent (1875-1936), and Henry L. Girot (1887-1953).  Mr. Nelson granted the land title subject to the following conditions:  (a) construction of a school building should begin on the property within six months from the date of the delivery of the deed; (b)  regular school term shall be maintained in said school for at least five months each year;  and (c)  if the school building is accidentally or destroyed by wind, water, or fire in whole or part, it shall be rebuilt in a reasonable time.      


Gustav R. Nelson

Philanthropist and horticulturist, Gus R. Nelson, was born at Uppsala, Sweden.  He came to the United States in 1911, settling at Anderson, Indiana.  Nelson arrived at Ocean Springs in 1915, with his wife, Karin Georgii (1888-1962), a native of Eksjo, Sweden, who had immigrated to the America in 1909.  They had married at Indiana in 1914, and were the parents of two children: Clifford G. Nelson and Dorothea S. Nelson. 

In January 1923, Mr. Nelson bought 85 acres of land in the SW/4 and SE/4 of Section 20, T7S-R8W between the J.C. Wright and Carl Lindstrom farms from H.F. Russell (1858-1940) for $7000.  The Nelson tract ran north-south from the L&N right-of-way to Fort Bayou.  Here Gus Nelson cultivated oranges, lemons, grapefruit, pecans, and limes. He also raised poultry and livestock.  Nelson platted the land in April 1927, as the Nelson Grove Subdivision.( JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 53, pp. 263-264 and Jackson County, Mississippi Plat Book 4, p. 46)

In 1928, Gus R. Nelson was appointed as a trustee of the Ocean Springs Municipal Separate School District.  He served twenty-three years holding the offices of president and secretary during his tenure.

In 1939, Gus Nelson grew a lemon that weighed 2.75 pounds.  It was .50 pounds heavier than the one listed as the largest in the world by Robert Ripley's, "Believe It or Not".  In 1924, Mr. Nelson developed the technique for protecting delicate plants from freezing by spraying the fruit and trees with water during a cold wave.  The water froze over the trees and created a protective coating of ice, which protected the plant from more severe frigid weather.

Mr. Nelson also had azaleas, camellias, palms, giant bamboo, live oaks, fishponds, and a fountain pool, which he called collectively, Nelson's Tropical Gardens.  In August 1964, he sold eleven acres to the Treasure Oaks Country Club.( JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 265, p. 232)

In mid-January 1926, Ruth O. Keys, Principal of the Ocean Springs Graded School, wrote a letter to The Jackson County Times


1927 Colored School

In 1927, the Colored School on the Nelson lot was constructed with the lumber from the demolished Ocean Springs High School, which had been built in 1900, on the northwest corner of Porter and Dewey.  It was a five room building heated by pot-bellied coal burning stoves.  In addition, the facility included a cafeteria, gymnasium, and auditorium.  The only athletic program was basketball.  The team wore Kelly green and white and called themselves the "Baby Bengals".

Initially, the Ocean Springs Colored School had only eight grades.  Graduates to advanced grades went to high school at Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic School on Division Street in Biloxi.  By 1943, there were twelve grades at the Ocean Springs black school.  Mrs. Elizabeth Keys was the principal, and Miss Mary Cahill O'Keefe (1893-1981) was the superintendent of the Ocean Springs Public School District, the first woman in Mississippi to hold this position.

The white public school at Ocean Springs was replaced by the 1927 Ocean Springs High School located at 1600 Government.  In recent years, this structure served as the Administration Building for the Ocean Springs Public School System until a new building was erected for this purpose on the southeast corner of Government and Holcomb Boulevard in 2003.  The old structure was refurbished in 2004 and was dedicated as the Mary C. O’Keefe Arts and Cultural Center in 

This school building was constructed by Berry & Applewhite for $80,000 in February 1927.  School commenced here on September 12, 1927.  Many residents complained that it was "to far out of town and on Highway 90 too".         In May 1927, Alderman H. Minor Russell (1892-1940) made a motion that passed unanimously.  It read as follows: 

"The School Board be given the authority to demolish the present school building (Dewey and Porter) upon completion of the school term and use all available material therein for the construction of the colored school".

R.T. Vaughn was awarded the contract to demolish the Dewey Avenue school building.  He received $485 for his efforts, and began demolition on June 3, 1927.  By mid-June, the demolition work was progressing rapidly.  The old school building was believed to have been the largest wood frame edifice on the Mississippi coast when it was built in 1900, by Frank Bourgh (1878-1954+).  The wooden structure had been erected with very fine materials.  At this time, the remuneration for the principal of the black school was $70 per month.  The janitor was paid $10 per month.

In March 1946, the black Ocean Springs girls basketball team was the champions of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  Led by Geraldine Williams, Bertrice Williams, Gloria Smith, and Annie Mae Ellis, this team though small in stature (average height less than five feet) defeated Gulfport, Biloxi, and Bay St. Louis.  The boys team lost to Biloxi (Our Mother of Sorrows) 34 to 33 in overtime of the championship game.  Ocean Springs was led by Long, Robinson, Gibson, and Williams.

The wood-framed Colored School on School Street was probably torn down in the early 1950s.  Gus R. Nelson quit claimed the property to the Ocean Springs Municipal School District in July 1952.  The lumber from the building was utilized to build a home for his daughter, Dorothea S. Nelson.( JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 126, p. 385)

In 1948, local realtor, Wendell Palfrey, was vending lots in the rear of the Colored School.  They could be acquired for $125.  Palfrey financed them with a $25 cash down payment and $5 per month.(The JXCOT, May 14, 1948, p. 6)


The 1952 Negro School

In 1952, the old wooden building was replaced with a modern brick structure, and dedicated in the spring of 1953, as the The Negro School. The building was designed by Claude H. Lindsley (1894-1969) and built by Peyton & Higgison of Mobile for $80,000, which was coincidentally the

same cost as the Government Street 1927 white high school.  It consisted of eight classrooms and a combination cafeteria and assembly hall, which were heated by panel rays.  Professor W.L. Herd, who came to Ocean Springs from Smith County, was the principal of the new school.  Lee Jordan was chairman of the School Board and N.E. Taconi (1910-1971), Superintendent of Schools.  The first graduation was held in the school auditorium in May 1953.

The faculty for the 1953-54 school year was: W.L. Herd, principal; Aline Herd, home economics; James H. Lockett, Jr., math, science, and coach; Clara Mae Gilner, English and music; Ada Breaux, first grade; Sadie Mae Johnson, second grade; Johannah Jackson, third and fourth grades; and Mattye Shaw, fifth and sixth grades.  The old gymnasium was removed to the back of the school lot and remodeled.  The black athletic teams at this time were known as the Ocean Springs Lions.    


Elizabeth Keys High School

In 1958, an addition to the Negro School was completed on the School Street site.  It was called the Elizabeth H. Keys High School.  W.R. Allen, Jr. (1911-1985) was the architect and Fred T. Hobb, building contractor.  At this time, C.H. Rouse (1901-1959), was the president of the Board of Trustees and N.E. Taconi (1910-1971), School Superintendent.

After the integration of the Ocean Springs public school system in 1968, Elizabeth H. Keys became the Ocean Springs Junior High until 1975, when the new Junior High School was built on Government Street.  The Elizabeth H. Keys Vocational Tech School was established here in 1980.  Slaughter & Allred were the architects and Starks Contracting Company, the erector.  Dr. Charles E. Thompson, was president of the Board of Trustees and Allen Curry, School Superintendent.

A word of sincere appreciation to Alcidia Rochon who inspired this research and Ira Lee Mobley and Clarence Maurice who shared their knowledge and experiences.

JXCOT-Colored school mothers club purchased for $500 the Jennie Satcher homestead in the Weed and Davis addition adjoining the old school. 9-25-1925.



Regina Hines Ellison, Ocean Springs, 1892, (Lewis Printing Services:  Pascagoula-1991), p. 97.

Murella H. Powell, "An Interview With Fannie Birch Nichols", (Biloxi Public Library:  Biloxi, Mississippi-1976), pp. 1-4.

Stephanie C. Richmond and David Alfred Wheeler, The Growth of the Biloxi Public School System, (City of Biloxi: Biloxi, Mississippi-1979), p. 7, p. 10, and pp. 13-14.

The History of Jackson County, Mississippi, "Gus R. and Karin Nelson", (Jackson County Genealogical Society: Pascagoula, Mississippi-1989), pp. 299-300.

Minute Book of the City of Ocean Springs, (December 3, 1907 to January 14, 1915), pp. 76-77.

Mississippi School Register, "Ocean Springs, Mississippi", (1930, 1931, and 1932), Jackson County Archives, Pascagoula, Mississippi.


The Daily Herald"Lemon Grown in Ocean Springs Larger Than World's Largest", April 28, 1939, p. 7.

The Daily Herald"Prof. M.F. Nichols Taken by Death", January 26, 1945, p. 2.

The Daily Herald"Mrs. Karin Nelson", March 19, 1962, p. 2.

The Daily Herald"Gus R. Nelson", December 19, 1970, p. 2.

The Daily Herald"Mrs. Elizabeth Keys dies", February 6, 1976, p. A-2.

The Daily Herald"Fannie Nichols", August 4, 1982, p.

The Gulf Coast Times"New School and Gym ready early part of January", December 4, 1952, p. 6.

The Gulf Coast Times"Expect formal dedication of new Ocean Springs school during April", March 26, 1953, Section 1, p. 1.

The Gulf Coast Times"Colored School slates graduation tonight; U.S. Hunt is guest speaker", May 28, 1953, p. 6.

The Gulf Coast Times"Ask bids for removal Negro gymnasium", July 9, 1953, p. 1, c. 4.

The Jackson County Times"Local News Interest", September 15, 1917.

The Jackson County Times, “A School Building Is The Need of Negroes of Ocean Springs”, January 16, 1926.

The Jackson County Times"Proceedings of the Board of Alderman", May 14, 1927, p. 1.

The Jackson County Times"Local and Personal", June 4, 1927.

The Jackson County Times"Local and Personal", June 18, 1927.

The Jackson County Times"New Public School Building Nearing Completion", August 15, 1927, p. 1.

The Jackson County Times"School Board fixes budget for 1927-1928", September 24, 1927, p. 1, c. 1.

The Jackson County Times"Local Colored Girls Basketball Team Gulf Coast Champs", March 20, 1946, p. 1.

The Jackson County Times, “Lots For Colored”, May 14, 1948, p. 6.

The Ocean Springs News"Local News", June 16, 1909.

The Ocean Springs News"Local News", August 28, 1909.

The Ocean Springs News"Local News", September 18, 1909.

The Ocean Springs News, November 27, 1909, p. 1.

US CENSUS-Jackson County, Mississippi (1920).

Personal Communication:

J.K. Lemon-September 1995.

Clarence Mercer-October 1995.

Regina Hines Ellison-October 1995.

Dorothea Nelson-October 1995.

Ira Mobley-October 1995.