Carr alumni clean up school, move bench to mural site|[9/28/06]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 28, 2006

Graduates of Carr Central High will have something more tangible to help them remember their alma mater. A 15-foot bench taken from the derelict building has been placed in front of the Vicksburg Riverfront Mural depicting the Cherry Street school.

&#8220We wanted something from our school down here,” said Ethel Pickens, class of 1953 graduate and organizer for the Carr Central High School All Alumni reunion next weekend. &#8220This is how we remember our school.”

The Carr Central mural was completed June 2005 as the 15th in a series painted by Paducah, Ky., mural artist Robert Dafford and his crew.

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Initially, dedication was set for last October when what would have been the second annual all-class reunion was to be held. But Hurricane Katrina in August put things off another year.

Now, local alumni are working to ready for a gathering that will include a dedication on Oct. 7.

The mural shows a scene of the schoolyard, filled with students, cars of the early ’50s, a huge oak tree in front of the building – and the concrete bench made by vocational students in 1940.

&#8220This bench is ours,” Pickens said as members of various classes gathered Wednesday in front of the mural to clean the sitting area.

Nellie Caldwell, chairman of the volunteer mural committee, said the fact that the bench is also shown in the mural makes it that much more special.

&#8220That’s the reason we wanted it down here,” she said. &#8220I think it’s the neatest thing.”

Members of classes 1933 through 1959 raised more than $25,000 between 2004 and 2005 to pay for the $16,500 mural. Pickens said the extra funds collected will allow the classes to have a street dance with live jazz music, food and drinks immediately following the 10 a.m. mural unveiling. She expects anywhere from 300 to 600 people to attend the dedication and reunion festivities the evening before at the Vicksburg Convention Center.

&#8220I get goose bumps just talking about it,” she said. &#8220People love that school. There’s more to it than just a building.”

While the 82-year-old brick structure still has a dominating presence on Cherry Street, its appearance has changed. Broken windows and boarded doors loom from the three-story structure. It was last used by students in 1989, then became the property of the City of Vicksburg, which sold it eight years ago to Robert Rosenthal, who pledged redevelopment, but has had applications for federal-state assistance rejected.

Joe Ann Green, class of 1955, rallied troops to clean up the schoolyard Wednesday in order to enhance the appearance of the school in time for the reunion.

&#8220Every time I passed by here, I thought, ‘We’ve got to do something,’” she said. &#8220We want to do it – just for the effect, so you can at least see it. We were given permission to do what we could for the occasion.”

The grounds of the building that served as a junior high, high school and middle school at various times, will have cleared pathways, clean steps and cleared limbs, making the old school more closely resemble its hey-day. Pickens said she has received permission from Rosenthal for reunion attendees to have pictures taken in front of the building, as long as no one tries to go inside.

Pickens said she intentionally chose that weekend for the reunion so people coming back home could see the revitalized downtown area during the annual Old Court House Museum Flea Market and Vicksburg’s Downtown Fall Festival.

&#8220The town was a family affair when we were growing up. Children were a priority back in our day” she said. &#8220And we feel the same way again. This is our story.”